Washington -- Numerous advances in human
rights were achieved in the Western Hemisphere in 2004,
says a human rights body of the Organization of American
In an April
19 statement, the Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights said these advances included the launch of a comprehensive
national program to address human-rights concerns in Mexico,
and the adoption of constitutional reforms to eradicate
impunity for human-rights violations in Brazil. In addition,
the commission pointed to a national referendum conducted
in Venezuela, "despite conditions of extreme political
polarization" in that country.
The commission also cited a number of "promising
trends" in the region in 2004, including continuing
efforts to curb impunity for serious human-rights violations
committed in preceding decades.
Highlights of the efforts to curb impunity,
said the commission, were the prosecution of Chile's former
dictator Augusto Pinochet for atrocities committed during
the time of his military regime, and the elimination in
Argentina of various legal obstacles that impeded judicial
prosecution in cases of forced "disappearances"
and other human-rights violations.
The commission also praised the creation
of a "Truth Commission" in Paraguay to investigate
human-rights abuses, acknowledgments by Guatemala and Peru
of serious human-rights violations in cases pending before
the OAS Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and the signing
of a comprehensive settlement in cases of forced disappearances
that occurred during the 1980s in Honduras.
On the negative side, the commission said
crime and citizen insecurity reached "alarming proportions"
in various countries of the Americas during 2004.
The commission said that in many countries,
the insecurity generated by the high rates of crime and
growing income inequality led both the governments and the
general public to "demonstrate a higher tolerance for
repressive methods used by the police." In this context,
said the commission, "torture and excessive use of
force are tools commonly used by the security forces in
many countries in the region."
The commission added that corruption, "still
a region-wide phenomenon, continues to impede the construction
of democratic and transparent societies." In addition,
the vast majority of countries in the region have not addressed
the "causes and consequences produced by social exclusion
and discrimination based on ethnicity, class, race and gender,"
said the commission.
High poverty rates and the "extensive
inequality prevailing in the region continue to limit the
effective enjoyment of economic, social, and cultural rights,
and negatively affect the observance of many civil and political
rights," said the commission.
Negative human-rights developments were
reported in Haiti, which the commission said was mired in
a grave institutional crisis in 2004 amid rising political
violence and deteriorating economic conditions.
In Ecuador, the removal and dismissal of
a number of the country's Supreme Court magistrates, judges
of the Constitutional Tribunal and members of the Supreme
Electoral Tribunal raised "deep concerns" about
the effective functioning of institutions that are "key
to the rule of law and respect for the principle of separation
and independence of powers," said the commission.
The U.S. State Department also recently
reported on the human rights situation in the Americas.
In that report, entitled "Supporting
Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2004-2005,"
the State Department said the Western Hemisphere has "transformed
itself over the last two decades from a region dominated
by repressive, authoritarian regimes to one in which 34
out of 35 countries have democratically elected governments
and growing civil societies."
Despite this favorable trend, many countries
in the hemisphere continue to "struggle to consolidate
democratic reforms and ensure respect for fundamental human
rights," said the State Department report, released
Citing the ongoing challenges, the State
Department said the United States in 2004 continued its
efforts in the region to strengthen democratic institutions,
promote good governance and transparency, support the rule
of law and encourage greater respect for human rights.
Washington File Staff Writer
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International
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