33.             In the report’s first chapter Justice and Social Inclusion:  The challenges of Democracy in Guatemala, the Commission refers to the situation regarding the rule of law in Guatemala and weaknesses in the administration of justice, which result in widespread impunity and denial of justice. The IACHR report concludes that the rule of law and democracy in Guatemala cannot be consolidated as long as there is an inefficient judicial branch that fails to properly investigate the notorious past human rights violations and the current violations, thus giving impunity free reign. The Guatemalan system for the administration of justice must ensure effective access to justice for all, in an independent and impartial manner, and continue with modernization and reforms to improve the operation of justice administration.


34.             In the chapter on citizen security, the Commission warns that violence and crime seriously undermine the rule of law. In recent years there has been continuous violation of the basic rights of individuals through an alarming number of violent acts and as a result of the public insecurity prevailing in the country, which has been aggravated in the context of the first round of the general elections that took place on November 9, 2003. The Commission’s report reflects the violent events that occurred in Guatemala City on July 24 and 25, 2003. The Commission concludes in the report that the level of aggression and violence unleashed by the demonstrators at various points throughout the city, directly threatening public security, considered together with the lack of police intervention, made Guatemalan society feel totally defenseless.


35.             As regards the objective of demilitarizing the Guatemalan society and State, the Commission notes the persistent influence and participation of the armed forces in matters of internal security. It therefore welcomes the report of the dissolution of the Presidential Joint Chiefs of Staff, which was announced by President Portillo in a public ceremony on October 29, 2003.


36.             On the matter of citizen security, the Commission also refers in its report to the phenomenon of lynchings that occur with impunity, the reorganization of the former Civil Defense Patrols, and the existence of illegal bodies and clandestine security apparatuses. On the second point, the IACHR notes the harassment by former members of the defense patrols in various parts of the country, as well as the taking of hostages during the election campaign as a way of pressing for compensation for their services rendered during the armed conflict. Concerning the clandestine apparatuses, the IACHR states in its report that they have been linked with drug trafficking, kidnapping, smuggling, major robberies, and especially with attacks and threats against visible sectors of society. As progress in this area the Commission notes the establishment of the Commission to Investigate Illegal Bodies and Clandestine Security Apparatuses, which must cooperate with the Office of Public Prosecutions to strengthen its criminal investigations of these matters.


37.             The chapter devoted to the situation of the human rights defenders states that it has progressively worsened. In recent years there has been an increase in the number of threats, acts of harassment, searches of headquarters of human rights organizations and homes of human rights defenders, and assaults and assassinations targeting defenders. These actions are part of a pattern of intimidation of human rights defenders, identifiable by the profile of the victims, the methods of intimidation, and the motives behind them. The main goal of this pattern of intimidation against human rights defenders is to prevent effective action by the judicial branch in cases of human rights violations committed during the armed conflict.


38.             In the report’s chapter on the situation of indigenous peoples, the IACHR remarks that they continue to be systematically excluded from the country’s social, economic, and political life, to the clear detriment of their well-being and development, both as individuals and as a group. Although the trend of legislation in the past decade has been piecemeal laws for recognition and protection of indigenous rights, in practice this has not resulted in effective implementation of the legal provisions. This situation of social exclusion and marginalization is also evident in the indigenous peoples’ lack of access to justice, and the impunity for violations of their human rights committed during the armed conflict. Compensation for victims is unfinished business. Social exclusion is also rife in terms of indigenous peoples’ political participation, and the disputes over lands belonging to them.


39.             The chapter on the situation of women noted that they too have not been able to participate significantly in public office and have not fully benefited from the fruits of the country’s development, because of historical patterns of gender discrimination. There are still discriminatory domestic laws, such as the requirement that a woman be honorable to be considered a victim of a sexual crime, the difference in the age requirement for women and men to marry, and the lack of precise treatment of women and children in laws on working conditions. There is also concern over the level of violence against women, and their lack of effective access to the legal system to redress it. Women and men are treated differently in their access to basic services. It is harder for women than for men to exercise their economic and labor rights. The conditions in which they work and the remuneration they receive are unfair and not equal to those that apply to men. Women are proportionately poorer than men, and have less access to education and health services.


40.             As regards the situation of children, the Commission welcomes approval of the Law for Comprehensive Protection of Children and Adolescents by Decree 27-03 of July 4, 2003, which protects children’s rights more effectively than the former legislation (the 1979 Minors Code). In its report the Commission notes situations hurting Guatemalan children, such as child labor, which do not respect international standards on children’s rights and human rights; baby adoption, which is currently part of a network of trafficking in boys and girls and represents one of the highest rates of international adoption; the vulnerability of street children, who are subjected to violent assaults and summary executions; and violations of children’s human rights during the armed conflict. Among other conclusions, the report says impunity leaves children even more vulnerable to abuse.


41.             Finally, in the chapter devoted to freedom of expression, an essential right for the development and strengthening of democracy and for the full exercise of human rights, the IACHR notes the alarming increase in intimidations against the media; the lack of clear criteria for allocation of radio frequencies; the monopoly in ownership of radio and television, which the Commission calls a serious obstacle to the dissemination of ideas of the various sectors, which impairs the functioning of democracy itself; as well as the “State secret” and the need to adopt a law to provide for habeas corpus as a control mechanism to help uncover cases and situations involving the action of State security and intelligence agencies involved in earlier violations of human rights in specific cases, as well as current scourges such as corruption.


42.             In the report Justice and social inclusion:  The challenges of democracy in Guatemala, the IACHR expressed its serious concern over the lack of progress in key matters for the preservation and strengthening of the rule of law in Guatemala. The Commission actually noted a significant deterioration of several aspects it had reviewed before. Civil society and international organizations agree that the Guatemalan human rights situation has worsened. The Commission feels that impunity, corruption, organized crime, intolerance, and political violence, as well as the social exclusion of several sectors, pose a serious threat of backsliding in the effective operation of the rule of law and restrict the full enjoyment of the human rights that the American Convention recognizes for all people. 





43.             The Commission has elaborated this section of Chapter IV of its Annual Report in accordance with Article 57(1)(h) of its Rules of Procedure and has based its analysis on information obtained during the on-site visit described below as well as on other reliable publicly available sources. On November 26, 2003 , the IACHR transmitted to the State a copy of a draft of the present section of Chapter IV of the its Annual Report for 2003, in accordance with the previously mentioned Article, and asked the Government of the Republic of Haiti to submit its observations on the section within twenty days.


44.             The IACHR once again reiterates its serious concern for the situation of human rights in Haiti. As mentioned previously, the Commission takes note of the severe economic hardship and a long-lasting and tense political crisis which it considers to be the backdrop to observing the State’s performance relating to respect for human rights and in ensuring that all persons under its jurisdiction are free to exercise such rights fully. The IACHR considers that the political tensions existing in Haiti, resulting inter alia from the problems dealing with the nomination of the Provisional Electoral Council, have had a direct impact on the population’s free and full exercise of human rights, the respect and guarantee of which is the State’s international obligation. More particularly, rights such as the right to freedom of expression and the right to assembly have been limited by acts of political violence, which must be prohibited and sanctioned by the State irrespective of partisan politics. Similarly, as described below, the Commission considers that rights such as the right to liberty, due process and judicial protection are seriously jeopardized in cases of persons involved in politically charged matters.


45.             The IACHR has conducted in 2003 several seminars during the months of May and July and has completed on-site visit to the Republic of Haiti from 18 to 22 August, dealing mainly with the issues of administration of justice, impunity and the rule of law.


46.             At the term of its visit, the Commission expressed preoccupation for the situation of human rights in Haiti, more specifically with respect to the right to liberty and security of the person, the right to judicial guarantees and the right to judicial protection, as provided for in the Inter-American Human Rights instruments, and has emphasized the importance of such rights as well as their necessary inter-relation with the proper functioning of democratic institutions and the existence of the rule of law, as emphasized in the Inter-American Democratic Charter.


47.             As to the respect of the right to personal liberty and security, the Commission has noted that arrests are not always accomplished in accordance with the law and applicable procedures, that persons are often subsequently detained for periods longer than those provided by domestic law, and that they often have difficulty in obtaining recourse to a competent court to decide on the lawfulness of their arrest or detention.


48.             The IACHR has also observed severe problems as to the right of a person to a hearing, within a reasonable time, by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal, taking into account the alarming number of persons who are detained in jails without having been brought before a judge. Not withstanding certain efforts undertaken by the State to train judges and magistrates, more needs to be done in order to ensure that the timely processing of arrested persons becomes the norm rather than the exception. 


49.             The Commission has expressed particular concern for the significant limitations existing on the independence of the Haitian judiciary, noting that Haitian legislation and administrative practices, particularly those dealing with the appointment, promotion and sanction of magistrates and judges and those dealing with budgetary and managerial aspects of the judicial institutions, can result in  dependency on the executive branch. The IACHR has also received credible information according to which certain judges and magistrates have been pressured by authorities, or by violent and sometimes armed groups seeking to influence the outcome of certain cases, particularly when they are dealing with politically charged matters.


50.             In addition, the IACHR has observed serious problems dealing with the right to judicial protection, noting that warrants and judicial orders, particularly release orders, are sometimes not executed by the competent authorities. While some progress have been made by the State to end impunity dealing with certain cases, the problem remains a severe one, as is attested by several high profile cases, which have yet to be resolved.


51.             The Commission has also expressed concern about reports of the existence in Haiti of armed groups who act unlawfully and with impunity, sometimes terrorizing the population in certain areas. The IACHR considers that the State’s failure to guarantee the population’s security in certain areas of the country and to end impunity and guarantee the right to judicial protection hinders the rule of law. On this matter, taking into consideration the events that occurred in Gonaives and subsequently in Cité Soleil during the Fall of 2003, the Commission recalls, as it did at the end of its 118th period of sessions, that the State has the obligation to ensure public safety and as well as that of ensuring human rights, using only the means that are necessary and proportional, in accordance with the Convention.


52.             Finally, the IACHR has once more observed the deterioration of the right to freedom of expression, as evidenced by on going acts of intimidation and harassment on social communicators, as denounced repetitively by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression. During the Fall of 2003, the Commission has also taken note of the fact that several political demonstrations, including in Cap Haïtien and in Port-au-Prince, were characterized by acts of violence or intimidation by certain sectors of society opposed to the demonstrations, which have limited significantly the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and the right of assembly. The IACHR considers that the State has the obligation to effectively guarantee the free and full exercise of those rights, which can only be limited in accordance with the restrictions expressly provided in the American Convention, and which must be exercise peacefully.





53.             The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights decided to discuss in this chapter certain aspects of the human rights situation in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.  Therefore, it has approved this report, according to the procedure established in Article 57.1.h of its Rules of Procedure[19] for inclusion in its Annual Report.  The Report was transmitted to the State by the Commission’s Executive Secretary on November 26, 2003, with the request that the State present any comments it considered appropriate within 20 days, with no possibility of an extension of that deadline.


54.             In notes to the Commission dated December 12, 2003, and January 16, 2004, the Venezuelan Government requested additional time to submit its observations.  The IACHR agreed to wait until February 29, 2004, to receive the State’s comments on the report and post it on its Internet page


55.             In the Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Venezuela the Commission has expressed its concern over certain matters that undermine the rule of law in Venezuela.  The IACHR has noted extreme political polarization and its result:  periodic acts of violence between demonstrators from different groups, reflecting growing political intolerance in Venezuela.  Secondly, the new Constitution is not fully implemented especially as regards appointment of senior officials of the Supreme Court and the Poder Ciudadano [Citizen Power—the Attorney General, Comptroller General, and Ombudsman], the perceived lack of independence of the branches of government, the growing concentration of power in the executive branch, the impunity of civilian armed groups and death squads, torture as common practice at detention centers, the tendency of the Government to confront and discredit the traditional political opposition, constant attacks against reporters and the media, the trend toward militarization of public administration through an increasingly dominant role for the armed forces, politicization of the police forces, the growing radicalization of political stances in a context of great social discontent stemming from unmet social demands, disputes over the exercise of labor rights, and a marked climate of political intolerance.


56.             As regards the inter-American system, the Commission has observed the Venezuelan State’s repeated refusal to comply with decisions of the Commission and the Inter-American Court.  The Commission has been informed, however, that the State has approved a special budget to compensate victims in the Caracazo case, as established in the judgment of the Inter-American Court.  The State has also failed repeatedly to comply with the precautionary measures granted by the IACHR and the provisional measures granted by the Inter-American Court.  According to reports received by the IACHR, most of the people covered by those protective measures are still subject to harassment, threats, and physical attacks.  The IACHR reiterates its concern over the repeated lack of full compliance with the protective measures requested.  Secondly, the Commission expresses its concern over Judgment No. 1942, rendered by the Supreme Court on July 15, 2003. The Commission finds that this decision by the highest court could be a step backward in terms of respect for the guarantee of human rights in Venezuela, since it hinders the protection of the human rights of all persons living in Venezuela by the international organs.


57.             As noted above, another aspect of great concern, in connection with the judiciary’s autonomy and independence, is the provisional status of judges in Venezuela’s judicial system.  Currently information from various sources indicates that more than 80% of Venezuela’s judges are “provisional.”  Moreover, the Commission has received allegations that the appointments of some judges whose sentences have not favored the Government position have been declared null and void.  Specific cases were those of Doménico Di Gregorio, David Manrique, and Mercedes Chocrón.[20] The first judge had reportedly refused to accept the Prosecutor’s case against the Metropolitan Police, the second had ordered the release of General Carlos Alfonso Martínez, a dissident officer, and the third reportedly ordered a search of that general’s home.[21]  In addition, the Commission was told of a search by elements of the DISIP on September 23, 2003 in the Primary Administrative Court that lasted for more than six hours and that Court’s subsequent closure by the Supreme Court’s Judicial Commission, which replaced it with two new courts, the Primary and Secondary Administrative Courts. Although that decision was based on a significantly increased case load for the Administrative Court over the 20 years in which it had been established, the measure has been questioned because the court had issued several rulings contrary to government interests.  Furthermore, the IACHR was notified of the dismissal of the Primary Administrative Court’s presiding judge, Juan Carlos Apitz, and two magistrates, Perkins Rocha and Ana María Ruggieri.


58.             The Commission also wishes to express its concern over certain provisions of the Draft of the Supreme Court of Justice Organic Act, which, if enacted, could infringe on the Venezuelan judicial branch’s independence.


59.             The Commission has noted that most of the human rights violations in Venezuela concern noncompliance with the Venezuelan State’s duty to prevent and investigate crimes and punish those responsible, which results in their impunity.  In this context, the Commission has received reports of a substantial increase in impunity in Venezuela over recent years in terms of violent acts.  According to those reports, 90% of investigations of human rights violations never go beyond the preliminary stage.  The high incidence of impunity in a high number of cases of human rights violations causes Venezuelan society to lose trust in the legal system and triggers violence, fueling a vicious cycle of impunity and violence.


60.             With regard to the coup d’état of April 2002, the Commission finds it necessary to reiterate that nothing justifies the breach of Constitutional order or the attempt to impede the operations of key branches of government.  The IACHR reiterates its strongest condemnation of those violent acts, which claimed dozens of lives and left over 100 people injured.  It is not within the purview of the Commission to attach individual criminal responsibility for these acts.  But the Commission must remind the State of its obligation to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the events that took place from April 11 to 14, according to the rules of due process, and to ensure that they do not go unpunished.  The State is overdue in investigating the crimes and punishing those responsible.  The IACHR is concerned that, more than a year and a half after the events, there has been no progress in the investigations of the homicides and injuries that occurred from April 11 to 14, 2002, since they are still in the preliminary phase–except in the case of those accused of firing the shots from Llaguno bridge, which ended up in their acquittal. No one has been convicted of the homicides and injuries, more than 18 months after the events occurred. In particular, in the deaths of Alexis Bordones, Jesús Mohammad Capote, Jorge Tortoza, and Jesús Arellano, killed by persons who fired from Baralt Avenue, there have been no effective investigations to identify and arrest the parties responsible, even though the alleged perpetrators were filmed and photographed in the act of firing.


61.             Finally, the Commission emphasizes that democracy and the rule of law are necessary conditions for bringing about the exercise of and respect for human rights in a society.[22]  In this regard, the Commission notes that the serious deterioration of the rule of law in a State party does more than impinge upon democratic governance.  Experience in Latin America has shown that a structural breakdown adversely affects basic rights and is a breeding ground for human rights violations.  The Commission considers it important to stress that in order to achieve effective protection of human rights it is necessary not only to move toward full and authentic democracy but also to ensure that this political system affords each individual the opportunity to enjoy full human rights, both civil and political, as well as economic, social, and cultural rights.  In addition, this is the best guarantee for the preservation of democracy itself as a system, because as people become convinced, from their own experience, that this is truly the best model of political organization, they will be the best safeguard against traditional dictatorships and other authoritarian forms of government.


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[19] Article 57 of the Rules of Procedure of IACHR provides:  “1. The Annual Report presented by the Commission to the General Assembly of the OAS shall include the following: […] h. any general or special report the Commission considers necessary with regard to the situation of human rights in the Member States, and, as the case may be, follow-up reports noting the progress achieved and the difficulties that have existed with respect to the effective observance of human rights; […] 2.  For the preparation and adoption of the reports provided for in paragraph 1(h) of this article, the Commission shall gather information from all the sources it deems necessary for the protection of human rights. Prior to its publication in the Annual Report, the Commission shall provide a copy of said report to the respective State.  That State may send the Commission the views it deems pertinent within a maximum time period of one month from the date of transmission.  The contents of the report and the decision to publish it shall be within the exclusive discretion of the Commission.”  Rules of Procedure of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Approved by the Commission at its 109th special session, held from December 4 to 8, 2000, and amended at its 116th regular period of sessions, held from October 7 to 25, 2002).

[20] El Universal, “Los Jueces no son Adecos [The Judges Do Not Belong to ADECO]” February 23, 2003, paper presented by Irma Alvarez.

[21] General hearing before the IACHR: The Human Rights Situation in Venezuela, Document presented by national human rights organizations, “The Institutional Breakdown of the Rule of Law and Democracy,” February 27, 2003.

[22] At the time this report was prepared, signatures were being collected from voters for the holding of referendums to recall certain state officials according to legal and constitutional provisions.  The IACHR hopes that these processes will reflect the will of the Venezuelan people and fully adhere to standards established under international provisions.