June 2, 2012Cochabamba, Bolivia — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on June 5th presented its Annual Report to the 42nd General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS), cautioning that this is a critical juncture for the inter-American human rights system and, consequently, for the defense and protection of the human rights of the people of the Americas.
"What is at stake, let no one doubt, is the legacy that the States, civil society, and the inter-American bodies themselves have built so that current and future generations throughout the hemisphere can enjoy their human rights," said Commission Chair José de Jesús Orozco.
"This is about regional guarantees and effective mechanisms to ensure that nobody in the Americas feels defenseless when it comes to his or her most basic rights," he added, "and that the States—through their current and future governments—see themselves as bound to respect those values that at some point, in the exercise of their sovereignty, they embraced and made an international commitment to safeguard."
The Commission Chair noted that "the experience of the inter-American system is recognized as one of the most successful in the world. It constitutes, in a subsidiary and complementary way, the last hope for millions of people in the region in the face of possible shortcomings or inefficiencies in domestic mechanisms for protection against injustice or arbitrariness." Orozco stressed that "the Commission's autonomy and dependency are the source of its credibility and a prerequisite for its effectiveness."
In this context, he said that the Inter-American Commission had undertaken a "profound, pluralistic, technical, and diligent reflection" on the recommendations of the Permanent Council Working Group. He announced that the IACHR will continue to promote regional and subregional forums in order to "take into account the perspectives of all users of the system for any possible reform of its rules of procedure and institutional practices."
"Today's regional human rights system is the result of more than 50 years of building, evolving, and improving," Orozco said. "Throughout its history, the Commission has periodically responded with changes and adjustments to its Rules of Procedure. It has done so—and will continue to do so—in consultation with those who use the system: the States, civil society representatives, and victims of human rights violations."
In his presentation, Orozco referred to the Commission's activities in 2011. Among other things, it received 1,600 new petitions, approved 170 reports on cases, submitted 23 cases to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, decided on more than 400 requests for precautionary measures, held 91 hearings and 58 working meetings, carried out more than 30 promotional and working visits, and held various seminars and training courses.
"A significant portion of the Commission's work involved countries that have not ratified the Convention," the IACHR Chair noted. Of all the reports on the merits that the Commission has published in the last decade, he said, 44 cases are from countries that have ratified the Convention and 25 from countries that have yet to do so.
In 2011, for example, three of the five reports on the merits that were published involve countries that have not ratified the Convention: one on Canada, related to due process and immigration, and two on the United States, one related to due process and the death penalty, and the other on the State's obligations to prevent and respond to domestic violence.
With regard to precautionary measures, Orozco indicated that in 2011, the two countries with the most precautionary measures granted by the Commission were Honduras, with 12, and the United States, with 11. He added—in response to a reference made the previous day in the context of the OAS General Assembly—that the Inter-American Commission was the first intergovernmental organization to request special protection measures for the detainees held by the United States at Guantánamo, and that the Inter-American Commission has repeatedly asked for the immediate closure of that detention center.
The IACHR Chair also said that the increase in petitions and the shortage of financial and human resources allocated to the IACHR by the OAS has created a severe procedural backlog. The Commission has tried to address this by seeking external funds and improving its internal procedures; in five years, this has managed to cut in half the waiting period for the initial stage for reviewing a petition.
"With adequate resources, it would be feasible to have a system for petitions and cases that could operate in a timely manner," he said.
The Commission Chair concluded his remarks by stating that the Commission trusts that the States' commitment will be reflected in the universalization or ratification of all inter-American human rights instruments, in the allocation of more resources, and in the compliance with its recommendations and decisions. All that, he added, will contribute to the effective respect for and defense of the dignity and human rights of everyone in the Americas.
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.