Very good afternoon to all,
It is a great honor for me to address you today on the commencement of the 150th Regular Session of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, held on this occasion in Brasilia from August 22 to 27, 2022.
I must begin by expressing my profound gratitude, on behalf of the Inter-American Court, to the State of Brazil for hosting this Session in a country that this Court holds in the highest esteem. We also appreciate the support, collaboration, and attention given to the Court by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as the Federal Supreme Court and the Superior Court of Justice, without whom this visit would not have been possible.
It is a great pleasure and very encouraging for the Inter-American Court to return to Brazil. This is the third time that the State has invited this Court to meet, the previous occasions being in 2006 and 2013.
For the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Regular Sessions it celebrates outside its headquarters in San José, Costa Rica, are activities of great importance. Since 2005, our Court has held 31 sessions in 16 States Parties to the American Convention.
Sessions away from the headquarters fulfill very important objectives for the Inter-American Court: they facilitate the dissemination of its work and case law, they bring the Court closer to all people, and promote a very beneficial dialogue with the highest national authorities and people from civil society. Ultimately, the visiting sessions give the Court the opportunity to be much closer to the differing realities of our America and be closer to the true recipients of its activities: the people. Today the Inter-American Court is sitting in Brazil to show its work in a transparent and accessible way, within the framework of its policy of open justice, linking the Court directly with the men and women of Brazil.
The Court’s presence in Brazil provides a direct appreciation of how an international process unfolds before the Inter-American Court. It is not within the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court to receive complaints about human rights violations, nor to study the general situation of the country in terms of human rights. Nor is it possible for this Court to hear contentious cases against Brazil during its stay in this country.
The activities of the Court are entirely public, and all people can participate in them. They begin today with a seminar entitled "Control of conventionality and vulnerable groups" in tribute to the former Judge and former President of the Inter-American Court, Prof. Antônio Augusto Cançado Trindade.
On behalf of the Inter-American Court, I honor the memory of the great jurist Augusto Cançado Trindade, who was Judge of the Inter-American Court between 1995 and 2006, being its president for two terms (1999-2003).
On behalf of the entire Inter-American Court, I extend my respects to his relatives, Mrs. Carmelita Ossa Heanao, Judge Cançado’s widow, and to their sons Adriano, Octavio and Vinicius, present here today.
Few people have had such an impact on the way we understand International Law today as Cançado Trindade. The centrality and subjectivity of the individual in International Law and the locus standi of the victims before international courts are ongoing challenges that we take on as our own.
In his own words: ''in International Law, beyond the States, are the human beings who compose them''.
Faithful defender of direct access to the Inter-American Court and always focused on groups in situations of vulnerability, as well as the affirmation of economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights as justiciable before the Court, Judge Cançado Trindade anticipated major issues that even today still embody the important debates in the development of International Human Rights Law.
These are just some of the contributions of the great Brazilian jurist that today have been consolidated in the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court. Cançado Trindade himself told an anecdote that reflected his personality. Once, as the President of the Inter-American Court, he was presenting some reform proposals. The negotiations were quite advanced when an Ambassador asked for the floor and very courteously said, referring to Cançado: “Mr. President, I greatly appreciated your reform proposals and I learned that, if we want to be realistic, we must ask for the impossible.” After all, as Santos Dumont himself said: ''great creations are, above all, the result of stubborn work''.
Returning to the activities of the Court, in the coming days, from Tuesday to Friday, there will be 4 public hearings of Contentious Cases against Argentina, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru. These hearings are part of the oral stage of the process. During each hearing, the Court will listen to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, who will present the case and the rationale for its submission to the jurisdiction of the Court, then listen to the declarants, alleged victims, witnesses, or experts, presented by both the representatives of the alleged victims and by the respective States. In addition, the oral arguments of the parties will be heard.
The first of the four cases is the Tagaeri and Taromenane Indigenous Peoples v. Ecuador, which deals with the alleged international responsibility of said State for the alleged violations of the human rights of the aforementioned Indigenous Peoples who are in voluntary isolation.
The second case is Olivera Fuentes v. Peru, related to the alleged discrimination suffered due to displays of affection shown by a same-sex couple in a supermarket in 2004.
The third case, Álvarez v. Argentina, deals with the alleged violations of procedural guarantees during the criminal proceedings against the alleged victim for conduct while he was still a minor, which ended with the application of a life sentence.
The fourth case, García Rodríguez and Reyes Alpízar v. Mexico is related to the presumed international responsibility of the State for the alleged torture, as well as for the preventive detention of two people for more than 17 years.
As you can see, the issues that the Court will deal with during this visit are diverse and make it possible to demonstrate similar or structural human rights problems in some regional contexts.
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Following the atrocities and devastation caused by the Second World War, a new global consciousness emerged on the basis that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. This idea leads to the need to create a legal system whose objective is to defend, protect and promote Human Rights. In this way a new architecture for the protection of human rights is born and begins to develop, with a multi-level dimension: with a universal, regional, and national level.
The development of the Inter-American System for the Protection of Human Rights is one of a kind. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights began its functions in 1978 within a very particular regional context. In the world of the Cold War, where authoritarianism and dictatorship prevailed in Latin America, it was the American men and women who devised this system to confront barbarism and consolidate the democratic rule of law.
The origin of the Inter-American System is closely linked to the development of democratic societies and the democratic Rule of Law. The OAS Charter and the American Declaration of 1948 establish the pillars of the system, later consolidated by the Inter-American Democratic Charter of 2001. As the Court has pointed out in its recent Advisory Opinion on the incompatibility of indefinite presidential re-election , the Inter-American Democratic Charter is a legal instrument, which constitutes "a norm used for authentic interpretation of the treaties to which it refers, since it reflects the interpretations of the norms pertaining to democracy that OAS member states themselves make—including the States parties to the Convention—both of the OAS Charter and of the Convention.”
The Democratic Charter expressly states that “[t]he peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it.”
In turn, the Democratic Charter stablishes as essential elements of
representative democracy, inter alia, the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, access to and the exercise of power in accordance with the rule of law, the holding of periodic, free, and fair elections, the pluralistic system of political parties and
organizations, and the separation of powers and independence of the branches of
Thirty years have passed since, in December 1998, the Brazilian State made the sovereign decision to be part of the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
From that moment on, the horizon of access to inter-American justice opened for Brazilian men and women. This means that everyone here today, along with the 500 million who are under the Court's jurisdiction, has additional protection over and above national protection, that acts on a subsidiary basis and provides victims with adequate, comprehensive reparation.
In this role in the protection of human rights, the Inter-American Court is not a singular guarantor institution. It is a system that, in an organic and multi-level manner, interacts with national institutions in all areas. National and international Judges, we are all Inter-American Judges at the end of the day.
Being part of an Inter-American System means that, regardless of national borders, conditions of poverty or vulnerability, race, gender, sexual orientation or language, religion or political opinion, Brazilians are protected by institutions at different levels and in different spheres. It means that the human being has been placed at the center of the international, national, and local system and of all state action.
The case law regarding Brazil is vast and has allowed the development of important standards. Just to name a few examples, the control and supervision of mental health institutions, the concept of contemporary slavery and human trafficking, the limits to the use of State force and the elements of crimes against humanity in light of the Inter-American System. The Court was also able to determine the content of the right to work in relation to the equitable and satisfactory conditions that guarantee safety, health, and hygiene. Similarly, the Court has dealt with cases on very topical current issues such as the criteria to overcome the obstacles that generate impunity in cases of gender violence and feminicide.
Furthermore, through its issuing of provisional measures, a very important jurisdiction, the Court has been supervising the implementation of provisional measures that seek to immediately and urgently protect persons deprived of liberty in 5 prisons in Brazil.
Similarly, the Court recently granted provisional measures to protect the life, integrity, health, access to food and drinking water of the members of three groups of Indigenous Peoples, from a culturally appropriate perspective, with an approach focused on gender and age, as well as the prevention of acts of sexual violence against girls and women of these Indigenous Peoples.
With Brasilia’s inherent symbolism, the Inter-American Court has chosen the wonderful Juscelino Kubitschek Bridge, ''the most beautiful bridge in the world'', as the landmark for its visit. Because beyond the majesty of its architecture and the brilliance of its engineering, it represents long-term connectivity: sustainable connectivity.
It is in this vein that I am very pleased to announce that the Inter-American Court is taking important steps to further strengthen the pillars of the bridges that unite us with Brazil. I must highlight the Federal Supreme Court’s decisions to integrate human rights treaties, including the American Convention, into the Constitution and the case law of the Inter-American Court as part of the constitutional block.
Following this tendency of openness to International Human Rights Law, I want to highlight the pioneering and important initiative of the National Council of the Judiciary of Brazil, through an institutional cooperation agreement signed in December 2020, to create a Monitoring Unit of the Decisions of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, promoted by President Fux, an initiative that strengthens institutional dialogue and in turn contributes to compliance with our decisions.
In this spirit of dialogue and strengthening, I want to announce that, as of today, we are making the Inter-American Court’s website available to Brazilians in Portuguese, bringing us closer to this country and its people.
We have also expanded the database of publications in Portuguese and today I am pleased to present, by way of example, the edition of a Case Law Bulletin relating to Brazil, where you can find the lines of case law developed in all the cases so far decided regarding this important country.
I would also like to announce that during this week, together with the Federal Judicial School of Brazil (EFAM), in parallel to the hearings, we will be conducting a training course on the case law of the Inter-American Court for judges and judicial officers from different parts of Brazil, with the aim of strengthening jurisprudential dialogue.
This visit by the Court to Brazil, the opening-up of its judicial and human rights protection system, I believe, marks a historic moment in which the largest country in the region expresses its desire to deepen ties with the Inter-American Human Rights System.
Undoubtedly, the system’s regulatory instruments, as well as the criteria of interpretation or standards defined by the Court, will be integrated into the exercise of control of conventionality as precedents in decisions adopted where people’s human rights are involved.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We live in complex and difficult times. The Covid-19 pandemic has not only brought suffering to millions of people around the world but has also revealed the persistent frailties and deep social and economic cracks in our societies. The war in Ukraine added to the migratory, environmental, and economic crises that the world is experiencing, and that affect the region, making the role of our democratic institutions more relevant.
We are at a turning point. Fear and insecurity undermine the rule of law and seek to derail multilateralism as an expression of joint efforts and solidarity among peoples. It is necessary to take charge of our destiny and instead of letting apathy affect our view of the events that are taking place, we must create and promote a new feeling of solidarity and union, making the 3Ds of ‘democracia’, ‘desarrollo’ and ‘derechos’ prevail, that is, more democracy, more sustainable development, and more human rights.
First, there is democracy, which we have already addressed when referring to the fact that it is one of the pillars of the Inter-American System with solid legal basis in the OAS Charter and the Inter-American Democratic Charter. In this context, I want to highlight the importance of judicial independence. Judges have an essential role in the democratic process because they are the guardians of the democratic rule of law and, as has happened so many times, the last bastions of justice and those who make human rights truly effective in practice. I especially highlight the fundamental role that access to justice has in the democratic Rule of Law, which requires that beyond vulnerabilities, justice services are accessible to all people. Accessible justice is sustainable justice.
Freedom of expression is the cornerstone of democracy. In times when technology is advancing in leaps and bounds, the rules of the real world cannot cease to exist in the virtual world. Nor can technology become an instrument of repression or a weapon for human rights violations or an instrument to distort reality. It is alarming to observe how many times in our society, through the use of social networks, discourses are created, or narratives are consolidated that seek to distort reality or transform the political adversary into an enemy, with an eroding impact on democratic dynamics.
The second great pillar of the triad is sustainable development. We are at a time in history where global warming and climate change are a reality and a threat to our integrity, displacing entire populations as a result. Let's add to this scenario the latent poverty and inequality that increased during the pandemic. And yet, the way out of these crises exists. The United Nations 2030 Agenda is an example of multilateralism’s functioning and achievements based on solidarity: it was approved by the 193 member countries of the United Nations. Underneath it all, is a promise that challenges the present: to put an end to poverty and leave no one behind. The most vulnerable are entitled that, at an institutional level, we dedicate all our efforts and energies. From the Inter-American Court, we reaffirm this commitment, and we share the historic decision of the UN General Assembly to affirm that climate change and environmental degradation are part of the most urgent threats to the future of human beings, as well as reaffirming that a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a human right.
The third great pillar of this triad is human rights. In times of crisis, they cannot be forgotten. The levels of violence and setbacks to women’s workplace rights, workers who left their sources of employment and, therefore, see their own survival at risk, or children who could not continue in the classroom, are just some examples. I highlight the special situation of other vulnerable groups such as indigenous or tribal peoples. In turn, this crisis affects us all through inflation and shortages. However, the response to these crises cannot be to entrench the setbacks in people's human rights, nor to turn democratic erosion into a parameter.
Today, in contexts in which authoritarian voices are raised, some try to make us believe that human rights are issues of national sovereignty or of internal order, a situation that allows them to develop with different intensity, various types of human rights’ abuses and restrictions. This type of speech that pretends to ignore more than 70 years of evolution in international human rights law and constitutional law is extremely harmful. No one can remain indifferent to human rights violations and abuses no matter where they occur. Let's put human rights back front and center.
Ladies and Gentlemen.
If the pandemic showed us the fragility of our lives and our health systems; the way forward is more human rights, particularly more economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights. If the war in Ukraine brought with it devastation, instability, and suffering; the answer must be multilateralism and a return to the basic principles of International Law. If the economic, migration and environmental crises brought with them greater fear and uncertainty; sustainable development is the only answer.
It is true that the challenges of today seem to present an uncertain future. However, together we can turn these crises into opportunities for transformation. Let's turn anguish and uncertainty into peace and hope. The path is laid out and the ‘3D’s: democracy, sustainable development and human rights must guide it.
In this historic Itamaraty Palace, a symbol of Brazilian modernism and its contribution to the world. In this city, real and tangible work of the dreams of great architects and planners of the Republic. In this historical moment, where human rights, sustainable development and democracy are particularly essential, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights sits in Brasilia.
I formally declare the 150th Regular Session of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, open.
Thank you very much.