March 16 - April 24, 1998
Palais des Nations, Geneva
Franciscans International and the Dominicans urge the international community to work even more consistently for the respect, dignity and the rights of all human beings. It is of a great concern to us that it the onset of a new millennium, torture is often practiced in the administration of justice. For instance, in Mexico, torture is frequently used to obtain confessions or information from some people and to punish others. Many examples of this can be given such as the case of the farmers in San Pedro Nixtalucum in Chiapas or the arbitrary detention of two farmers and two priests in March 1997. Also serious is the selective application of justice in political trials which adds to the level of impunity and organized crime and of paramilitary groups in the country.
The difficulties faced by the poorest to gain access to justice generates violence inside the courts themselves and brings about ill-treatment and illegalities. This is the case in Mexico where violations are committed with the complicity of officials of the public prosecutor. Corruption in the justice system is also a source of mistrust leading people to take justice in their own hands. In Colombia, the justice system is one of the main causes of human rights violations. The universal principle that "it is better to let a guilty person go free rather than risking putting an innocent person in jail" is turned into the principle of presumption of guilt. This system contrasts greatly with a level of impunity of one hundred percent.
Around the world, detention centres do not allow for a process of rehabilitation. For example, in the crowded prisons of Chiapas, there is no real rehabilitation. In Colombia, the situation is the same with overcrowded prisons exceeding their capacity by fifty percent. There are 40,000 prisoners in prisons that were built to hold 28,000. A great concern is that the prisoners are guarded by drug traffickers and members of paramilitary groups.
These situations are created by criminal, oppressive and unstable policies which hide the incapacity to effectively fight corruption and the links between the highest spheres of government and drug traffickers, and the hardening of measures against opposition groups.
The inability of the judiciary to successfully carry out penal investigations and to punish the guilty has lead to the systematic violation of universal principles which are linked to a fair penal trial. In Colombia, some forty-five percent of detainees have not yet been judged since the penal procedures allow the use of prolonged preventive detention. In the case of persons who are subject to Regional Justice, preventive detention can last more than two years. Moreover, if an appeal is presented to the Supreme Court three more years must be added. It can be demonstrated that the practice of detaining persons in the penal system is favoured since there is no bail for persons in the Regional Justice system as is the case in Colombia, or in the general justice system in Mexico. Furthermore, there is a practice of restricting legal benefits to many for reasons of massive societal breakdown.
In Colombia, in 1997, members of the judiciary declared that it was impossible to deal with the overwhelming number of trials and the lack of adequate resources. In addition, prison authorities were saying that they could not handle more detainees. The situation led to fifty prison riots which caused many deaths and injured. Prisoners were demanding elementary items such as food and drinks, sleeping space, health services, family visits and the right to a fair trial without undue delay.
The situation is very similar to the one in Mexico.
We are most concerned that despite the fact that this grave situation has been recognized by UN organs and is the object of a number of recommendations, the government of Colombia has not yet adopted necessary measures in this regard. Further, we are concerned that the report of the visit of the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers has not yet been made public.
For these reasons, Franciscans International and the Dominicans ask the Commission on Human Rights to urge the government of Colombia to comply immediately with the recommendations formulated in respect to the situation, notably the abolition of the Regional Justice system and the observance of the guarantees of a fair trial, the implementation of the right to defense, the principle of presumption of innocence and the rule of habeas corpus. Also, the Commission must urge the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to monitor closely the administration of justice, to request the publication of the report of the Special Rapporteur and to promote an ongoing follow-up to the human rights situation in Colombia.
Franciscans International and the Dominicans also support the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on Torture Nigel Bodley in his January 14 1998 report (EICN.411998138IAdit 2) and we urge the government of Mexico to comply with them as soon as possible.