The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights staged its 141st session from 21 March – 1 April 2011 in Washington, D.C., USA.

During the session, the Commission held hearings and meetings on a range of persistent human rights violations in the region and approved reports on individual cases.

The Commission also announced its decision to study discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex persons (LGBTI) across the region in the coming months, after receiving reports of "intolerable violence" faced by LGBTI persons in every aspect of their lives.

Hearings concerning children's rights revealed institutional violence against Mapuche children in Chile and sexual violence against women and girls in camps for internally displaced people in Haiti. Children's rights also featured in hearings on other human rights issues.

Institutional violence

In a hearing on Chile, the Commission heard complaints of State violence against Mapuche children committed in the context of its repression of the Mapuches' protests to claim their ancestral territories.

The petitioners reported that children have received bullet wounds, suffered asphixiation caused by the effects of tear gas, been beaten and kicked, assaulted with firearms, tortured, threatened with death by drowning, treated inhumanely in detention, persecuted, experienced raids on schools and communities, and been kidnapped. One 17 year old, Alex Lemún Saavedra, was even murdered in 2002.

They also informed the Commission that anti-terrorism legislation is being applied to children involved in the protests.

Chile's director of Human Rights in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Miguel Angel González, described the accusations as "subjective, extreme and not based on reality".

He said that "there could be some cases," but he was only aware of three involving Mapuche adolescents and said that they had participated in the violence. He added that "there is no State policy aimed at repressing the Mapuche movement."

Representatives of Fundación Anide and the Red de ONGs de Infancia y Juventud de Chile expressed outrage that there are currently 49 cases of Mapuche who have been tried under the Anti-Terrorist Law, five of whom are under 18, saying hundreds of Mapuche people have been detained for participating in protests for legitimate claims to their ancestral lands.

Ana Cortéz Salas, coordinator of Fundación Anide's Project Pichikeche, declared: "It seems inconceivable that the government denies knowledge of the cases we are talking about as we have only listed cases that are in the public domain, such as the case of a 14 year old who was kidnapped and threatened with being thrown from a helicopter in 2009 if they failed to report the community members who had taken over a farm."

"Violations are being perpetrated by Chile's State institutions, such as police forces and health services which refuse to declare physical and psychological injuries, or minimise them; educational establishments which are used for arbitrary and illegal detentions... How is it possible that the government uses lack of knowledge of the actions of its own institutions as an argument?" she questioned.

Old ground

Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, Rapporteur on Children's Rights at the Commission, voiced his concerns about the situation of Mapuche children in Chile, saying:

"... this is happening in the context of the application of the Anti-terrorist Law which was formulated by an authoritarian regime but which now continues to be applied by a democratic government". This is something which "frightens the Commission," he said.

Chile's State representative explained that the Anti-terrorism Law is being reviewed.

Pinheiro continued: "The second problem is the lack of any Child Protection Law which complies with the Convention on the Rights of the Child." He reminded the Chilean State of the need to implement Concluding Observations issued by the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2007 which recommended that the State afford special protection to indigenous children in Chile, and that it guarantee the principle of non-discrimination.

Download full hearing presentation.

Petitioners: Fundación Anide and Red de ONGs de Infancia y Juventud de Chile (ROIJ Chile), with support from Kindernothilfe, Save the Children and Red Latinoamericana y Caribeña por la Defensa de los Derechos de los Niños, Niñas y Adolescentes (REDLAMYC).

Sexual violence persists in Haiti

In a hearing on violence faced by women and girls in 22 camps for internally displaced persons in Haiti, the Commission heard testimonies from women and girls affected by sexual violence.

The hearing examined compliance with a Precautionary Measure issued by the Commission in December which requested the Haitian government to adopt concrete measures to prevent sexual violence against girls and women living in the camps.

The petitioners reported that minimal progress had been achieved and that rampant sexual violence continued with impunity. Obstacles to compliance included the exclusion of grassroots organisations from participation in discussions on gender-based violence and the government's lack of capacity to fund and coordinate activities, they reported.

The groups requested the Commission to conduct a country visit with a delegation that includes independent experts on security, justice and health. It further urged the Commission to order the State to increase the number and frequency of patrols inside the camps, conduct gender sensitivity training for agents of the police and justice sector, and to set out a procedure for reporting and investigations between the police, justice and health providers to ensure greater efficiency and prevent revictimisation of women and girls.

Download full presentation and testimonies

Petitioners: International Women's Human Rights Clinic at CUNY / MADRE / Women's Link Worldwide / KOFAVIV / FAFILEK / Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti / Center for Constitutional Rights / Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI).

Registering progress

The Commission heard of progress made in accessing the right to nationality in the Dominican Republic. The State reported that the civil register had previously been managed by private parties which had serious implications for human rights, not least by facilitating the smuggling of children. The register has now been modernised. The Commission announced it would continue to monitor registration policy both for those born in the Dominican Republic and Haitian migrants.

Download a hearing presentation from the previous session.

Reproducing violations

In a hearing on the reproductive rights of women, the Commission learnt about the restrictive interpretation of the right to health in 12 countries, which exclude reproductive rights.

The petitioners spoke of the consequences and impact of restrictive laws on the legal interruption of pregnancy, including the practice of abortion in unsafe conditions and maternal morbidity rates. They highlighted the particular impact on girls and young women who are poor, have little education, and live in rural areas.

The Commission declared that women's reproductive health should be a priority in legislation, policy and programmes. It urged States to eliminate barriers that restricted women's access to maternal health services and reminded them that therapeutic abortion is recognised internationally "as a specialised, necessary health services for women intended to save the mother's life when it is at risk due to pregnancy, and that denying this service constitutes an attack on the life and physical and psychological integrity of women."

Closing in

In othe hearings, the Commission received information a spectrum of barriers faced by human rights defenders in the region, including threats, harassment, and disparagement by public authorities, murders, extrajudicial executions, and forced disappearances. Indirect measures such as restricting the composition and funding of NGOs and criminalising defenders by applying criminal charges such as "terrorism," "rebellion," and "extortion" are also employed. The Commission reported that although most cases are dismissed, they bring serious moral and financial harm to the accused.

Read the Commission's press release on the session.

Further information

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