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Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

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The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (the IACHR or, in the three other official languages Spanish
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

, French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

, and Portuguese
Portuguese language
Portuguese is a Romance language that arose in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia, nowadays Galicia and Northern Portugal. The southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia became independent as the County of Portugal in 1095...

CIDH, Comisión Interamericana de los Derechos Humanos, Commission Interaméricaine des Droits de l'Homme, Comissão Interamericana de Direitos Humanos) is an autonomous organ of the Organization of American States
Organization of American States
The Organization of American States is a regional international organization, headquartered in Washington, D.C., United States...


Along with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights
Inter-American Court of Human Rights
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights is an autonomous judicial institution based in the city of San José, Costa Rica. Together with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, it makes up the human rights protection system of the Organization of American States , which serves to uphold and...

, it is one of the bodies that comprise the inter-American system for the promotion and protection of human rights.

The IACHR is a permanent body, with headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

, United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, and it meets in regular and special sessions several times a year to examine allegations of human rights violations in the hemisphere.

Its human rights
Human rights
Human rights are "commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being." Human rights are thus conceived as universal and egalitarian . These rights may exist as natural rights or as legal rights, in both national...

 duties stem from three documents:
  • the OAS Charter
  • the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man
    American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man
    The American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man was the world's first international human rights instrument of a general nature, predating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by less than a year....

  • the American Convention on Human Rights
    American Convention on Human Rights
    The American Convention on Human Rights is an international human rights instrument.It was adopted by the nations of the Americas meeting in San José, Costa Rica, in 22 November 1969...

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
American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man
The American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man was the world's first international human rights instrument of a general nature, predating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by less than a year....

 in April 1948 the first international human rights instrument of a general nature, predating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a declaration adopted by the United Nations General Assembly . The Declaration arose directly from the experience of the Second World War and represents the first global expression of rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled...

 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
Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic is a nation on the island of La Hispaniola, part of the Greater Antilles archipelago in the Caribbean region. The western third of the island is occupied by the nation of Haiti, making Hispaniola one of two Caribbean islands that are shared by two countries...

) 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
American Convention on Human Rights
The American Convention on Human Rights is an international human rights instrument.It was adopted by the nations of the Americas meeting in San José, Costa Rica, in 22 November 1969...

. 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
Inter-American Court of Human Rights
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights is an autonomous judicial institution based in the city of San José, Costa Rica. Together with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, it makes up the human rights protection system of the Organization of American States , which serves to uphold and...

. It is currently binding on 24 of the OAS's 35 member states.

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
The Americas, or America , are lands in the Western hemisphere, also known as the New World. In English, the plural form the Americas is often used to refer to the landmasses of North America and South America with their associated islands and regions, while the singular form America is primarily...


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.
  • Works to resolve petitions in a collaborative way that is amiable to both parties.
  • 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
    Western Hemisphere
    The Western Hemisphere or western hemisphere is mainly used as a geographical term for the half of the Earth that lies west of the Prime Meridian and east of the Antimeridian , the other half being called the Eastern Hemisphere.In this sense, the western hemisphere consists of the western portions...

  • 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.

Rapporteurships and Units

The IACHR has created several Rapporteurships and one Special Rapporteurship to monitor OAS states' compliance with inter-American human rights treaties in the following areas:
  • Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression It is the only Special Rapporteurship of the IACHR, meaning that it has a Rapporteur dedicated full-time to the job. The other Rapporteurships are in the hands of the Commissioners, who have other functions at the IACHR and also their own jobs in their home-countries, since their work as Commissioners is unpaid.

The IACHR also has a Unit on Defenders on Human Rights (website in Spanish: http://www.cidh.org/defenders/defensores.htm) and a Press and Outreach Office (http://www.cidh.org/prensa.eng.htm)


The Commission processes petitions lodged with it pursuant to its Rules of Procedure.

Petitions may be filed by states, NGOs or individuals. Unlike most court filings, petitions are confidential documents and are not made public. Petitions must meet three requirements; domestic remedies must have already been tried and failed (exhaustion), petitions must be filed with in six months of the last action taken in a domestic system (timeliness), petitions can not be before another court (duplication of procedure).

Once a petition has been filed, it follows the following procedure:
  • Petition is forwarded to the Secretariat and reviewed for completeness; if complete, it is registered and is given a case number. This is where the state is notified of the petition.
  • Petition reviewed for admissibility.
  • The Commission tries to find a friendly settlement.
  • If no settlement is found, then briefs are filed by each side on the merits of the case.
  • The Commission then files a report on the merits, known as an Article 50 report from relevant article of the Convention. This is a basically a ruling by the Commission with recommendations on how to solve the conflict. The Article 50 report is sent to the state. This is a confidential report; the petitioner does not get a full copy of this report.
  • The state is given two months to comply with the recommendations of the report.
  • The petitioner then has one month to file a petition asking for the issue to be sent to the Inter-American Court (only applicable if the State in question has recognized the competence of the Inter-American Court).
  • The Commission has three months, from the date the Article 50 report is given to the state, to make either publish the Article 50 report or to send the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Alternatively, the Commission can also choose to monitor the situation. The American Convention establishes that if the report is not submitted to the Court within three months it may not be submitted in the future, but if the State asks for more time in order to comply with the recommendations of the Article 50 report, the Commission might grant it on the condition that the State signs a waiver on this requirement.

Composition of the Inter-American Commission

The IACHR's ranking officers are its seven commissioners.
The commissioners are elected by the OAS General Assembly
General Assembly of the Organization of American States
The General Assembly is the supreme decision-making body of the Organization of American States .The General Assembly came into being as a part of the restructuring of the OAS that took place following adoption of the Protocol of Buenos Aires , which contained extensive amendments to the...

, 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. 35 of the Convention).
The Convention (Art. 34) 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.

Current Commissioners

Name State Position Elected Term
Luz Patricia Mejía Guerrero   Venezuela Commissioner 2007 2008–2011
Felipe González Morales   Chile Chair 2007 2008–2011
Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro
Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro
Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro is a Brazilian diplomat and legal scholar.Within the United Nations System, he serves as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar....

 Brazil First Vice Chair 2003
María Silvia Guillén   El Salvador Commissioner 2010 2010–2011
Rodrigo Escobar Gil   Colombia Commissioner 2010 2010–2013
Dinah Shelton   United States Second Vice Chair 2010 2010–2013
Jesús Orozco Henríquez   Mexico Commissioner 2010 2010–2013
Source: IACHR elects officers (16 March 2009). See also: IACHR distributes rapporteurships (4 March 2008).

Past Commissioners

Year State Commissioners President (post-2001)
Chairman (pre-2001)
1960–1963  Venezuela Rómulo Gallegos
Rómulo Gallegos
Rómulo Ángel del Monte Carmelo Gallegos Freire was a Venezuelan novelist and politician. For a period of some nine months during 1948, he was the first cleanly elected president in his country's history....

1960–1964  El Salvador Reynaldo Galindo Pohl 
1960–1968  Ecuador Gonzalo Escudero 
1960–1972  Chile Ángela Acuña de Chacón 
1960–1972  United States Durwood V. Sandifer 
1960–1972  Chile Manuel Bianchi Gundián 
1960–1979  Mexico Gabino Fraga 
1964–1968  Uruguay Daniel Hugo Martins 
1964–1983  Brazil Carlos A. Dunshee de Abranches 
1968–1972  Peru Mario Alzamora Valdez 
1968–1972  Uruguay Justino Jiménez de Arechega 
1972–1976  Argentina Genaro R. Carrió 
1972–1976  United States Robert F. Woodward
Robert F. Woodward
Robert Forbes Woodward was a United States diplomat who focused on U.S. relations with Latin America.-Biography:Robert F. Woodward was born in Minneapolis on October 1, 1908. He was educated at the University of Minnesota, receiving a B.A. in 1930.Woodward joined the United States Foreign Service...

1972–1985  Venezuela Andrés Aguilar 
1976–1979  Guatemala Carlos García Bauer 
1976–1979  Costa Rica Fernando Volio Jiménez
Fernando Volio Jiménez
Fernando Volio Jiménez was a Costa Rican politician....

1976–1983  United States Tom J. Farer 
1976–1978  Colombia José Joaquín Gori 
1978–1987  Colombia Marco Gerardo Monroy Cabra 
1980–1987  El Salvador Franciso Bertrand Galindo 
1980–1985  Mexico César Sepúlveda 
1980–1985  Costa Rica Luis Demetrio Tinoco Castro 
1984–1988  United States R. Bruce McColm 
1984–1987  Bolivia Luis Adolfo Siles Salinas
Luis Adolfo Siles Salinas
Luis Adolfo Siles Salinas was the Constitutional President of Bolivia for a period of five months between April and September 1969.-Background and early life:...

1984–1991  Brazil Gilda Maciel Correa Russomano 
1986–1989  Argentina Elsa Kelly 
1986–1993  Venezuela Marco Tulio Bruni-Celli 
1986–1993  Barbados Oliver H. Jackman 
1988–1991  United States John Reese Stevenson 
1988–1995  Honduras Leo Valladares Lanza 
1988–1995  Jamaica Patrick Lipton Robinson
Patrick Lipton Robinson
Patrick Lipton Robinson is the President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, a position he was elected to in November 2008...

1990–1997  Argentina Óscar Luján Fappiano 
1992–1995  United States Michael Reisman 
1994–1997  Trinidad and Tobago John S. Donaldson  1997
1998–1999  Barbados Henry Forde 
1992–1999  Colombia Álvaro Tirado Mejía  1995
1996–1999  Venezuela Carlos Ayala Corao  1998
1996–1999  Haiti Jean-Joseph Exumé 
1994–2001  United States Claudio Grossman
Claudio Grossman
Claudio Grossman is a lawyer and law professor. He is the dean of the Washington College of Law at American University in Washington, D.C.. Grossman served as vice chair of the United Nations Committee Against Torture and now as Chair . He is a former member of the Inter-American Commission on...

1998–2001  Brazil Hélio Bicudo  2000
1999–2001  Barbados Peter Laurie
Peter Laurie
Sir Peter Laurie was a British politician who served as Lord Mayor of London.He was appointed Sheriff of the City of London for 1823 and elected Lord Mayor for 1832. From 1838 until his death, he was Chairman of the Union Bank. He also worked as a saddler, who supplied saddles for the Indian...

2002–2002  Peru Diego García Sayán
Diego García Sayán
Diego García-Sayán Larrabure , is a former Justice and Foreign Affairs Minister of Perú, and currently a judge on the Inter-American Court of Human Rights....

1996–2003  United States Robert K. Goldman  1999
2000–2003  Guatemala Marta Altolaguirre Larraondo  2003
2000–2003  Argentina Juan E. Méndez  2002
2000–2003  Ecuador Julio Prado Vallejo
2002–2005  Peru Susana Villarán
Susana Villarán
Susana María del Carmen Villarán de la Puente is a centre-left politician in Peru, a former presidential candidate, and in municipal elections in 2010 became the first woman to be elected Mayor of Lima....

2001–2005  Chile José Zalaquett
José Zalaquett
José "Pepe" Zalaquett Daher is a Chilean lawyer, renowned for his work in the defence of human rights during the de facto regime that governed Chile under General Augusto Pinochet from 1973 to 1990.-The coup d'état and the Pro Paz Committee:...

2004–2007  Paraguay Evelio Fernández Arévalos  2006
2004–2007  Venezuela Freddy Gutiérrez 
2002–2009  Antigua and Barbuda Sir Clare Kamau Roberts 
2004–2009  El Salvador Florentín Meléndez 
2006–2009  Argentina Víctor Abramovich 
2006–2009  United States Paolo Carozza  2008

Human rights violations investigated by the Inter-American Commission

  • Massacre of Trujillo
    Massacre of Trujillo
    The Massacre of Trujillo was a series of murders perpetrated between 1988 and 1994 in the town of Trujillo, Valle del Cauca Department in southwestern Colombia by paramilitaries and the Cali Cartel with the complicity of active members of the Colombian military and police.Some 245 to 342 people,...

    Colombia, officially the Republic of Colombia , is a unitary constitutional republic comprising thirty-two departments. The country is located in northwestern South America, bordered to the east by Venezuela and Brazil; to the south by Ecuador and Peru; to the north by the Caribbean Sea; to the...

  • Barrios Altos massacre
    Barrios Altos massacre
    The Barrios Altos massacre took place on 3 November 1991, in the Barrios Altos neighborhood of Lima, Peru. Fifteen people, including an eight-year-old child, were killed, and four more injured, by assailants who were later determined to be members of Grupo Colina, a death squad made up of members...

    Peru , officially the Republic of Peru , is a country in western South America. It is bordered on the north by Ecuador and Colombia, on the east by Brazil, on the southeast by Bolivia, on the south by Chile, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean....

  • Lori Berenson
    Lori Berenson
    Lori Helene Berenson is an American convicted in Peru of unlawful collaboration with the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement , which the Peruvian government regarded as a terrorist organization, and which had committed numerous attacks in attempting to overthrow the government...

  • La Cantuta massacre
    La Cantuta massacre
    The La Cantuta massacre, in which a university professor and nine students from Lima's La Cantuta University were abducted by a military death squad and "disappeared", took place in Peru on 18 July 1992 during the presidency of Alberto Fujimori...

  • El Caracazo
    The Caracazo or sacudón is the name given to the wave of protests, riots and looting and ensuing massacre that occurred on 27 February 1989 in the Venezuelan capital Caracas and surrounding towns. The riots — the worst in Venezuelan history — resulted in a death toll of anywhere between...

    Venezuela , officially called the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela , is a tropical country on the northern coast of South America. It borders Colombia to the west, Guyana to the east, and Brazil to the south...

  • Deaths in Ciudad Juárez (Mexico
    The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

  • Antoine Izméry
    Antoine Izméry
    Antoine Izméry was a Haïtian businessman and pro-democracy activist.-Career:Izméry, who was of Palestinian descent, was among the wealthiest people in Haïti. He was one of the most prominent backers of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and helped finance his election campaign...

    Haiti , officially the Republic of Haiti , is a Caribbean country. It occupies the western, smaller portion of the island of Hispaniola, in the Greater Antillean archipelago, which it shares with the Dominican Republic. Ayiti was the indigenous Taíno or Amerindian name for the island...

  • Plan de Sánchez massacre
    Plan de Sánchez massacre
    The Plan de Sánchez massacre took place in the Guatemalan village of Plan de Sánchez, Baja Verapaz department, on 18 July 1982. Over 250 people were abused and murdered by members of the armed forces and their paramilitary allies.The killings took place during one of the most violent phases of...

    Guatemala is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, Belize to the northeast, the Caribbean to the east, and Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast...

  • Hugo Chavez
    Hugo Chávez
    Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías is the 56th and current President of Venezuela, having held that position since 1999. He was formerly the leader of the Fifth Republic Movement political party from its foundation in 1997 until 2007, when he became the leader of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela...

     (Venezuela) http://www.cidh.oas.org/Comunicados/English/2010/20V-10eng.htm
  • District of Columbia voting rights
    District of Columbia voting rights
    Voting rights of citizens in the District of Columbia differ from those of United States citizens in each of the fifty states. District of Columbia residents do not have voting representation in the United States Senate, but D.C. is entitled to three electoral votes for President. In the U.S...

     (United States of America)
  • Domestic violence protection in the case of Jessica Gonzales
    Castle Rock v. Gonzales
    Castle Rock v. Gonzales, 545 U.S. 748 , was a case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States, in which the court ruled, 7-2, that a town and its police department could not be sued under 42 U.S.C...

External links