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Human Rights Gains Reported in Western Hemisphere

But OAS commission notes region also confronts many challenges

Posted: March 15, 2005

Washington -- Numerous important advances in human rights have been made in the Americas, says a human rights commission of the Organization of American States (OAS).

In a March 11 statement, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said the advances include the launch of a comprehensive, national program on human rights in Mexico and approval of constitutional reforms in Brazil aimed at modernizing the judicial system in order to combat impunity for human rights violations. In addition, Chile, Argentina and Paraguay were reported to have undertaken efforts to investigate and punish those responsible for serious human-rights violations, while Honduras signed an agreement regarding cases of forced disappearance.

However, the region faces many human-rights challenges, including such longstanding problems as impunity in cases of serious human-rights violations, arbitrary detention, attacks in some countries on independent and impartial judiciaries, and inhumane conditions of detention in prisons. The region also faces "rising public insecurity" due to an increase in criminality.

The commission issued its findings in a new report after holding hearings since February 22 on the human rights situation in the Americas. The Washington-based commission is one of two bodies charged with promoting and protecting human rights within the inter-American system. The other human-rights body is the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, located in San José, Costa Rica.

The U.S. State Department issued its own report February 28 assessing the human-rights situation in the Americas and around the world. In its "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices -- 2004," the State Department said that the majority of governments in the Western Hemisphere respect the rights of their citizens. A few nations in the region, however, received poor marks from the State Department for their human-rights practices, in particular Cuba, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

The OAS commission's analysis found that, in Cuba, there has been no significant change in the situation of "systematic repression" of dissidents, human rights defenders, and independent journalists. Generalized violations of public freedoms persist, especially with respect to the right to political participation and freedom of expression.

The commission reiterated the need for elections in Cuba, which it said must be "periodic, free, fair, plural, and based on universal and secret suffrage, as the expression of the will of the people."

Venezuela has an "endemic problem" regarding provisional judges, the commission found. Since 2004, 436 prosecutors in Venezuela have been appointed provisionally. The commission said the high percentage of provisional judges and prosecutors "seriously affects the right to an adequate justice system, and has a negative effect on the rights of magistrates and prosecutors to stability in their positions."

This "worrisome tendency" in Venezuela "contradicts international human rights protection standards and the case-law of the inter-American system," said the commission, which also reiterated its concern regarding the situation of "risk and stigmatization" suffered by human-rights defenders in Venezuela.

The commission expressed its "deep concern" with what it called the "institutional fragility" of the rule of law in Ecuador, saying that Ecuador's political system has been one of the most unstable in the region in recent years.

The average duration of Ecuador's governments has been less than two years, which has been "aggravated" in the last few months by the removal of five of the nine members of the Constitutional Tribunal, the members of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, and all 31 justices of the Supreme Court. The commission said that independence and impartiality of the judiciary are essential elements in the protection of human rights and the rule of law.

In Haiti, the commission said it remains extremely concerned about the "apparent lack of control" by the Haitian transitional government over security throughout the country and the continuing threat that members of the former military, gangs and other illegal armed groups pose to the civilian population and the future stability of the country.

The commission renewed its call for the Haitian government and the international community to take all "urgent measures necessary, consistent with applicable human rights standards, to ensure the security of the people of Haiti and create conditions conducive to general elections" scheduled for the latter part of 2005.

The full report on the commission's findings are available online at: http://www.cidh.org./Comunicados/English/2005/8.05.htm.

Eric Green
Washington File Staff Writer
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)


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