INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION: Report on session 144

Summary: Children's rights featured in hearings on human rights defenders, discrimination against indigenous peoples, juvenile justice, mental health institutions in Mexico and barriers to accessing justice for victims of sexual violence in Bolivia.


The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights staged its 144th session from 19-30 March. During the session, the Commission held hearings on a range of human rights violations which persist in the Americas and approved reports on individual cases.

Children's rights featured in hearings on human rights defenders, discrimination against indigenous peoples, juvenile justice, mental health institutions in Mexico, and barriers to accessing justice for victims of sexual violence in Bolivia.

The Commission also referred to the widely reported killing of a 17-year-old boy in Florida, Trayvon Martin. News coverage indicates that, while the facts have yet to be clarified, he was fatally shot by a self-appointed neighbourhood watch member, allegedly because he looked "suspicious". No arrest has been made, but authorities have announced the opening of an investigation at the federal level. The Commission highlighted the importance of using due diligence to respond to acts of violence that could be based on racial discrimination. 

Institutional violence

Disability Rights International, alongside a coalition of partners from Mexico, presented evidence of abuse in psychiatric institutions, orphanages and other social care facilities. A video testimony showed children and adults tied to beds and wheelchairs, often for years at a time. In addition, the video documents inhumane conditions in which children are housed, in near total inactivity. The petitioners revealed that many children have disappeared as a result of the lack of oversight, and that reports suggest a number of girls held in such institutions have been trafficked. Read more here

The Commission reminded the Mexican State of article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of Child, which states that children should not be separated from their parents, except in cases deemed to be in the best interests of the child, and only on a temporary basis. It further highlights the need to explore alternatives to institutionalisation and develop mechanisms to oversee child protection. The Commission is in the process of developing a thematic report on the institutionalisation of children in the Americas, to be published shortly.

Another hearing addressing State violence against children concerned the treatment of children in detention in Uruguay, in particular at the institution of Colonia Berro. The State presented information on its compliance with recommendations issued by the Commission following a visit in July 2011. The Commission's new Rapporteur on Children's Rights, Rosa Maria Ortiz, urged the Parliamentary Commission on the Prison System in Uruguay to include the monitoring of the situation of children deprived of liberty in its duties.


Getting away with violence

The Commission heard how endemic violence against women and girls in Bolivia borders on "femicide". Petitioners reported that 34 per cent of girls and 23 per cent of boys experience sexual abuse before the age of 18. To exacerbate the situation, children face significant obstacles in accessing the justice system. For example, reports suggest that upon lodging a complaint, authorities often presume the complaints contain lies; while other obstacles include the lack of training of investigating authorities and delays in proceedings. Petitioners reported in addition that perpetrators generally escape with impunity, with a minimal rate of convictions compared to complaints received. Read the full report here

Meanwhile, the Native Women's Association of Canada and the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action presented a hearing about the high number of disappearances and killings of aboriginal women and children in British Columbia, Canada. More than one quarter of such acts across Canada occur in British Columbia; in addition, this province was the location of the first and only enquiry into police and criminal justice failures in dealing with the situation. The Commission called on the State to eliminate the social and economic conditions that give rise to violence and discrimination, as well as to comply with obligations to prevent such acts. Read more here

Colombia was also singled out for its treatment of indigenous peoples. The Nasa indigenous people, who are currently beneficiaries of precautionary measures set by the Commission, have been subjected to attacks by illegal armed groups and encroachment onto their land. In addition, the Commission strongly condemned the violation of the physical integrity of three children who were injured by explosive devices found in a nearby school in the Jambaló reserve.

In other news, Cuba's State security agents stepped up attacks on human rights defenders since 2011, according to complaints received by the Commission, which suggest women are particularly at risk. Attacks include beatings, illegal searches, death threats and arbitrary arrests, as well as acts of sexual harassment. Reports indicate that the threats and mistreatment have extended to the children of female human rights defenders.

To read the full report of the session, go here

The Commission's next session will take place from 16-20 July; this will be an internal meeting and no hearings all working meetings will be held. The 146th session will be held from 29 October -16 November. 


Further Information: 

Please note that these reports are hosted by CRIN as a resource for Child Rights campaigners, researchers and other interested parties. Unless otherwise stated, they are not the work of CRIN and their inclusion in our database does not necessarily signify endorsement or agreement with their content by CRIN.