Doc. 12
22 February 1991
Original:  Spanish











          The Commission is convinced that one of the principal expressions of the new international law in the American hemisphere has been the body of standards on the international protection of human rights.


          Undoubtedly the most important instrument in this respect is the 1969 American Convention on Human Rights, or Pact of San José, Costa Rica.  At present 22 of the 35 member states of the Organization are parties to that Convention.


          It is, therefore, the hope of the Commission that States Parties to the American Convention on Human Rights will soon include, if not all, then at least the great majority of the members of our Organization.  Therefore, it is again requesting the General Assembly to recommend its ratification or accession, as the case may be, to those member states that have not yet done so.


          Apart from the American Convention on Human Rights, there are other instruments in the inter-American system for the protection of human rights.  In 1985, at its fifteenth regular session in Cartagena, the General Assembly adopted the Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture.  That instrument had originally been proposed by the Commission back in 1978.  At present it has been signed by 20 States, 8 of which have ratified it.


          Another instrument is the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the area of economic, social and cultural rights, which the General Assembly adopted in San Salvador.  It began with a Costa Rican proposal, which the Commission developed into a draft protocol.  Thus far, 14 States have signed it, but only one, Suriname, has ratified it.


          Another Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights is the one on the Abolition of the Death Penalty, which was adopted at the last session of the General Assembly, held in Asunción, Paraguay.  This had been an initiative of the Commission and was proposed by the Government of Uruguay.  To date, only five States have signed it:  Ecuador, Nicaragua, Panama, Uruguay and Venezuela.  No State has ratified it.  The Commission would like to avail itself of this opportunity to call upon all the States Parties to the Pact of San José to accede to or ratify the Additional Protocols, as one more step toward fuller protection of the rights contemplated in the American Convention.


          Some mention should also be made of one of the Commission's other proposals, which is the draft of a human rights instrument to prevent and punish the crime of forced disappearances.  This draft is being examined by a working group of the Permanent Council of the Organization and the Commission is confident that its adoption in the near future will make for better protection of human rights.





          1.          Background


          In some countries of the hemisphere, violence has taken a serious turn for the worse and, by extension, has taken a toll on the people's rights.  Some of the violence has political connotations, while in other cases it is the result of increased activity on the part of organizations engaged in common crime whose illicit activities have  enabled them to arm themselves with everything they need to take on the State's security forces.


          There is nothing new about this brand of indiscriminate violence or politically motivated violence.  In the past, there have been cases of extreme violence against persons, institutions and property.  Because of the nature of its functions, the Inter-American Commission has firsthand knowledge of the situations described here, which is what prompted it to address the atmosphere of violence in which human rights violations occur.  In certain situations, the scale of the conflict is that of an armed struggle in which a group of irregulars may come to control pieces of territory.  In the course of the conflict, indiscriminate or selective violence may also be used.  Such violence may affect persons not directly involved in the armed struggle or who have ceased to be involved in it.


          Such situations make for a very complex picture.  Using the experience it has, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights must address this matter with special care and particularly in light of the recommendations recently made to it by the General Assembly of the Organization of American States.


          At its twentieth regular session, the OAS General Assembly adopted resolution AG/RES. 1043 (XX-0/90), as follows:







          HAVING SEEN resolution AG/RES. 778 (XV-0/85) "Condemnation of terrorist methods and practices"; and




                   That the increase in indiscriminate and selective violence perpetrated by irregular armed groups in some states of the hemisphere demands that the new situations arising in that context be assessed responsibly, rigorously and impartially, with a view to monitoring more closely the protection of human rights in the region;


                   That such acts are assaults on human life and personal safety, undermine the well-being of democratic societies, cause serious damage to infrastructure and economic output, and hinder the full exercise of the civil, political, as well as economic, social and cultural rights of the peoples of the Americas;


                   That it should be emphasized that all obligations relating to the protection and promotion of human rights and the fundamental freedoms of the people must be observed at all times,




                   1.       To reaffirm the condemnation of terrorist activities issued in resolution AG/RES. 775 (XV-0/85) by the General Assembly of the Organization of American States and its commitment to combat such illicit activity with full respect for the rule of law.


                   2.       To express its most emphatic repudiation of the crimes perpetrated by irregular armed groups and its deep concern over the adverse effects of such acts on the enjoyment of human rights, endangering as they do the functioning and stability of democratic institutions in the hemisphere.


                   3.       To recommend to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that in reporting on the status of human rights in the American states, it include reference to the action of irregular armed groups in such states.



          This resolution is one of many statements and proposals made by the delegates of the member states of the Organization when various topics were discussed.  For example, at the time of discussion of Article 2 of the Draft Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons, which defines the phenomenon of disappearance, the Peruvian Government's proposal was to include the following phrase: "and the abduction or detention of a person either by persons belonging to insurgency groups, belligerents or, in general, any armed group that employs violence."


          This line of thought has been echoed in the Working Group on the Strengthening of the Organization in connection with the system of human rights.  The Report of the Rapporteur for the Topic of Human Rights of the Working Group on the Strengthening of the OAS (document CP/GT/FOEA/ doc.6/89 rev. 1) summarizes the views expressed by the delegates on this point and states that they agreed to study the idea of preparing a special legal regime that covers human rights violations committed by groups of armed irregulars that engage in terrorism.


          It should be noted here that some member states of the Organization are not in favor of the idea of associating acts perpetrated by irregular groups with the concept of human rights.  Because of the possible impact that this situation might have on the inter-American system for protecting human rights, some observations in this regard are in order.


          2.          The legal framework


          It might be useful to begin the examination of this issue with a brief look back at the origin of the traditional concept of human rights and how it materialized into international laws, the same laws that instituted organizations charged with international protection of human rights.  The concept of human rights is often used to refer to acts that adversely affect the exercise of individual rights.  In a very broad sense, the fundamental rights of a person,  individual rights and human rights would seem to be synonymous; anything related to the attributes of the person is a right and, by extension,  a human right.  This idea is so sweeping, however, that the element of specificity is lost.


          In the case of the standards of international law that govern the international obligation of States in the matter of human rights, the type of juridical relationship that the respective rules formalize is a specific one.  Here it should be noted that the individual rights or rights of the person are those recognized in the constitutions of the States as those attributes of the person that the State has the duty to protect by reaffirming them when they are in danger of being violated or by establishing some type of compensation when the violation has already been committed.  This is the classic notion of the role of the State as an organ charged with protecting the individual vis-à-vis the actions of other individuals or groups.


          The situations that arose in Europe between the two world wars dramatically demonstrate the need to develop a system that contemplates those situations in which the State, whose function is to protect the individual, becomes his assailant.  When it comes to the State, the individual is defenseless because he lacks the means to protect himself.  This is where the rights of the individual acquire an added dimension that puts them above the rights of States and makes the individual a subject under international law.  Thus, his individual rights can be protected by the international community, organized and juridically regulated by means of treaties.  This is the substance of the legal contract between the individual and the State that is formalized in the concept of human rights.


          This is the underlying principle of the international legal instruments on human rights.  The American Convention concerns the duties of States vis-à-vis the rights and freedoms of persons, the full and free exercise of which they must not only respect but also guarantee.  The entire system for protecting human rights is designed on the basis of the State's acknowledgement of itself as a party to a fundamental legal contract on the matter of human rights and it is against the State that complaints alleging violation of the rights upheld in the Convention are brought.


          This legal concept is also the basis of the structure and functions of the international organizations charged with the protection and promotion of human rights.  It is within this legal framework that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has been discharging its functions; it has also found there the elements that have allowed it to address situations of violence when they are the general backdrop against which violations of human rights occur.   This point is addressed below.


          3.        The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and

                    acts of violence


          The rules and regulations of the Commission enable it to take into account the atmosphere of violence in which human rights violations may be occurring, and to address those very situations.  In effect, in its reports on the situation of human rights in El Salvador (1978), Argentina (1980), Colombia (1981), Guatemala (1981 and 1983), the Miskito Indians in Nicaragua (1983), and the updates on those reports as presented in its annual reports, the Inter-American Commission has made reference to the problem of violence in the country under study and has described the acts committed by groups of armed irregulars.


          One comment that is of particular relevance to the topic under consideration here is contained in its Annual Report 1988-89.  There, when reporting on the on-site observation conducted in Peru from May 8 through 12, 1989, the Commission noted the following:


The Special Commission also felt it was imperative to put an end to the activities of irregular groups; they are escalating and spreading the violence, which is taking a dire toll in human lives and eroding the country's basic institu- tions.  Neither the professed struggle to conquer poverty and build a new state nor the need to take justice into their own hands can in any way justify recourse to selective assassination, summary execution, the destruction of the productive infrastructure, torture, the forced disappearance of persons and the use of terrorism as an instrument of social control.


          The Commission can address such violence, and has done so repeatedly, from two different angles.  One is the need to depict the general setting of the human rights situation in a given country.  The other angle is to consider those situations when analyzing the causes invoked as grounds for suspending the exercise of certain rights, in accordance with the provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights.  Such situations can, therefore, be examined in the context of the rules and regulations that govern the business of the Commission, and it has used that approach.  To expand the concept of human rights or the functions of the Inter-American Commission by adding new elements would mean that particular care would have to be taken when defining the situations and the protagonists that one wishes to consider.


          4.          Irregular armed groups


          General Assembly resolution AG/RES. 1043, cited earlier, is the first time the General Assembly has coupled the activities of groups of armed irregulars with the notion of human rights.  Both in the resolution and in the Peruvian proposal, the notion of "irregular armed groups" is a very broad concept.  In this specific case, the concept is broad enough to encompass situations involving various types of political violence, as well as the activities of armed groups organized for purposes of common crime.


          By way of example, one might consider the dimensions of the phenomenon of drug traffickers in the hemisphere--in countries where drugs are produced, countries where they are distributed, and countries in which they are consumed--and the various individual rights adversely affected by the activities of such group.   This one example points up the need to specify the scope of the terms being used.  One should also consider the widespread phenomenon of urban violence, both for criminal purposes and because of similar social maladjustments in the case of adolescents and the young.  Real armed groups participate in this violence.  These examples show that if the concept used is too sweeping, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights could become involved in any act of violence perpetrated by an armed group.  There is no doubt that this would have an adverse effect on the American system for protecting human rights and would do nothing to enhance its operation.


          In the case of General Assembly resolution AG/RES. 1043, however, the concept of "irregular armed groups" would seem to refer to the actions of these groups amid some internal armed conflict, in which violence is used to alter a given political order.  This type of phenomenon is regulated under Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.  That article is applied in the case of armed conflicts not of an international nature and is intended to formalize the commitment of the States parties and the groups involved in the conflict to accord humane treatment to all persons who are not taking active part in the hostilities, including members of the armed forces who have laid down their arms or are not engaged in combat.  This article prohibits violence to the life and person of the people, the taking of hostages, outrages upon the personal dignity and the passing of sentences by anything other than the regularly constituted courts.  It should also be borne in mind that the article in question stipulates that an impartial humanitarian body such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, may offer its services to the Parties to the conflict.


          Because the rights protected under Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions are the same as some of those included in the human rights instruments that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights applies, one could argue that the Commission might become involved in investigating and clarifying events that occurred amid an armed conflict that was not of an international nature.  Were such a decision to be made, then specific rules to that effect would have to be drafted.  In doing so, consideration would have to be given to the political implications that such functions might have for the parties in conflict.


          Another situation in which the concept of "irregular armed groups" is used is when they take actions calculated to alter a social order that they perceive as being antidemocratic and unjust and that is perpetuated through the use of some form of violence.  The recent history of the hemisphere has seen situations of this type, where "subversive" or "insurgent" groups have later gone on to become the government, or have helped create the conditions for a change of government.


          The expression "irregular armed groups" would therefore have to be carefully defined in order to establish the subjects  that the Commission is to target.  The type of situations in which the activities of such groups would require the Commission's consideration would also have to be determined in order to give it a precise legal frame of reference by which to operate.  This becomes even more necessary when one considers that the concept of irregular armed groups has often been associated with the concept of terrorism, a point that will be addressed below.


          5.          Terrorism


          Resolution AG/RES. 1043 alludes to a certain type of violence perpetrated by irregular groups ("indiscriminate and selective violence").

Here it would seem to be referring to the matter of terrorism, judging by the references made to resolution AG/RES. 775 (XV-0/85) "Condemnation of terrorist methods and practices."  Resolution AG/RES. 775 does not establish any link between the phenomenon of terrorism and the concept of human rights.  Nevertheless, because the issue of terrorism has been raised and has prompted various measures within the Organization, it merits careful consideration.


          The problem of acts of terrorist violence and their consequences for the exercise of human rights is not a matter of indifference to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, any more than it is for the Organization of American States or the United Nations.  The history of the Commission's own experience with this issue is a good illustration of the kinds of problems and repercussions that examining the links between terrorism and human rights can mean, especially when it comes to the inter-American system for promoting and protecting human rights.


          Thus, on April 23, 1970, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, deeply disturbed by the recent acts of terrorist violence in the hemisphere and elsewhere in the world, adopted a resolution wherein it condemned "acts of political terrorism and urban or rural guerrilla terrorism, as they cause serious violations of the rights to life, personal security and physical freedom, freedom of thought, opinion and expression, and the right to protection, upheld in the American Declaration and other international instruments."  It also declared "that the political or ideological objectives cited as the reason for such acts do not alter the fact that they are serious violations of the human rights and fundamental freedoms, nor does it exonerate the authors of such acts of their responsibility for the commission of those violations."


          Two phenomena induced the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to review this early position.  The first was the volume of work on the issue of terrorism that other organs of the Organization had produced.[1] In the slow course of this process--which is still underway--, no agreement was reached on various aspects related to terrorism, such as the matter of asylum, extradition, the definition of terrorist acts and, in particular, the underlying causes of terrorism.  The lack of agreement, coupled with the fact that the United Nations was also seized of the matter, led to the present state of affairs, in which the last official reference was in the 1985 General Assembly resolution on "Condemnation of terrorist methods and practices."  There the General Assembly resolved "To express its unequivocal support for the consideration given to the matter of international terrorism by the United Nations General Assembly at its fortieth session."  It is interesting to note that the issue of human rights was not linked to the question of human rights either in this resolution or in any other document produced by the various organs of the Organization since 1970.


          The outcome was an Opinion of the Inter-American Juridical Committee and the draft Convention on Terrorism and Kidnapping of Persons for Purposes of Extortion, which served as a basis for discussions in the General Assembly and led to adoption of the Convention to Prevent and Punish the Acts of Terrorism Taking the Form of Crimes against Persons and Related Extorsion that are of International Significance, approved in Washington on February 2, 1971, and ratified by nine member states to date.


          The General Assembly also instructed the Permanent Council to study issues of collaboration to prevent and punish acts of terrorism and the aspects that had not yet been covered by the Washington Convention.  The Permanent Council referred this mandate to its General Committee, which formed a Working Group in 1972; this Working Group met three times down to February 1973, and then met again in 1976.  In 1977 the General Assembly renewed its mandate to the Permanent Council in this matter, and in 1978 the Working Group presented a report on possible international action against the problem of terrorism, recommending that the General Assembly itself determine the basic guidelines to be followed.  In 1978 the Assembly again instructed the Permanent Council to continue its studies toward the preparation, in cooperation with the Inter-American Juridical Committee, of draft conventions on the aspects not covered in the Washington Convention of 1971 and on the taking of hostages, an aspect that had also been under consideration by a United Nations ad hoc Working Group since 1976, which led to the preparation of an Interna- tional Convention against the Taking of Hostages, approved by the General Assembly in 1979.


          On that occasion the General Assembly also recommended to the Permanent Council that, "concurrently with the work mentioned above, if undertake studies and research to establish the underlying causes of international terrorism [Resolution AG/RES. 366 (VIII-0/78)].  The work subsequently reached an impasse that proved insuperable, and the last action taken was a report of the Permanent Council's Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs of November 28, 1983, suggesting that the Council consult the member states on the advisability of pursuing the work any further.


          The other phenomenon that caused the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to define the legal framework of its activity in connection with the issue of terrorism was the frequent use of terrorism by governments, which the Commission had established .  Massive and systematic human rights violations were being committed.  Thus, for example, governments such as those that resulted from the coup d'etat in Chile on September 11, 1973, or in Argentina on March 26, 1976, or the government headed by General Anastacio Somoza in Nicaragua--to mention but a few--argued that their actions were in response to the need to deal with terrorist attacks.  They further emphasized that the Commission's position should be to condemn "terrorist" acts by groups of armed irregulars on grounds that they violated their victims' human rights.


          The most specific articulation of those concerns appears in the document "Observations and Criticisms of the Government of Argentina on the Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on the Situation of Human Rights in Argentina" (doc. OEA/Ser.P AG/CP/doc. 265/80, April 29, 1980):


If it has been admitted that the human rights of the victims of terrorism have been violated, the IACHR is competent to study the matter or, in any event, to concern itself with the issue, since its mission is "to promote respect for human rights."  If that premise is not accepted, there is obviously an irreconcilable difference in concepts and basic approaches that will inevitably have a significant impact on the value attached to the work of the IACHR.


          In circumstances such as those in which the preceding paragraph was drafted, the Commission has had to take into account that the issue of violence and terrorism has from time to time been used, either blatantly or indirectly, to justify human rights violations.  In effect, when the Commission has addressed violent situations such as those mentioned under point 3 of this document, it has presented information that can explain acts of government agents that lead to human rights violations.  However, such generalized violence, even terrorist violence, cannot ever be used to justify the violations that occur.


          This is one aspect that must be weighed carefully, since the Commission has often heard the argument that human rights violations are inevitable because they are the consequence of the "war" created by armed groups, who are generally portrayed as terrorists.  Thus, human rights violations are being justified as a necessary byproduct of an armed conflict that the authorities and security forces do not admit to having provoked.  In the Commission's judgment, this is an invalid argument; consequently, it has repeatedly asserted that unqualified respect for human rights must be a fundamental part of any anti-subversive strategies when such strategies have to be implemented.


          The association of the topic of terrorism with that of human rights poses some major practical problems as well.  Investigation of "terrorist acts" first presupposes defining such acts in order to pinpoint what it is that the Commission is expected to do.  As explained earlier, that definition has not yet been devised.


          Without that definition, the Commission would have to approach the issue on the basis of the information that the governments provide in connection with those terrorist acts.  Assessing that information would require that the Commission conduct some type of investigation in that regard and, in the process, hear the side of the organization to which the terrorist act is imputed.  This concrete situation poses two problems:  first, the Commission would be performing functions that are the purview of the State, such as investigating the facts and identifying those responsible.  This raises the fundamental issue of State sovereignty, as there are many who believe that the investigation of terrorist acts and their prevention and punishment are the exclusive authority of the State, that such authority cannot be delegated and that international organizations have no role in them.  The corollary is that the only place where an international dimension to the issue of terrorism is suitable is that of cooperation between States to apprehend the authors of such acts or to prevent their reoccurrence.


          The Commission is of the opinion that as matters stand in the Organization of American States and the United Nations on the issue of terrorism, it cannot preempt the State in its duty to investigate acts of violence or terrorism, to identify those responsible, to bring them to trial, with due process of law, and to apply the penalties that the law requires.


          The second problem posed by the Commission's eventual involvement in these procedures is the repercussions that the activities of an intergovernmental organ can have on the international standing of a group that is a party to an internal armed conflict.  In effect, the Inter-American Commission's experience shows that many of the acts classified as terrorist acts occur within the context of armed domestic strife.  One of the parties to the dispute may be armed groups that control pieces of territory, that could qualify as belligerents and, eventually, be recognized as subjects of international law.  All these considerations must be carefully weighed when drafting the standards required if one wishes to move further in the direction of linking human rights and terrorism.


          As the work being done in connection with the issue of terrorism now stands, there is no frame of reference that would allow the inter-American system for the protection of human rights to help remedy the situations posed.  After many years of study in various fora, that frame of reference is still missing because of its legal implications and the practical problems it poses.


          Summarizing, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights believes that the concern to extend the American system for the protection of human rights to include situations not yet included therein is a positive one and offers an important area in which the organs of the Organization may collaborate.  However, it must underscore the fact that the effort must be based on the experience gained thus far in various areas, strengthening action within the existing legal framework that exists:  the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the American Convention on Human Rights, the American Covention to Prevent and Punish Torture, the Additional Protocol to the Convention in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  One must also bear in mind the way the Commission has been examining the situations of violence that may be affecting certain states, situations in which human rights violations are occurring.  In other respects, such as the one that concerns the matter of terrorism, it is up to the pertinent organs to work toward defining norms on the subject matter so as to then examine whether the issue of terrorism should be linked to the issue of the observance of human rights.  As for situations involving domestic armed conflict, it is the responsibility of the States to establish the norms and conditions under which the Commission, based on the international regulations that govern it, may help to correct any problems that arise involving individual rights.  The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is ready to continue to cooperate with the organs and member states of the Organization on these and other topics, with a view to achieving effective observance of human rights in the hemisphere.





          Human rights, political rights and representative democracy are concepts whose interrelationship has been repeatedly reasserted by the inter-American community.  There have been numerous declarations and international commitments made by the American states.  The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights believed this was a fitting time to summarize the most important milestones in that regard, tying in those advances with the human rights instruments developed by the United Nations system and the Organization of American States and describing how the Commission has be dealing with specific situations that concern this matter.


          1.        Representative democracy and human rights in

                    the inter-American system


          Representative democracy--one of whose central elements is the popular election of those who exercise political power--is the form of State organization explicitly espoused by the member states of the Organization of American States.  Unlike the United Nations, the American regional organization has included a specific provision in its Charter, Article 3.d., whereby:


The solidarity of the American States and the high aims which are sought through it require the political organization of those States on the basis of the effective exercise of representative democracy.


          That article is a more explicit articulation of what the representatives state in the Preamble to the Charter:


Confident that the true significance of American solidarity and good neighborliness can only mean the consolidation on this continent, within the framework of democratic institutions, of a system of individual liberty and social justice based on respect for the essential rights of man.


          This text is of particular significance in that it associates the democratic system with individual freedoms and respect for human rights, an idea that had already been embodied in the preamble to the 1947 Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, where it states:


That the American regional community affirms as a manifest truth that juridical organization is a necessary prerequisite of security and peace, and that peace is founded on justice and moral order and, consequently, on the international recognition and protection of human rights and freedoms, on the indis- pensable well-being of the people, and on the effectiveness of democracy for the international realization of justice and security.


          With the amendments introduced in the Charter of the Organization through the Protocol of Cartagena de Indias, Article 2 provides that one of its essential purposes is "To promote and consolidate representative democracy, with due respect for the principle of nonintervention" (Article 2.b.).  The reference to the principle of nonintervention calls for a specific observation in the case of an organ charged with protecting human rights, such as the Inter-American Commission.


          The Commission has already stated that the principle of noninterven- tion is a rule of conduct to regulate the actions of States or groups of States, as provided in Article 18 of the Charter of the Organization.  The history of all the rules and regulations developed within the Inter-American System (Seventh International Conference of American States, Montevideo, 1933, and the Inter-American Conference for the Consolidation of Peace, Buenos Aires, 1936, the Additional Protocol relative to Nonintervention) adopt that position.  In its Draft Instrument on cases of violation of the principle of nonintervention (1972), the Inter-American Juridical Committee stated that when drafting it, one of the basic criteria it used was that "only States can be potential subjects of intervention."


          In 1972, at its second regular session, the General Assembly of the Organization of American States adopted a resolution titled "Strengthening

of the principles of nonintervention and self-determination of peoples and measures to guarantee their observance."  There, the idea that only States are subjects of intervention is reasserted.  One of the paragraphs in the preamble of that resolution is worth noting:


All States shall respect the right of self-determination and independence of peoples and nations, to be freely exercised without any foreign pressure, and with absolute respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.


          The principle of nonintervention, therefore, is tied in with the right of all peoples to self-determination and independence.  When put into practice, this principle must properly parallel human rights and fundamental freedoms.  This important interrelationship of principles of international law is embodied in Article 16 of the Charter of the Organization, which reads as follows:


Each State has the right to develop its cultural, political, and economic life freely and naturally.  In this free development, the State shall respect the rights of the individual and the principles of universal morality.


          According to this provision of the Charter, a State's right to develop its domestic life freely has a counterpart in the form of its obligation to respect the rights of the individual.  In the inter-American juridical system, those rights are embodied in the American Convention on Human Rights.  A proper interpretation of the principle of nonintervention, therefore, is the protection of the right of States to self-determination, provided that the State conducts itself in such a way that the rights of the individual are respected.


          The link between representative democracy and human rights was addressed by the Fourth Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs --Washington, D.C., March 26 through April 7, 1951.  Resolution VII, titled "Strengthening and Effective Exercise of Democracy," states that the solidarity of the American republics requires the "effective exercise of representative democracy, social justice and respect for and observance of the rights and duties of man."


          The relationship between representative democracy and the observance of human rights is reasserted in Resolution XXVII of the Tenth Inter-American Conference --Caracas, March 1 through 28, 11954-- which declares that full observance of the fundamental human rights can only be realized within a system of representative democracy.


          Later, the postulate of the relationship between representative democracy and human rights was further refined in the Declaration of Santiago, adopted in 1959 by the Fifth Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs.  It was at that meeting that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was created.  The Declaration of Santiago enunciates certain "principles and attributes of the democratic system", stating that:


    1.  The principle of the rule of law should be assured by the separation of powers, and by the control of the legality of governmental acts by competent organs of the state.


    2.  The governments of the American republics should be the result of free elections.


    3.  Perpetuation in power, or the exercise of power without a fixed term and with the manifest intent of perpetuation, is incompatible with the effective exercise of democracy.


    4.  The governments of the American states should maintain a system of freedom for the individual and of social justice based on respect for fundamental human rights.


    5.  The human rights incorporated into the legislation of the American states should be protected by effective judicial procedures.


    6.  The systematic use of political prescription is contrary to American democratic order.


    7.  Freedom of the press, radio, and television, and, in general, freedom of information and expression, are essential conditions for the existence of a democratic regime.


    8.  The American states, in order to strengthen democratic institutions, should cooperate among themselves within the limits of their resources and the framework of their laws so as to strengthen and develop their economic structure, and achieve just and humane living conditions for their peoples.


          For its part, the General Assembly of the Organization has on numerous occasions articulated the relationship between representative democracy and human rights, emphasizing the need for political rights to be exercised so as to elect government authorities.  And so, it has recommended "...to the member states that have not yet done so that they reestablish or perfect the democratic system of government, in which the exercise of power derives from the legitimate and free expression of the will of the people, in accordance with the particular characteristics and circumstances of each country" [Resolutions AG/RES. 510 (X-0/80); AG/RES. 543 (XI-0/81); AG/RES. 618 (XII-0/82); AG/RES. 666 (XIII-0/83), and AG/RES. 742 (XIV-0/84)].  In the preamble to resolution AG/RES. 618 (XII-0/82), the General Assembly also states that "a democratic structure is an essential factor in establishing a political society in which human values can be fully developed."


          The General Assembly of the Organization of American States addressed a specific case in resolution AG/RES. 443 (IX-0/79), adopted at its ninth regular session, wherein it resolved:


5. To urge the Government of Chile to step up adoption and implementation of the measures necessary effectively to preserve and ensure the full exercise of human rights in Chile, especially regarding clarification of the situation of those detained persons who have disappeared, return of exiles to their country, lifting of states of emergency, and prompt reinstatement

        of the right to vote.


          Another pertinent resolution adopted by the General Assembly was AG/RES. 837 (XVI-0/86).  The preamble states the following:


The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in its annual report for the period 1985-86 presented to this regular session of the General Assembly for consideration, recommended "that it reaffirm the urgent need for the governments that have not yet reestablished representative democracy as their system of government to put in place the relevant institutional mechanisms for restoring that system in as short a period of time as possible by means of free, secret and informed elections, since democracy is the best guarantee for the observance of human rights and the basis of solidarity among the states of the hemisphere."


          In that resolution the General Assembly went on to resolve the following:


To reaffirm the inalienable right of all the peoples of the Americas freely to determine their political, economic and social system without outside interference, through a genuine democratic process and within a framework of social justice in which all sectors of the population will enjoy the guarantees necessary to participate freely and effectively through the exercise of universal suffrage.


          The last of the General Assembly resolutions that should be cited is AG/RES. 890 (XVII-0/87), wherein it decides:


To reiterate to those governments that have not yet reinstated the representative democratic form of government that it is urgently necessary to implement the pertinent institutional machinery to restore such a system in the shortest possible time, through free and open elections held by secret ballot, since democracy is the best guarantee of the full exercise of human rights and is the firm foundation of the solidarity among the states of the hemisphere.


          As can been seen, in the inter-American sphere there is a close correlation between representative democracy as a form of State organization and the exercise of political rights.  That relationship will be examined, based on the international instruments wherein those rights are spelled out.


          2.          Representative democracy and political rights


          The universal and inter-American instruments on human rights need to be mentioned.  Among the former is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 21 of which states:


1.  Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.


2.  Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.


3.  The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.


          Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides that citizens shall enjoy the following rights and opportunities:


Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions:


                   (a)      To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives;


                   (b)      To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors;


                   (c)      To have access, on general terms of equality, to public service in his country.


          At the inter-American level is the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, Article XX of which reads as follows:


          Every person having legal capacity is entitled to participate in the government of his country, directly or through his representatives, and to take part in popular elections, which shall be by secret ballot, and shall be honest, periodic and free.


          This postulate is elaborated upon in  Article 23 of the American Convention on Human Rights, which provides that:


                          1. Every citizen shall enjoy the following rights and opportunities:


                                      a.       to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives;


                                      b.       to vote and to be elected in genuine periodic elections, which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and by secret ballot that guarantees the free expression of the will of the voters;


                                      c.       to have access, under general conditions of equality, to the public service of his country.


          2.       The law may regulate the exercise of the rights and opportunities referred to in the preceding paragraph only on the basis of age, nationality, residence, language, education, civil and mental capacity, or sentencing by a competent court in criminal proceedings.


          An important point here is that Article 27 of the American Convention, which concerns the suspension of guarantees "In time of way, public danger, or other emergency that threatens the independence or security of a State Party...," does not authorize suspension of the exercise of political rights, as stipulated in its subparagraph 2.


          The Commission has noted that it is no coincidence that the laws drafted in this hemisphere have emphasized the existence of a direct relationship between the exercise of political rights so defined and the concept of democracy as a form of State organization, which in turn presupposes the observance of other fundamental human rights.  In effect, it is the Commission's view that the concept of representative democracy is founded upon the principle that it is the people who have political sovereignty; exercising that sovereignty, they elect their representatives --in indirect democracies--to exercise political power.  These representatives, moreover, are elected by the citizens to apply certain policy measures, which in turn means that the nature of the policies to be applied has been widely debated--freedom of thought--among organized political groups--freedom of association--that have had an opportunity to voice their opinions and assemble publicly--right of assembly--.


          Moreover, the observance of these rights and freedoms calls for a legal and institutional order wherein the law take precedence over the will of the governing and where certain institutions exercise control over others so as to preserve the integrity of the expression of the will of the people--a constitutional state or a state in which the rule of law prevails.


          On numerous occasions the Commission has made reference to several aspects associated with the exercise of political rights in a representative democracy and their relationship to the other fundamental rights of the individual.  For the sake of brevity, only those texts that best illustrate this point will be cited.  And so, the Inter-American Commission has said the following in this regard:


          The right to take part in the government and participate in honest, periodic, free elections by secret ballot is of fundamental importance for safeguarding the human rights dealt with in the preceding chapters.  The reason for this lies in the fact that, as historical experience shown, governments derived from the will of the people, expressed in free elections, are those that provide the soundest guaranty that the basic human rights will be observed and protected.  (Report on the Situation of Human Rights in El Salvador (OEA/Ser.L.V/II.45, doct. 23 rev. 2, November 17, 1978, p. 140)).


          The right to political participation leaves room for a wide variety of forms of government; there are many constitutional alternatives as regards the degree of centralization of the powers of the state or the election and attributes of the organs responsible for the exercise of those powers.  However, a democratic framework is an essential element for establishment of a political society where human values can be fully realized.


          The right to political participation makes possible the right to organize parties and political associations, which through open discussion and ideological struggle, can improve the social level and economic circumstances of the masses and prevent a monopoly on power by any one group or individual.  At the same time it can be said that democracy is a unifying link among the nations of this hemisphere.  (Annual Report of the IACHR, 1979-80, p.151).


          The American States have reaffirmed in the Charter of the Organization of American States that one of the guiding principles upon which their solidarity is based requires that the political organization of those States be based on the effective exercise of representative democracy.  Other international instruments on human rights, such as the Pact of San José of Costa Rica, have recognized the right of every citizen to take part in the conduct of public affairs, to vote and to be elected in genuine periodic elections, which shall be by universal equal suffrage and by secret ballot that guarantees the free expresion of the will of the voters.


          At the same time, the General Assembly of the OAS at its tenth regular session, reiterated to its member states that have not yet done so to reestablish or perfect the democratic system of government, in which the exercise of power derives from the legitimate and free expression of the will of the people, in accordance with the particular characteristics and circumstances of each country.


          For its part, the Commission has maintained that within the alternative forms of government that constitutional law recognizes, the framework of a democratic regime should be the fundamental structure for the full exercise of human rights.


          In this context, governments have, in the face of political rights and the right to political participation, the obligation to permit and guarantee:  the organization of all political parties and other associations, unless they are constituted to violate human rights; open debate of the principal themes of socio-economic development; the celebration of general and free elections with all the necessary guarantees so that the results represent the popular will.


          As demonstrated by historical experience, the denial of political rights or the alteration of the popular will may lead to a situation of violence.  (Annual Report of the IACHR, 1980-81, pp. 122-123).


          The analysis of the human rights situation in the States to which the Commission has made reference in the foregoing chapter, as well as in others where the human rights situation has been considered by the Commission in recent years, enables the Commission to affirm that only by means of the effective exercise of representative democracy can the observance of human rights be fully guaranteed.


It is not a question merely, of pointing out the organic relation that exists between representative democracy and human rights; which is manifest in the Charter of the OAS and other instruments of the inter-American system.  The Commission's factual experience has been that serious human rights violations that have occurred or that are occurring in some countries of the Americas are primarily the result of the lack of political participation on the part of the citizenry, which is denied by the authorities in power.  The resistence of these authorities as regards taking the action necessary to reestablish representative democracy has increased the tyranny, on the one hand, and led to serious social strife, on the other.  The result has been that both the government and the more extreme opposition sectors have shown a preference for the use of violence as the sole means of resolving conflicts in the face of a lack of peaceful and rational options.


          This experience confirms, therefore, the authentic social peace and respect for human rights can only be found in a democratic system.  It is the only system that allows for the harmonious interaction of different political tendencies and within which, by means of the inter institutional equilibrium it establishes, the necessary controls can be invoked to correct errors or abuses by the authorities.  (Annual Report of the IACHR, 1985-1986, p. 191).


          Finally, in its 1987 Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Paraguay, after analyzing the most relevant legal texts produced in the hemisphere, the Commission put ...


          ... the exercise of political rights in the larger context of the system of representative democracy.  The hemisphere's legal tradition and the Commission's experience lead to the belief that the exercise of such rights implies participation by the population in the conduct of public affairs, either directly or through representatives elected in periodic and genuine elections featuring universal suffrage and secret ballot, to ensure the free expression of the elector's will.  The voters must be given access, on general conditions of equality, to public functions.


          Exercise of political rights is, in turn, an essential factor in the democratic system of government, which is also characterized by the presence of an institutional system of checks on the exercise of power, the existence of ample freedom of expression, association and meeting; and acceptance of a pluralism that would prevent the use of political proscription as an instrument of power.


          This hemispheric vision of the exercise of political rights within the context of a democratic system of government is completed by the requisite development and promotion of economic, social and cultural rights.  Without them, the exercise of political rights is severely limited and the very permanence of the democratic regime is seriously threatened.


          In short, for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights  the exercise of political rights is an essential ingredient of a representative democracy and presupposes the observance of other human rights as well; the protection of those civil and political rights in a representative democracy also implies the existence of some institutional control over the actions of the powers of the State; it also presupposes the supremacy of the law.   It might be well to determine the scope of the definition of the political rights contained in  Article 23 of the American Convention on Human Rights, drawing upon earlier statements made by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.


          3.          Political rights and electoral processes


          The Commission has also said that since the will of the people is the basis for the authority of government, as provided in the Universal Declaration, it follows that the authorities of the State should be appointed by means of elections.  The Universal Declaration, the American Declaration, the Universal Covenant of Civil and Political Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights all agree that elections should have  specific properties:  they should be authentic or genuine (honest in the case of the American Declaration), periodic, by universal suffrage, and conducted in such a way that they preserve the free expression of the will of the electorate.  What follows is an analysis of each of these properties, accompanied by statements made by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in reference to specific situations.


          a.          Authenticity of the elections


          The act of electing those representatives must be "genuine" in the sense used in the American Convention.  This means that the will of the voters must be reflected in the outcome of the elections.  Put in negative terms, it means that there must be no interference that tampers with the will of the citizenry.


          The various statements that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has made in this regard--as presented below--show that there are two different components to what constitutes genuine elections:  on the one hand are the general conditions in which the electoral process unfolds; on the other are those matters related to the legal and institutional system that sets up the elections and conduct the balloting, in other words, anything related, either directly or indirectly, to casting the ballot.


          As for the general conditions in which the electoral process unfolds, from the concrete situations that the Commission has examined the conclusion is that the conditions must be such that there are several political groups participating in the election, all on an equal footing; in other words, all candidates must be able to conduct their campaigns under the same basic conditions.  This also means that there must be no direct coercion nor undue advantages in favor of one candidate in the election.  Some of what the Inter-American Commission has written in this connection follows.


          In its Annual Report 1979-1980, when analyzing the situation of political rights in Uruguay, the Commission cited the complaints brought by the opposition concerning the conditions under which the national plebiscite would be called, such as "the nonexistence of an adequate climate of political freedom, the absence of a truly free press, the lack of guarantees, etc."  The Commission noted that the conditions lacking at that time were "essential to carry out any act of political significance." (p. 135).


          In the Annual Report 1982-1983, the Commission stated that the municipal elections held in Haiti in 1983 "were held in an atmosphere of insecurity and fear due to the existence of a virtual state of siege, and the lack of individual guarantees...while the main opposition leaders were either imprisoned or in exile."  (p. 27).  In that same report, the Commission reported the approval of the law on political parties in Nicaragua, on August 17, 1983,  noting that it should be supplemented by an election law "setting forth the conditions and circumstances for holding free, secret and informed elections within a short period, open to all Nicaraguan political sectors." (p. 27).


          The Annual Report 1982-1983 also made reference to the elections in Paraguay.  There, the Commission stated that the state of siege in effect throughout the election campaign, coupled with the existence of repressive

laws, "caused the entire electoral process to be carried out in an atmosphere of restriction on public freedoms, fear and insecurity, while the leaders of the opposition... were persecuted and imprisoned." (p. 28).


          In its Annual Report 1983-1984, the Commission examined the general conditions in which the election processes were being conducted, noting in the case of Nicaragua that:


                   ... the Commission has been able to verify that during the current electoral process, the Sandinista National Liberation Front has intensively used all of the resources made available to it by its holding of state power, which places it in an advantageous position with respect to other contenders.  In this regard.  In this regard, the denounced harassment of political and union leaders is unacceptable.  Furthermore, the IACHR considers that some candidates have been excluded, which could have been avoided if there had been greater flexibility, both on the part of the candidates and the Government.  (p. 119).


          In its 1985 Report on the Situation of Human  Rights in Chile the Inter-American Commission leveled various criticisms at the way the 1980 constitutional plebiscite was conducted and then stated that:


                   The Commission is not in a position to refer to the specific irregularities in the plebiscite that were reported.  However, that does not preclude it from forming a judgment on the circumstances prior to it, and considering that the lack of electoral rolls, the existence of the state of emergency, the inactivity of political parties, the practical disadvantages of opposition sectors in access to the information media, and the absence of viable options to the rejection of the proposal of the Government, are all elements that seriously affect the credibility of that procedure.


          In the conclusions to the chapter on the exercise of political rights in the aforementioned Report on Chile, the Inter-American Commission said that in both the 1978 referendum and the 1980 plebiscite, there were:


                   ... restrictions arising from the existence of states of constitutional emergency, which have had a negative impact on the exercise of other human rights associated with the exercise of political rights such as the right to freedom of expression and opinion, the right of association, the right of assembly, and the right to personal freedom.  The Commission has also been able to observe that, when those polls were held, political parties were proscribed or dissolved and that a significant group of Chileans was impeded from returning to the country.  The Commission has also been able to observe that when those polls were held, the Government used all the resources at its disposal and put the opposition in a clearly disadvantageous position.  In the opinion of the Commission, these serious restrictions violate the principle of pluralism, which is characteristic of a regime of representative democracy; they also affect the freedom and the authenticity that are fundamental characteristics of any poll in which the right to vote is exercised.  All these elements cast well-founded doubts on the credibility of the two procedures.  (pp. 282-283).


          In its Annual Report 1986-1987, again on the subject of Chile and the information examined in its 1985 Report, the Commission had the following to say:


          Also in light of previous experience and in accordance with human rights norms, the Commission must point out that the exercise of the right to vote must be included in a context favoring the authenticity of elections in which the free expression of the will of the voters is ensured, as Article 23 of the American Convention on Human Rights states.


          The Commission therefore hopes that this important period that is beginning will help to establish an atmosphere that will encourage citizens to make these important decisions.  In this regard, it would be very useful for those taking part in the political process to avoid at all costs the use of violence and proscription, such as has been repeatedly requested by important sectors of Chilean society.  In the Commission's view, it is essential to break the vicious circle generated by the proscription and violence that threatens to distort the Chilean political scene.


          In the Commission's view also, it is of basic importance that in the period before the scheduled election, the various political groups be given every guarantee and means to have their views expressed and accurately transmitted to the voters.  Accordingly, the Commission regards as positive the steps taken by the Government to allow important opposition leaders to take part again in the country's political life after their long exile.  (p. 220).


          In its 1987 Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Paraguay, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights pointed out the problems with the conditions under which the electoral processes were conducted.


          It must also be remembered that elections have been held under the current state of siege, which is lifted for 24 hours only, on the day of the elections.  The many restrictions on the action of political opponents resulting from this situation have also been adduced to justify abstention from voting.  Such restrictions include the arrest and harassment of political opponents and the ban on public meetings and party meetings, which are prohibited during the state of siege.  Those provisions have not been applied, however, in the case of acts of the official party.


          In addition to those restrictions, mass communications media are controlled directly or indirectly by party members or persons close to the President of the Republic, as discussed in Chapter V of this report.  Even simple political information about the activities of opposition parties sufficed for numerous repressive measures to be taken against the ABC Color newspaper and Radio Ñandutí.  (p. 98).


          In the case of Chile, in its Annual Report 1987-1988, the Inter-American Commission expressed the view that a mature and rational exercise of the right to vote on the occasion of the 1988 plebiscite required that certain conditions be in place well before the actual voting took place.  Among those conditions were the following:  the state of emergency would have to be lifted; there would have to be a sufficient number of registered voters; the various political positions would have to have equal access to the media and no pressure could be exercised on voters.


          After establishing that the state of emergency had been lifted and after determining how many people had registered to vote, the Commission addressed the issue of the media, as follows:


          It may be inferred from the foregoing that during the period covered by the present Annual Report, access to the media in connection with the campaign for the plebiscite was njoyed in disproportionate measure by the Government, which has used the resources available to it to promote messages and images favorable to its position in the coming consultation of the electorate.  To this must be added the many legal and de facto newspapermen and political leaders.  It must also be mentioned that the authorization given for the carrying of political programs represents an advance that does not, however, compensate for the unequal access to the media deriving from the stated circumstances.  (p. 292).


          As for the pressures on the Chilean electorate during the 1988 plebiscite, the Commission notes in that Annual Report "a broad range of resources employed by the Government, which have the effect of steering the reactions of the citizenry in a direction favorable to its policies.  Some of these resources are legal provisions and others are the results of practices engaged in thanks to the lack of a rein on the actions of government."  (p. 292).


          The Commission cited three different phenomena in this regard:  the campaign of intimidation resulting from the official statements made about what would happen if the opposition won; the broad functions performed by the mayors, who were used to intimidate the opposition, and the threats and measures against opposition leaders by unidentified groups that had occasionally been linked to the security forces (pp. 292-293).


          The other side of what constitutes genuine elections has to do with the organization of the electoral process and the conduct of the balloting.  Here again the Commission has made a number of statements in reference to specific cases examined in its annual or special reports.  What follows are excerpts that can be used to extract the crucial factors in this regard.


          In its 1978 Report on the Situation of Human Rights in El Salvador, the Commission concluded the following after analyzing the exercise of political rights:


          There is widespread skepticism among the citizenry regarding the right to vote and to participate in government.  In particular, the political parties of the opposition, in this connection, come to have no confidence in the possibility of having free and honest elections, not only in the light of their experiences during the course of recent elections, but also because of the structure of the electoral system and of the obstacles the parties encounter in trying to organize in the interior of the country.  For all these reasons, the Commission considers that electoral rights are not effective under the present circumstances.  (p. 165).


          As a consequence, in that Report the Commission recommended the following to the Government of El Salvador:  "That the electoral system be reformed, especially by reorganizing the Central Election Council, so that the political parties be equitably represented, and confidence in the system be established."  (p. 167).


          In its Seventh Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Cuba, published in 1983, the Commission said that so few people chose to exercise the vote on important issues because of the voting mechanisms and because of the way the Government and the Cuban Communist Party controlled those mechanisms.  After examining the principal features of the Cuban electoral system, the Commission described the preponderance of that political party as a counterproductive factor.  Its leaders, said the Commission, "wield decisive influence in the operation of the mechanisms for the selection of candidates to hold elective office."  (p. 37).


          In that 1987 Report on Paraguay, the Commission also makes reference to the legal and institutional system whose function is to organize elections.  In discussing the elections that have been held in that country, it examines the effects of the system of proportional representation in effect at that time, when its provisions were applied to the Electoral Statute (Law 886/81).  According to those provisions, two thirds of the members of the municipal boards and the election boards were to be members of the Government party.  Those two boards were the two institutions in charge of organizing elections.  The Commission observed the following:


                   ... the system instituted by the Electoral Statute seriously distorts the electoral process by giving a single party an absolute majority, not only in the legislative bodies, but also in those responsible for organizing the electoral process.  Consequently this system lacks the necessary institutional controls to guarantee impartiality of the electoral acts.  (p. 98).


          In the 1986-1987 Annual Report, the Commission made reference to the voting process underway in Chile at the time.  It cited the provisions of the Voter Registration Law, the purpose of which was to organize the procedure for registering voters and to institute the electoral service.  The Commission points up the criticisms made at the time as to how the provisions of that law were being put into practice (page 216).


          In that same Annual Report, the Commission reported at length on the crisis in Haiti resulting from the dispute between the Provisional Electoral Council and the National Governing Council.  The dispute was largely a struggle to control the mechanics of the election process (pp. 235-243).  The Commission reviewed this matter in greater detail in its 1988 Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Haiti.


          From this recounting of the positions taken by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in connection with specific situations involving the issue of the authenticity of elections, one could infer that the general conditions in which the electoral process unfolds must ensure that all groups participating therein are in an equivalent situation.


          What this implies is an absence of any form of coercion.  This, in turn, prompted the Commission to scrutinize the matter of states of emergency, which curtail the exercise of those civil rights associated with the exercise of political rights.  This measure gives the authorities very important tools with which to control the oppostion, by imposing restrictions on such rights as freedom of expression, the right of assembly, the right to residence and movement, the right to personal freedom and to due process of law.


          As for the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, the Commission examined how governments can use the resources that power puts at their disposal, both to convey messages favorable to themselves and to restrict the opposition's opportunities to get out its own messages.  In this regard, the Commission has analyzed the laws governing the exercise of this right and how they are enforced in practice, looking at the direct and indirect restrictions that the authorities can use against the opposition.


          As for the right of assembly, the Commission has observed the restrictions placed on this right when states of emergency or other types of legal restrictions (police authorizations, for example) are in force or when indirect controls are used such as compulsory participation by government employees in demonstrations.


          Another particularly important consideration when discussing the general conditions in which electoral processes unfold are the actions of irregular groups that employ violence to intimidate those who participate in the electoral process.  The Commission has made frequent reference to situations of this kind.  It has also looked at those situations in which irregulars are hired by one of the participants in the process--generally the party in power--to obstruct those who oppose its positions.


          As for the specific elements in the organization of an electoral process, the Commission has examined the laws that govern it in order to ascertain whether  those laws guarantee proper exercise of the right to vote and a correct accounting of votes.  It has looked carefully at the authority given to agencies charged with conducting the voting process and overseeing the voting and the results.  And so, the Commission has scrutinized the institutional system closely.


          Its purpose has been to detect any manipulation of the process in favor of those who control the institutions (generally the government, one political party or the military forces), to determine who decides whether the vote is legally valid (membership of the electoral bodies) and how their decisions are controlled (appellate bodies).


          The Commission has made observations on such practical aspects as voter registration records and the requirements for registering; the membership of the balloting tables and teller committees; the membership of the electoral tribunal and its powers; and whether ballots are easy to understand and in no way influence the voter.


          Clearly, the issue of genuine elections has been frequently addressed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.  It has made reference to the general conditions under which a referendum is conducted, in terms of whether the various political groups are able to participate on an equal footing; it has also looked at how the procedure used to cast votes and tabulate the results is organized, both from the legal and institutional standpoints.  The Inter-American Commission's purpose has been to get the kind of information that will enable it to make an informed assessment of how accurately the final results of a referendum reflect the will of the people, since this is what makes for the kind of genuine elections of which both the universal and the regional human rights instruments speak.


          b.          Universal suffrage


          Another property of elections as set forth in the international instruments on political rights is that they must be by universal suffrage.  This principle of universal suffrage  is intended to ensure that all persons qualified to vote will be able to participate in the election process.  Article 23 paragraph 2 specifies the grounds that the law can invoke for exceptions to the principle of universal suffrage:  "age, nationality, residence, language, education, civil and mental capacity, or sentencing by a competent court in criminal proceedings."


          The Commission has frequently made reference to specific situations in which governments deny members of the opposition their right to vote on purely political grounds.  The Commission has frowned upon such practices.  Such cases have been mentioned  along with other conditions in which certain election processes have been conducted.  In the excerpts cited above, the Commission has made reference to cases in Haiti, Chile and Paraguay, in which members of the opposition have been jailed, forced to move elsewhere or exiled.


          The excerpts also show how, in the case of Cuba, Chile and Paraguay, people have been excluded on ideological grounds, i.e., people who subscribe to certain political philosophies are not allowed to vote.  The Commission has criticized exclusions of this type in its special reports on Cuba in 1983 (pp. 35-37), Chile in 1985 (pp. 265-266), and Paraguay in 1987 (pp. 98 et seq.)


          The Commission has also observed situations in which there have been legal impediments caused by political repression disguised as police actions--charges of drug trafficking or assaults on the police--.  These can be highly effective, because they are covered under provisions of the respective penal code.  Such situations point up the relationship of political rights to other basic rights such as the right to a fair trial and to personal liberty, and their relationship to a system in which the rule of law and an independent judiciary prevail, and the ability of the Judicial Branch to protect members of the political opposition in the exercise of their rights.


          The Commission is familiar with certain situations that could be related to this issue of universal suffrage.  Among them is the situation of refugees and residents living abroad.  These people could carry considerable political weight, so that it might be good to include them within the electoral process by recognizing their right to vote.  Often, the plight of these people is much like that of political exiles.  Each one's specific circumstances ought to be examined.


          c)          Periodic elections and secret balloting


          Periodic elections in which the balloting is secret guarantee that the electorate will be able to express its will freely.  These are the last two properties cited by the American Convention on Human Rights in connection with elections in which the citizens express their will.  The idea of periodic elections has to do with the need for the public to scrutinize the performance of its government officials and should be tied in with the principle spelled out in the Declaration of Santiago to the effect that "Perpetuation in power, or the exercise of power without a fixed term and with the manifest intent of perpetuation, is incompatible with the effective exercise of democracy."  But it is important to point out that periodic elections have no validity unless they are also authentic and by universal suffrage.  In the Commission's experience, there are many cases of elections in which a person or party in power has been "reelected" on a routine and periodic basis, in elections that are neither authentic nor by universal suffrage.


          As for the secret balloting that guarantees the free expression of the will of the electors, it should be noted that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights uses the expression  "by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures."  These are practical aspects intended to prevent any coercion at the time the ballot is cast.


          From what has been said thus far, one can conclude that the member states of the Organization of American States have unequivocally opted for representative democracy as a form of government.  A long process has gradually established the key elements that together constitute that form of government; for their part, the states have undertaken international commitments  regarding the scope and protection of certain rights whose observance is linked to representative democracy.


          The scope of the rights originally contained in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man is more clearly enunciated in the American Convention on Human Rights.  Article 23 of the latter defines the political rights.  Proper exercise of those rights is related to the observance of other rights and freedoms such as freedom of expression (Article 13), the right to personal liberty (Article 7), the right to a fair trial (Article 8), the right of assembly (Article 15), freedom of association (Article 16), the right to residence and movement (Article 22) and the right to judicial protection (Article 25).


          The American Convention makes it incumbent upon its States Parties not only to observe the rights embodied therein--including, obviously, the political rights and the civil rights related thereto--but also to guarantee their exercise under the terms of Article 1.1.  The importance that the representatives who drafted the Convention attached to political rights is evident in Article 27, which states that those rights cannot be suspended in times of emergency.


          When defining those rights that the States parties have undertaken to respect and promote, the American Convention also institutes the organs charged with protecting and promoting those rights, while devising the instruments by means of which those organs shall discharge those functions.  Pursuant to its mandate under the American Convention, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has been observing government practices as regards political rights in the States Parties.   As a result of information the Commission has reported in that connection, the General Assembly has made a number of recommendations to the member states.


          The positions adopted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have developed a body of principles which has been useful in ascertaining how and to what extent political rights and the civil rights related thereto are enjoyed.  This has been the result of the Commission's involvement in the daily affairs of several members of the Organization of American States and has thereby helped to improve the conditions in which those rights have been exercised.  The experience acquired thus far constitutes an invaluable reserve that the Inter-American Commission will use to continue to develop its activities in the cause of human rights and representative democracy in the hemisphere, in furtherance of the provisions of the international instruments that govern those rights.




          In addition to the specific recommendations made throughout this report, the Commission wishes to make the following general recommendations:


          1.          That the member states that are not parties to the 1969 American Convention on Human Rights (Pact of San José, Costa Rica) ratify or accede to said instrument; in the case of those states that have not yet done so, that they recognize the competence of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to receive and examine interstate communications, pursuant to Article 45 paragraph 3 of the Convention, and the compulsory jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, pursuant to Article 62 paragraph 2 of the Convention;


          2.          To the states that have yet to do so, that they ratify or accede to, as the case may be, the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture and the Additional Protocols to the American Convention on Human Rights on the subject of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Abolition of the Death Penalty;


          3.          That at its forthcoming session, the General Assembly can adopt an Inter-American Convention to prevent and punish forced disappearances of persons, proposed by the Commission;


          4.          That the member states implement the recommendations of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights contained in its 1990-91 Annual Report;


          5.          That the General Assembly provide the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights with the resources it has requested in the 1992-93 biennial program-budget;


          6.          That the member states grant greater respect and protection to non-governmental human rights organizations functioning in their territories, thus recognizing the crucial role such organizations play in monitoring respect for human rights.


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[1] On May 15, 1970, the Permanent Council adopted a resolution on terrorism [doc. OEA/Ser.G, CP/RES. 5 (5/70)].  It recommended to the Preparatory Committee of the General Assembly that it include this resolution on the agenda of that body.  The General Assembly then adopted a resolution [AG/RES. 4 (I-E/70)] in which it condemned acts of terrorism and instructed the Inter-American Juridical Committee to prepare "an opinion on the procedures and measures necessary to make effective the purposes of this resolution."  It further instructed the Inter-American Juridical Committee to prepare "one or more draft inter-American instruments on kidnapping, extortion, and assaults against persons, in cases in which these acts may have repercussions on international relations."