The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the presence of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in the Americas (UN Human Rights) in held a dialogue on security and human rights in the region during the 188th Period of Sessions on November 7, 2023. At this meeting, which also commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, they again endorsed the principles of this instrument and those of the American Declaration on Human Rights.
The IACHR and UN Human Rights acknowledge the social, cultural, political, legal, and institutional advances achieved since these two human rights instruments were adopted. However, challenges remain, including high rates of violence and homicide, many of which are linked to the continent-wide problem of organized crime. As well as the poverty, inequality, and lack of opportunities.
In that regard, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that the majority of intentional homicides in the world (37%) occur in the Americas, even though the region is home to less than 8% of the world’s population.
States have an international obligation to protect people from the threats posed by organized crime. This has been demanded by the population of the region affected by the continuous acts of violence, even generalized in some of the countries, without this obligation of the State having been fully complied with.
Regional and universal protection systems have made several recommendations to States on the challenging task of tackling organized crime effectively with a human rights approach. These recommendations have been largely disregarded.
On the contrary, there continue to be State proposals that deny or invalidate rights in the name of security and that propose to «definitively end» organized crime. These proposed policies are based on a repressive approach, excessive use of pretrial detention, and disregard for judicial guarantees, without providing comprehensive opportunities for reintegration into society. This has an impact on access to comprehensive justice that investigates, prosecutes, and punishes perpetrators while providing compensation for victims. While they may seem effective in the short term, such proposals ultimately weaken institutions, the balance of powers, the independence of the judiciary and, even, democracy.
A consistent and sustainable fight against organized crime can only be achieved while respecting rights such as the right to due process, the right to a defense and a fair and independent trial. As well as the right to life, the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, freedom of conscience and religion, and the right to nationality. Even if exceptional circumstances make it necessary to suspend certain rights and guarantees, this must be done strictly in accordance with the criteria of necessity, proportionality, and temporariness, in line with international standards.
The IACHR and UN Human Rights emphasize the need to apply security policy models with a human rights approach that preserve democracy and the rule of law and combat organized crime in an ethical and legal manner. These models must take a preventive approach and address the underlying causes of organized crime to rebuild the social fabric in a way that includes alternatives and opportunities for populations who have historically experienced exclusion or discrimination and who are disproportionately impacted by organized crime, such as children, adolescents, and young people; indigenous people and communities of African descent; women; older people; among others.
The IACHR and UN Human Rights reiterate their willingness to strengthen their efforts to provide guidance to the States of the Americas on the proper application of international norms and standards to fight crime in an effective, sustainable way. This must continue to be the beacon that directs State initiatives to guarantee security and justice to the region’s population.