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Department Seal Luis J. Lauredo, Permanent Representative of the United States to the Organization of American States
Remarks at the Organization of American States,
Washington, DC, December 6, 2000

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As prepared

Strengthening the Inter-American Human Rights System

Chairman Bicudo and members of the Commission, distinguished Ambassadors and delegates, friends of the inter-American human rights system, ladies and gentlemen:

Thank you for this opportunity to make some brief remarks on strengthening the human rights system in our hemisphere. First of all, my delegation is very pleased about the quality and quantity of the discussions that have occurred on this topic over the last year. In particular, we note that last February, a high-level Ad Hoc Group on Human Rights appointed by the Foreign Ministers met in San Jose to discuss tangible ways we could strengthen the system. That group reached several very useful conclusions.

In the same vein, the Juridical and Political Committee, ably led last year by Ambassador Claude Heller and this year by Ambassador Margarita Escobar, has produced a wealth of concrete suggestions and recommendations on ways in which all of us can fulfill our duties to strengthen the system. Among the consensus areas emerging from these two groups, as well as other gatherings, are the following:

The first area, universalization, is perhaps the most desirable but also the most difficult goal. Accession to the principal instruments of the system remains politically and legally difficult for many of our countries and is dependent on a range of factors that are often beyond the control of individual delegations.

The second goal, that of improving the procedures of the Commission and the Court, is one in which we believe much progress has or will be made. Resolution 1701 from the Windsor General Assembly provided concrete recommendations, many of which we hope the organs of the system will have considered as they review their own regulations.

The third area, resources, is of course difficult. We are all well aware of the budgetary problems that the Organization of American States (OAS) faces and the difficulty of achieving real increases in any one area. Nevertheless, the system has seen modest gains within the regular budget and continues to receive substantial voluntary contributions. We encourage all member states to consider pledging more support to the system either through continued increases in the regular budget or voluntary specific contributions to the Commission and the Court. The U.S. has supported and will continue to advocate for additional funding within budget and OAS priorities discussion.

Finally, we are left with the goal of establishing a process to review how states have addressed recommendations and decisions. In this area, my delegation believes that a strong consensus already exists to create a mechanism within the OAS. This consensus was reflected in the conclusions of the Ad Hoc Group in Costa Rica last February and in Resolution 1701 at the Windsor General Assembly.

The General Assembly mandate in resolution 1701 was quite specific. In paragraph 5e it urged the member states to:

"Take appropriate action in connection with the annual reports of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in the context of the Permanent Council and the General Assembly of the Organization, in order to fulfill their duty as states to guarantee compliance with the obligations set forth in the instruments of the system."

The United States believes that the time is ripe for member states to follow through on this commitment. We believe the Organization should establish a mechanism that would review how states address the recommendations and decisions of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The mechanism should be simple, fair, and transparent. It should not be a legal proceeding, but a political one that stresses the accountability of member states and their obligations to the inter-American human rights system.

An example of such a mechanism, copies of which will be distributed, could be the following:

1. By March 1 of every year, the Commission and the Court forward to the Permanent Council a list of cases in which member states have not addressed the recommendations or decisions published in the annual reports of the Commission and Court for the preceding year.

2. The Permanent Council invites member states on the list to make a public presentation of the steps, if any, which they are taking to address the recommendations or decisions of the system.

We make this proposal with our eyes open. This is a contentious issue. We are fully aware that many countries, including my own, do not always agree with the recommendations and decisions of the system. But sweeping our disagreements under the rug will not strengthen the system; on the contrary it will only weaken it by eventually rendering it useless. We need stronger accountability in the system.

Today, as we enter the 21st century and prepare for the meeting of our heads of states and government in the Summit of The Americas III in Quebec City in April 2001, there is considerable dialogue on the need for a new preventive and proactive diplomacy.

This was concretely manifested at the OAS General Assembly in Windsor by our actions in relation to the political crises in Peru, and the formal creation of a Democracy Fund -- an OAS mechanism for pro-active democracy.

Lately, this dialogue has focused on the need for an "Early Warning System" which identifies threats to democracy and the rule of law before they become full-blown political crises.

I believe the Commission and Court have, to a great degree, been serving in this role. Unfortunately, much too often, its "warnings" have been overlooked or ignored. As Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) Chairman Bicudo alluded in his comments today, had we more carefully listened, and acted, on the Commission's deliberations on Peru, the Inter-American system might have mitigated the full political crisis which unfolded there.

We encourage other countries to study our proposal and to join the discussion about how we can strengthen this key area of the inter-American system. I look forward to your comments in the spirit of cooperation and consensus.

Thank you very much.

[end of document]

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