JIS News

Head of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) Kingston office, Candis Hamilton, has pointed to the importance of human rights groups in ensuring the protection of individual liberties, and noted that such liberties were not minimized in the pursuit of other interests.
Citing the increased parity of economic, social and cultural rights to the better-established civil and political rights, she said it was due to the jurisprudence from international organisations such as the IACHR and the Inter American Court of Human Rights, that these rights were growing in prominence and gaining status as enforceable legal rights.
This trend to elevate social rights to enforceable rights, she observed, was evidenced by the fact that some Caribbean countries, Jamaica included, were seeking to amend their Constitutions to establish that the right to education was a constitutional right, thus making a previously held ideal an enforceable legal right.
“International and regional human rights groups have debated this right for the past few decades and the need for states to recognize that education, while requiring certain financial commitment from the state, is a fundamental right of each person for the development of the country’s future. This is but one example of why international organisations are necessary for the continued promotion and protection of human rights in our hemisphere,” Miss Hamilton told JIS News.
The work of human rights groups will be further explored at a workshop to be held at the Jamaica Conference Centre on Friday, February 6 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon.
Media personnel, including representatives from the Press Association of Jamaica, Media Association of Jamaica, students and lecturers from the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC) and relevant civil society groups, are being invited to attend the event, which will be held under the theme: ‘Freedom of Information and You’.
The seminar is sponsored jointly by the IACHR and the Jamaica Information Service (JIS). Information Minister, Senator Burchell Whiteman, will open the workshop, while Dr. Joan Neil, Director of the Organization of American States (OAS), will bring greetings.
An expert team of resource persons has been assembled to field questions. Panelists include Clare Roberts, First Vice-President of the IACHR, who will speak on the relevance of the Inter American system in the context of the Caribbean; Santiago Canton, Executive Secretary, who will speak on Freedom of Information and the types of cases that have come before the Commission in this area, particularly in the context of Jamaica, with the implementation of the Access to Information Act; and Staff Attorney, Brian Tittemore, who will give an overview of the IACHR system.
The IACHR is an agency of the Organization of the American States (OAS) and was created to promote the observance and defense of human rights and to serve as a consultative organ of the OAS in this matter.
The Inter American system ensures protection for all persons within the 35-member states of the OAS. The member states include countries from North, South, Central America and the Caribbean. The two main human rights treaties that bind these states are the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man and the American Convention on Human Rights.
All member states are bound by the terms of the American Declaration by virtue of their accepting membership within the structure of the OAS. To be bound by the American Convention on Human Rights, states have to ratify that instrument, and to date, only 24 of the 35 states have ratified that Convention.
If a member state of the OAS violates a right included in the Convention, that victim can petition the IACHR for redress. Article 46 of the American Convention outlines the requirements that must be fulfilled in order for a petition to be lodged before the Commission. These include: a statement of the specific right that has been violated by the state (government) and the circumstances under which it was violated; proof that remedies under domestic law have been pursued and exhausted; and proof that the petition was lodged before the IACHR within six months of the final judgement.
There are other tools available within the Inter-American system to ensure respect for the human rights established in the American Convention.
These are:. Precautionary measures – in an urgent and life-threatening situation, the IACHR can adopt these measures for the protection of the alleged victim.
. General hearing on a specific country or situation – the IACHR grants hearings to individuals, non-governmental organizations and member states on a specific country or human rights situation, for example, racial discrimination in Latin America or HIV/AIDS in the region.
. On-site visits – based on information received or on their own initiative, the IACHR may, on the invitation of the Member State, conduct a visit to a specific country to assess the human rights situation.
Country or special reports – similarly the Commission publishes reports on its own volition, from on-site visits, or on issues that are current and potentially impact human rights, for example, the Commission published a Report on Terrorism and Human Rights in 2002.
If the IACHR finds that a state has violated the American Declaration or the American Convention, it makes recommendations to the member states on how they can remedy the situation to ensure that human rights are protected. The recommendations of the IACHR, like most international bodies, are not enforceable within the individual countries without specific domestic legislation to that effect.
However, as one of the most respected regional bodies, a finding of a violation by the IACHR carries great weight. Hence, most states are persuaded under moral grounds to comply or take steps to comply with the Commission’s recommendations.
In the history of the Commission, partial and in many instances full compliance with its recommendations has been achieved. While there are instances of non-compliance, the Commission is encouraged by the rise in the number of friendly settlements between the state and petitioners.
Reiterating that international human rights organizations were just as relevant today as they were in the 1940s, when the principal human rights treaties were first established, Miss Hamilton said: “Just as individual states have constitutions, legislation and rules that we must adhere to, so too is it necessary to have regional and international rules and standards that we uphold”.
“These international standards and rules apply to us all equally, irrespective of our socio-political, economic or geographic status. Most of these standards are included in our constitutions, but if for some reason they are not respected or protected by our domestic legal systems, the onus lies with the international mechanisms to ensure that these rights are protected.”

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