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Inter-American Commission Cites Progress on Human Rights in Western Hemisphere

But the OAS body also reports setbacks in crime, citizen insecurity

Posted: April 20, 2005

Washington -- Numerous advances in human rights were achieved in the Western Hemisphere in 2004, says a human rights body of the Organization of American States (OAS).

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 March 28.

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.


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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