Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

From Academic Kids

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (the IACHR or, in Spanish, CIDH) is one of the two bodies that comprise the inter-American system for the promotion and protection of human rights.

The IACHR is an autonomous organ of the Organization of American States (OAS). Its human rights duties stem from three documents: the OAS Charter, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and the American Convention on Human Rights. It is a permanent body, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., United States, and it meets in regular and special sessions several times a year.

The other body in the system is the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, headquartered in San José, Costa Rica.


History of the inter-American human rights system

The inter-American system for the protection of human rights emerged with the adoption of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man in April 1948 – the first international human rights instrument of a general nature, predating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by more than six months.

The IACHR was created in 1959. It held its first meeting in 1960, and it conducted its first on-site visit to inspect the human rights situation in an OAS member state (the Dominican Republic) in 1961.

A major step in the development of the system was taken in 1965, when the Commission was expressly authorized to examine specific cases of human rights violations. Since that date the IACHR has received thousands of petitions and has processed in excess of 12,000 individual cases.

In 1969, the guiding principles behind the American Declaration were taken, reshaped, and restated in the American Convention on Human Rights. The Convention defines the human rights that the states parties are required to respect and guarantee, and it also ordered the establishment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. It is currently binding on 24 of the OAS's 35 member states.

In 1997, the IACHR created the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression to raise awareness of the importance of respecting freedom of expression and information in the hemisphere, to monitor violations and to make recommendations to OAS member States regarding strengthening the right to free expression. The unit is a permanent office, with functional autonomy and its own budget. The Rapporteur's responsibilities include conducting fact-finding missions to countries, producing annual reports on freedom of expression and participating in numerous conferences, seminars and events.

Functions of the Inter-American Commission

The main task of the IACHR is to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the Americas. In pursuit of this mandate it:

  • Receives, analyzes, and investigates individual petitions alleging violations of specific human rights protected by the American Convention on Human Rights.
  • Monitors the general human rights situation in the OAS's member states and, when necessary, prepares and publishes country-specific human rights reports.
  • Conducts on-site visits to examine members' general human rights situation or to investigate specific cases.
  • Encourages public awareness about human rights and related issues throughout the hemisphere.
  • Holds conferences, seminars, and meetings with governments, NGOs, academic institutions, etc. to inform and raise awareness about issues relating to the inter-American human rights system.
  • Issues member states with recommendations that, if adopted, would further the cause of human rights protection.
  • Requests that states adopt precautionary measures to prevent serious and irreparable harm to human rights in urgent cases.
  • Refers cases to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and litigates those same cases before the Court.
  • Asks the Inter-American Court to provide advisory opinions on matters relating to the interpretation of the Convention or other related instruments.

How the Commission processes cases


Composition of the Inter-American Commission

The IACHR's ranking officers are its seven commissioners. The commissioners are elected by the OAS General Assembly, for four-year terms, with the possibility of reelection on one occasion, for a maximum period in office of eight years. They serve in a personal capacity and are not considered to represent their countries of origin but rather "all the member countries of the Organization" (Art. 43 of the Convention). The Convention (Art. 42) says that they must "be persons of high moral character and recognized competence in the field of human rights". No two nationals of the same member state may be commissioners simultaneously (Art. 37), and commissioners are required to refrain from participating in the discussion of cases involving their home countries.

Missing image
Clare K. Roberts, President 2005–06

Current Commissioners (2005)

  • Clare Kamau Roberts (Antigua & Barbuda) 2002-2005 (President)
  • Susana Villarán (Peru) 2002-2005 (First Vice-President)
  • Paulo Sergio Pinheiro (Brazil) 2004-2007 (Second Vice-President)
  • José Zalaquett (Chile) 2002-2005
  • Evelio Fernández (Paraguay) 2004-2007
  • Freddy Gutiérrez (Venezuela) 2004-2007
  • Florentín Meléndez (El Salvador) 2004-2007

The four newest Commissioners were elected by the member states of the OAS at the General Assembly held in Santiago, Chile, in June 2003. With this result, for the first time ever there is no national of the United States on the seven-member Commission. The unsuccessful U.S. candidate was Rafael E. Martinez.

Past Commissioners

Missing image
José Zalaquett, President 2004–05

Human rights violations investigated by the Inter-American Commission

External links


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