1.                  The 60th anniversary of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was commemorated during 2008.  These two instruments, along with the Charter of the Nations and the Charter of the Organization of American States, marked the beginning of a new era by placing the concept of human dignity and respect for the most basic rights of every person as the centerpiece of the national and international agendas.


2.                  Even though over the course of these six decades, progress has clearly been made toward strengthening and protecting human rights worldwide, and serious violations of human rights have been exposed and disavowed by the majority of states through their ratification of international instruments and their adoption, at the domestic level, of measures of protection,   the ideals of 1948 are far from being fulfilled. Poverty, hunger, the continued failure to treat easily curable diseases, discrimination, illiteracy, torture, forced disappearance and injustice are still part of our contemporary reality and plague our region and other parts of the globe. Accordingly, the 60th anniversary of the American Declaration and Universal Declaration gives us cause to reflect more than to celebrate.  It is an opportunity to renew the spirit that drove the authors of these important international instruments, to reflect upon the errors of the past and the progress achieved, and to rededicate to making human dignity, freedom, equality, justice and solidarity the main objective of States, and to cultivate the conditions that will enable every individual to realize his or her full potential and achieve happiness. 


3.                  Such reflection is particularly relevant given the challenges that the member States of the region are currently confronting. One of the challenges that is increasing in importance is the citizen’s security, as it directly affects the full enjoyment of the individual’s basic rights. Insecurity is one of the main threats to the stability of the countries of the region and influences the member states’ democratic, social and economic development.


4.                  This hemisphere has some of the highest rates of crime and social violence in the world.  In Latin America and the Caribbean alone, the average murder rate in 2006 was 25.1 for every 100,000 inhabitants, which was double the average worldwide.[1] There is also a strong correlation between violence, high poverty rates, and the lack of access to basic services, health and education, which is still a problem for many people in the countries of the region. Generalizations that draw a direct relationship between poverty and crime ought not to be made, since much of the insecurity in the region is the product of phenomena like organized crime. Still, it has to be recognized that security is not an issue that can be addressed in isolation and that, when dealing with the problem of insecurity and applying public security-related policies, a comprehensive approach is required, one that takes into account the various needs and dimensions of the communities hardest hit by violence.


5.                  The aforesaid demands effective measures from the Governments to prevent, to control and to reduce crime.  Lack of social cohesion, a failure to satisfy basic needs, and the citizenry’s mistrust of authorities are all factors that have contributed to the growing problem of general insecurity in the various countries of the region. Many of the policies that the states have adopted to take on the challenges of citizen security have not only failed to accomplish the goal of lowering crime rates, but have also exacerbated social violence, posing a direct threat to full respect for their citizens’ human rights and at times even generating an atmosphere of distrust that is inimical to community life.


6.                  Indeed, the region has a long history of policies intended to combat public insecurity that are slanted more toward repression than prevention. These policies have combined harsh rhetoric with measures to toughen prison sentences, broaden the legal prerogatives of law enforcement, restrict or curtail fundamental rights, and others of the kind. Such policies have neglected the basic mission of preventing crime, rehabilitating criminals, redressing victims and, most especially, social intervention through public policies that guarantee greater access to public services, health and education for the people of the region. As a result, rather than reduce crime, these policies have unleashed enormous increases in the incidence of violence and have thereby eroded respect for people’s human rights.


7.                  Plans to address the problem of citizen security in the region must be premised –always and without exception- upon the international law of human rights and international humanitarian law.   For example, for concrete measures like modernizing law enforcement institutions, the emphasis must be on training in human rights, the adoption of international treaties on the subject, and the compulsory standards that those charged with the vital role of protecting citizen security must follow. The Commission has consistently recommended to the member States to take measures to teach human rights.  Such measures serve a variety of purposes, among them, preventing a recurrence of abuses of authority by agents of the State and instilling a culture of respect for human rights not just in law enforcement institutions but in the general public as well. The states themselves have recognized the importance of “the cross-cutting integration of the provisions of international law in the institutional culture, doctrine, education, training and actions of the security forces.”[2]


8.                  In every democratic State, law enforcement plays a critical role in protecting citizens, their rights and their property. Accordingly, members States must pay particular attention to the training given to law-enforcement agents so that, educated in the provisions of the international law of human rights, they are able to perform their functions properly, reliably and constructively, with a view to restoring order in society.  Similarly, enhanced professionalism and greater respect for human rights by law enforcement officers will help restore the citizenry’s trust and confidence in its public officials and create an atmosphere conducive to peaceful coexistence. 


9.                  The concern to address the problems of citizen security better and more effectively is reflected in various OAS initiatives, among them the First Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Public Security in the Americas, held in Mexico City, October 7 and 8, 2008, where a Commitment to Public Security in the Americas was adopted.[3]  In that document, the ministers recognized that public security is the exclusive duty and obligation of the State, and highlighted the role that full respect for human rights and, especially, promotion of education, health and socio-economic development play in improving security conditions. In the Commitment, the member States also emphasized the need to promote and strengthen citizen and community involvement in the execution of public security plans and programs.


10.              Given the obvious impact that citizen-security problems have on full observance of human rights, and in order to contribute to the public policy debate in this area, the Inter-American Commission is currently preparing a report on the interrelationship between citizen security and human rights. The study’s main objective is to help improve citizen security in the Americas, and specifically to identify and explain the applicable standards in this area so as to be able to make recommendations to the OAS member States on the adoption of effective policies in citizen security that are respectful of human rights.


11.              The commitment of the states to creating the security conditions that will enable all persons to enjoy their rights to the fullest, as part of a comprehensive policy to afford equal access to education, health, jobs, and the citizens’ active participation in designing and implementing these policies, should become a priority in the region. The Commission will continue its work of promotion and protection of human rights and will monitor these processes so that the ideals proclaimed 60 years ago become a reality in the hemisphere.


12.              Likewise, in 2009 we will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The anniversary undoubtedly offers an excellent opportunity to undertake a in-depth evaluation of the current situation of human rights in the region and on the specific measures required to strengthen the Inter-American system of human rights. For that purpose, the Commission makes itself available to the States and civil society to facilitate a constructive dialogue among the different stakeholders in the system. The results of this dialogue will be included in the IACHR annual report for 2009.

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[1] Bernardo Kliksberg, Mitos y realidades sobre la criminalidad en América Latina: Algunas anotaciones estratégicas sobre cómo enfrentarla y mejorar la cohesión social, Fundación Internacional y para Iberoamérica de Administración y Políticas Públicas – FIIAPP- (2007), pp. 5-6.

[2]  “Commitment to Public Security in the Americas”, adopted at the First Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Public Security in the Americas, OEA/Ser.K/XLIX.1 MISPA/Doc. 7/08 rev.3, October 8, 2008.

[3]  Idem.