LEGAL BASES AND ACTIVITIES OF THE IACHR
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (“IACHR” or the
“Commission”) is an autonomous organ of the Organization of American
States (“OAS”) headquartered in Washington, D.C. Its mandate is found
in the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The IACHR
is one of two bodies in the inter-American system responsible for the
promotion and protection of human rights, the other being the
Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which is located in San José, Costa
2. The IACHR
represents all of the member States of the OAS, and is composed of seven
members who act independently, without representing any particular
country. The members of the IACHR are elected by the General Assembly of
the OAS for a four-year period that can be renewed. The IACHR meets
in ordinary and special sessions several times a year. The Executive
Secretariat of the IACHR carries out the tasks delegated to it by the
IACHR and provides legal and administrative support to the IACHR as it
carries out its work.
In April of 1948 the OAS approved the American Declaration of the
Rights and Duties of Man in Bogotá, Colombia, the first international
human rights instrument of a general nature. The IACHR was created in 1959
and held its first session in 1960.
4. By 1961, the IACHR had begun to carry out on-site visits to observe the human rights situations in various countries. Since that time, the IACHR has carried out 78 visits to 23 member States. Based on its on-site investigations the IACHR has published 51 special country reports to date.
5. In 1965, the IACHR was expressly authorized to examine complaints or petitions regarding specific cases of human rights violations. By 2000, the IACHR had received thousands of petitions, resulting in more than 12,000 completed or pending cases The final published reports of the IACHR regarding these individual cases may be found in the Annual Reports of the Commission or separately in country reports.
6. In 1969, the American Convention on Human Rights was adopted. The Convention entered into force in 1978. As of May of 2000, it has been ratified by 24 countries: Argentina, Barbados, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela. The Convention defines the human rights that the ratifying States have agreed to respect and ensure. The Convention also creates the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and defines the functions and procedures of both the Commission and the Court. In addition to considering complaints of violations of the American Convention by states that are parties to that instrument, the IACHR is competent under the OAS Charter and the Commission’s Statute to entertain alleged violations of the American Declaration by OAS member states that are not yet parties to the American Convention.
7. The IACHR has the principal function of promoting the observance and the defense of human rights. In carrying out its mandate, the Commission:
Receives, analyzes and investigates individual petitions which
allege human rights violations, pursuant to Articles 44 to 51 of the
Observes the general human rights situation in the member States
and publishes special reports regarding the situation in a specific State,
when it considers it appropriate.
Carries out on-site visits to countries to engage in more in-depth
analysis of the general situation and/or to investigate a specific
situation. These visits usually result in the preparation of a report
regarding the human rights situation observed, which is published and sent
to the General Assembly.
Stimulates public consciousness regarding human rights in the
Americas. To that end, carries out and publishes studies on specific
subjects, such as: measures to be taken to ensure greater independence of
the judiciary; the activities of irregular armed groups; the human rights
situation of minors and women, and the human rights of indigenous peoples.
Organizes and carries out conferences, seminars and meetings with
representatives of Governments, academic institutions, non-governmental
groups, etc. in order to disseminate information and to increase knowledge
regarding issues relating to the inter-American human rights system.
Recommends to the member States of the OAS the adoption of measures
that would contribute to human rights protection.
Requests States to adopt specific "precautionary
measures" to avoid serious and irreparable harm to human rights in
urgent cases. The Commission may also request that the Court order
"provisional measures" in urgent cases which involve danger to
persons, even where a case has not yet been submitted to the Court.
Submits cases to the Inter-American Court and appears before the
Court in the litigation of cases.
Requests advisory opinions from the Inter-American Court regarding
questions of interpretation of the American Convention.
At present the Commission is processing approximately 950
individual cases. Any person,
group or non-governmental organization may present a complaint to the
Commission alleging the violation of a right protected by the American
Convention on Human Rights and/or the American Declaration of the Rights
and Duties of Man. The
denunciation may be presented in any of the four official languages of the
OAS (English, French, Portuguese or Spanish) and may be presented on
behalf of the person filing the complaint or on behalf of a third party.
9. During this reporting period, the Commission met on four occasions: during its 106th regular session from February 22 to March 10, 2000; during its 107th special session between June 12 to June 16, 2000; during its 108th regular session from October 2 to October 20, 2000; and during its 109th special session from December 4 to December 8, 2000.
10. During its 106th regular session, the Commission considered and approved its 1999 Annual Report, which was subsequently presented to the OAS General Assembly during its thirtieth regular session held in Windsor, Canada in June 2000.
11. The Commission also took up numerous individual petitions on human rights violations alleging the international responsibility of OAS member states. It adopted a total of 52 reports on individual petitions and cases and held 41 hearings on individual cases, the general human rights situation in different nations in the Hemisphere, precautionary measures, recommendation follow-up, and other issues over which it has competence. In addition, the Commission held a series of hearings and working meetings with petitioners and representatives of OAS member states to promote the friendly settlement of complaints.
12. Also during this session, the IACHR adopted the final version of its Report on the Human Rights Situation of Asylum Seekers within the Canadian Refugee Status Determination System. This report considered information received before, during, and after the Commission’s on-site visit to Canada, conducted in October 1997 at the invitation of the Canadian government, for the purpose of examining Canada’s system for determining refugee status, together with the corresponding domestic remedies available to individuals seeking asylum in that country.
13. The IACHR continued to receive information from its Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Dr. Santiago Canton, concerning the status of freedom of expression in various states in the Hemisphere. The Commission also studied the recent initiatives taken by the OAS Permanent Council’s Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs and the Ad Hoc Working Group on Human Rights that was created in San José, Costa Rica, in November 1999 by the foreign ministers of several states of the Hemisphere.
14. In the course of its session, the Commission had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Pedro Nikken, President of the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights (IIHR), and the IIHR Assistant Executive Director, Dr. Charles Moyer, to analyze issues of mutual interest, such as cooperating on the promotion of human rights and the process of strengthening the inter-American system. The Commission was also pleased to receive Dr. Leo Valladares, the head of the National Human Rights Commission of Honduras and President of the Ibero-American Federation of Ombudsmen, to address several issues of common interest related to the protection and promotion of human rights in the Hemisphere.
15. In addition, during its session, the Commission adopted a recommendation on "Eradicating the Recruitment and Participation of Children in Armed Conflicts," which condemned practices by state and non-state actors that violate the human rights of children, such as the "drafting" of children and adolescents by the armed forces and armed dissident groups. The Commission also accepted an invitation from the Government of the Federative Republic of Brazil to hold its next special session in that country.
16. The Commission held its 107th special session in Brasilia and São Paulo, Brazil, at the invitation of the Government of the Federative Republic of Brazil. During this special session, the Commission met with Brazilian authorities and organizations, including the President of the Republic, Dr. Fernando Henrique Cardoso, attended seminars on the inter-American system for the promotion and protection of human rights, and held meetings to examine individual cases, general issues and other matters relating to the amendment of its Regulations
17. Also among its activities, the Commission signed a cooperation agreement with the High Court of Justice of Brazil, and examined human rights issues and their current situation in the Hemisphere and in Brazil through two public seminars attended by governmental authorities, specialists, and leaders of Brazilian human rights organizations. Further, at the invitation of the Government of the State of Rio de Janeiro, a special delegation of the IACHR attended Governor Anthony Garotinho’s signing, in that city, of a law adopted by the State Legislative Assembly, granting a life pension to the individuals and their relatives who were victims of the 1993 Vigario Geral and Candelaria massacres, in which 28 street children were murdered by military policemen.
18. In addition, the Commission had the honor to attend the awarding of the Great Cross of the Order of Rio Branco to its Chair, Dr. Hélio Bicudo, in recognition of his long and meritorious fight for democracy and human rights. The award was made at the behest of the President of the Republic of Brazil.
19. During this session, the Commission also considered and approved several reports on individual cases, and continued its consideration of reform of the Commission’s Regulations, as part of the process of strengthening the inter-American human rights system.
20. During its 108th regular session, the Commission continued with its study of numerous individual communications alleging violations of human rights protected by the American Convention and/or the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and in this regard adopted a total of 50 reports. The Commission also held 52 hearings on: individual cases, the general human rights situation in different countries of the hemisphere, precautionary measures, follow-up on recommendations, and other issues over which it has competence. In addition, the Commission held a series of hearings and working meetings with petitioners and representatives of OAS member states to promote the friendly settlement of complaints, and considered requests for precautionary measures from the Commission and provisional measures from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
21. Also in the course of this session, the Commission considered and approved a Recommendation on Asylum and International Crimes, which recommended to OAS member states that they refrain from granting asylum to any person alleged to be the material or intellectual author of international crimes. The Commission similarly considered and approved a Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression prepared by IACHR Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Dr. Santiago Canton, with a view to achieving more effective protection of this right, which the Commission considers to be fundamental for the consolidation and development of democracy.
22. In addition, on October 18, 2000, at the request of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community, the Secretary General of the OAS convened a meeting between the Commission and representatives of CARICOM countries, led by the Attorney-General of Jamaica, the Honorable Arnold Joseph Nicholson. During the meeting there was an exchange of views on the procedures and jurisprudence of the Commission in relation to the system of petitions, as well as on methods of strengthening understanding and cooperation between CARICOM member States and the Commission.
23. As part of its program of work during the session, the Commission continued consideration of the reform of its Regulations with a view to strengthening the inter-American system for the protection and promotion of human rights. In addition, the President of the IACHR, Dr. Hélio Bicudo, participated in the October 19, 2000 session of the OAS Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs to continue the dialogue on the strengthening of the inter-American human rights system, and Dr. Juan E. Méndez, Second Vice-President and Rapporteur for the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families participated in a meeting of that Committee which pertained to this thematic area. During the session, the Commission also accepted an invitation from the Government of the Republic of Chile to carry out an extraordinary session in that country in 2001.
24. During its 109th special session, the Commission continued examination of individual petitions on human rights violations and adopted several reports, reached significant friendly settlement agreements, and discussed the on-site visit held by the Commission in Haiti from August 21 to August 25, 2000 (discussed below).
25. In the course of this session the Commission also completed the amendments to its Regulations, within the framework of efforts to strengthen the inter-American human rights system. These reforms followed extensive consultations with OAS member states, non-governmental organizations and other civil society representatives, and independent experts. The final text was subsequently published in January 2001 and will take effect on May 1, 2001.
26. Changes in the new Regulations include:
27. Further, on December 6, 2000, the Commission convened a conference at the OAS General Secretariat, with the participation of representatives of States, various sectors of the civil society, the OAS General Secretariat, and the organs responsible for the promotion and protection of the human rights of the inter-American system. The conference focused upon various proposals made to strengthen the inter-American human rights system, and, specifically, determining whether the possible amendment of the American Convention would serve to strengthen or weaken this system. In this regard, there was a consensus among the speakers that any process designed to strengthen the system would be successful only if it resulted from agreement among all sectors involved in this process, including States, the civil society, and the organs of the system. It was also agreed that any strengthening process should take into account the specific need to provide the organs of the inter-American human rights system with the human and financial resources required for their proper functioning, make the system universal among all OAS member States, and give due priority, within the political organs of the OAS, to monitoring of implementation of the recommendations and judgments of the organs of the inter-American system. Further, participants ruled out any amendment to the American Convention at this stage of the system’s development as inappropriate and even counterproductive.
28. In the exercise of its functions, the Commission conducted an on-site visit from August 21 to August 25, 2000 in Haiti, at the invitation of the Government of that State. Held five years after the Commission’s last visit, the event was undertaken to observe the human rights situation in Haiti, and to establish closer ties between the Commission, the Haitian Government, and civil society, to enhance their cooperative efforts to protect and promote human rights in that country. The Commission delegation was comprised of: Chairman Dr. Hélio Bicudo; Commissioners Dr. Peter Laurie and Dr. Julio Prado Vallejo; Executive Secretary Ambassador Jorge E. Taiana; Assistant Executive Secretary Dr. David J. Padilla; Human Rights Specialists Dr. Bertha Santoscoy and Dr. Raquel Poitevien Cabral; OAS interpreter Ms. Rose-Marie Brierre; OAS Department of Public Information official Mr. Luiz O. Coimbra; and administrative assistants Mrs. Martha Keller and Mrs. Gloria Amanda Molina.
29. During its visit, the IACHR met with His Excellency the President of the Republic, Mr. René G. Préval and other senior Haitian executive, legislative and judicial officials. It also met with various sectors of civil society, including human rights organizations and other social and humanitarian welfare groups, representatives of the Catholic Church, alleged victims of human rights violations, journalists, and representatives from other international organizations including the United Nations. In addition, the Commission visited the National Penitentiary and the National Fort, a detention center for women and children.
30. In the course of its visit, the Commission received complaints of human rights violations in Haiti, and gathered other abundant and complex data to be analyzed at the Commission’s headquarters, with a view to preparing a report analyzing the human rights situation in Haiti. The report will contain the Commission’s conclusions and recommendations based upon its visit, and will be published following completion of the Commission’s regulatory procedures.
31. On March 22, 2000, the Commission and the International Organization for Migration signed an institutional Cooperation Agreement designed to consolidate and streamline hemispheric efforts to improve the promotion and protection of the rights of migrants in general, and especially those of migrant workers and members of their families. This Agreement established the foundation for a series of joint activities to promote the observance and effective protection of the human rights of migrants in the Americas by the IACHR and the IOM.
32. Between April 26 and 27, 2000 Commissioner Robert K. Goldman visited Santafe de Bogota, Colombia, to participate in a special meeting of the working group created to follow up the friendly settlement process in Case N° 11.227 relating to the political party known as Unión Patriótica. During the visit he met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Director of the National Human Rights Unit of the General Prosecutor’s Office. Commissioner Goldman also held meetings with representatives of human rights organizations and carried out promotional activities at academic centres.
33. On June 2, 2000, the Commission adopted its Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Peru. This report was prepared based upon information and documents received before, during, and after the on-site visit the IACHR made to the Republic of Peru from November 9 to November 13, 1998, at the invitation of the government of that State. Among the issues addressed in the report were: the state of democracy and the rule of law in Peru, including a study of the structure of the State, the current situation with the administration of justice and Peru’s international obligations; and the status of economic, social, and cultural rights in Peru and the situation in the country's prison system. As part of its conclusions, the Commission found a lack of judicial independence, serious restrictions in freedom of expression, the harassment and intimidation of political opponents, and serious irregularities in the then-recent Peruvian elections. The Commission called for the establishment of the rule of law in Peru and the organization of free and fair elections that satisfy applicable international standards.
34. At a public function in Guatemala City on August 9, 2000 attended by Dean Claudio Grossman, First Vice Chairman of the IACHR and Rapporteur for Guatemala and Ambassador Jorge Taiana, the Commission’s Executive Secretary, the Guatemalan State, through the President of the Republic, Dr. Alfonso Portillo, recognized its responsibility in 10 cases of human rights violations pending before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The Guatemalan State also pledged to ensure that the friendly settlement procedure would include appropriate compensation and/or assistance to the victims or their families and “to monitor and promote the investigation of the acts that are the subject of this declaration, to prosecute in civil and in criminal and administrative proceedings those individuals who, in the performance of their state functions or as an abuse of State power, are presumed to have participated in the alleged violation.”
35. On October 18, 2000, the new Rómulo Gallegos Library of the IACHR was inaugurated, with the presence of the Permanent Observer of Spain to the OAS, Ambassador Eduardo Gutiérrez Sáenz de Buruaga. The improvements made to the Commission library were made possible thanks to the generous financial cooperation of the Government of Spain, initiated in 1999. The library is a source of specialized information that the Commission makes available free of charge to the human rights community in the Americas.
human rights treaties
During this reporting period, the Commission was pleased to note
the ratification by certain OAS member states of several treaties for the
protection of human rights in the Americas.
The Permanent Representative of Costa Rica deposited that State’s
instrument of ratification of the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and
Punish Torture on February 8, 2000, making it the 16th state to
ratify that Convention.
On February 25, 2000, Guatemala deposited its instrument of
ratification of the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of
Persons, bringing to 8 the number of states parties to that instrument.
Guatemala also deposited its instrument of ratification of the Additional
Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, also known as the Protocol of San
Salvador, on October 6, 2000, becoming the 12th state to ratify
On June 4, 2000, during the 30th regular session of the
OAS General Assembly, a ceremony was held in which Barbados accepted the
contentious jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights
pursuant to Article 62 of the American Convention, bringing to 21 the
number of OAS member states that have accepted this competence of the
Further, the Government of Paraguay became a party to the Protocol
to the American Convention on Human Rights Pertaining to the Abolition of
the Death Penalty, when it deposited its instrument of ratification to
that Protocol on December 7, 2000.
The Commission continued in 2000 with its "Rómulo Gallegos
Fellowships" training program. The
program provides training in the inter-American system for the protection
and promotion of human rights for young attorneys from countries in the
Hemisphere, who are selected annually on a competitive basis.
They must have demonstrated commitment to human rights and very
strong academic credentials. Presently,
the Commission has five Rómulo Gallegos fellows.
The Members of the Commission and the Executive and Assistant
Executive Secretaries and its staff attorneys participated in the Fifth
Annual Moot Court Competition on the inter-American system of human rights
in May 2000, organized by the Washington College of Law of the American
University, which, since its first competition in 1996, has involved the
participation of more than 500 students and faculty representing 55
universities from more than 20 countries, including Argentina, Barbados,
Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic,
Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama,
Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, Venezuela and the United States.
Throughout 2000, the Commission and Secretariat also participated
in numerous international conferences on the inter-American system of
human rights and related topics, including gender issues, the rights of
refugees and the roles of ombudsmen. During these events, Commissioners
and Secretariat staff took part in various activities, including panel
discussions, training seminars for judges, law enforcement officials and
ombudsmen, and workshops relating to strengthening regional systems of
human rights protection.
44. In addition, in December 2000, the Inter-American Commission was pleased to accept an offer by the Government of Grenada to host the first of two seminars in the Caribbean region on the inter-American human rights system. The seminar, which was subsequently convened by the Commission on February 1 and 2, 2001 in collaboration with the Caribbean Human Rights Network, the Inter-American Institute for Human Rights, the Commonwealth Secretariat, and the Government of the United Kingdom, was intended to promote the human rights instruments and mechanisms of the inter-American system in the Caribbean region. The Commission also decided to hold a second seminar in the Western region of the Caribbean, likely in mid-2001.
Activities of the Inter-American Commission in connection
with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights
The Commission continued to litigate a number of matters before the
Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
During this reporting period, the Commission submitted the
following contentious cases to the Inter-American Court: Case 11.528
(Barrios Altos) against the Republic of Peru; Case 11.787 (George
Constantine et al.) against the
Republic of Trinidad and Tobago; Case 12.148 (Peter Benjamin et
al.) against the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago; Case 11.752 (Walter
David Bulacio) against the Republic of Argentina; and Case. 11.603 (19 Comerciantes)
against the Republic of Colombia. With the submission of the above cases
to the Inter-American Court, the Commission now has a total of 30 cases
before the Court.
47. Also during 2000, the Commission participated in numerous public hearings before the Court. During the Court’s 47th regular session from January 24 to February 4, 2000, the Commission participated in hearings on: the interpretation of the Court’s judgment in the Cesti Hurtado Case (Peru); merits in the Baena Ricardo et al. case (Panama); and preliminary objections in the Trujillo Orozo Case (Bolivia). During the Court’s 48th regular session from August 7 to August 18, 2000, the Commission participated in hearings on: a request for provisional measures on behalf of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic; reparations in the Cesti Hurtado Case (Peru); preliminary objections in the Hilaire Case (Trinidad and Tobago); and reparations in the Paniagua Morales et al. Case (Guatemala). During the Court’s 24th special session and 49th regular session from November 12 to November 25, 2000, the Commission participated in hearings on: provisional measures in the matter of the Paz de San Jose de Apartado Community (Colombia); merits in the Mayagua (Sumo) Awas Tingui Community Case (Nicaragua); merits in the Ivcher Bronstein Case (Peru); and Merits in the Constitutional Court Case (Peru).
48. During this reporting period, the Commission also took note of several judgments issued by the Court on the merits of cases before it during 2000, including: the merits judgment in the Durand and Ugarte Case (Peru), issued on August 16, 2000; the merits judgment in the Cantoral Benavides Case (Peru), issued on August 18, 2000; and the merits judgment in the Bamaca Velasquez Case (Guatemala), issued on November 25, 2000.
49. On February 5, 6, 8 and 9, 2000, representatives of the Commission participated in two meetings of experts held at the seat of the Court, as part of the follow up to the conclusions reached at the Court’s November 1999 Seminar on the Inter-American System for the Protection of Human Rights on the Threshold of the 21st Century. The objective of the meetings of experts was to share ideas on the current process of strengthening the inter-American human rights system, and the meetings were also attended by current and former members of the Court and specialized jurists from America and Europe.
During the thirtieth regular session of the General Assembly, which
was held in Windsor, Canada in June 2000, the Commission was represented
by its Chairman, Dr. Hélio Bicudo, First Vice-Chairman, Dean Claudio
Grossman, Second Vice-Chairman, Dr. Juan Méndez, and Executive Secretary,
Ambassador Jorge E. Taiana. The Commission’s Chairman addressed the
General Assembly on the general situation of human rights in the OAS
member states and formally presented the Commission's 1999 Annual Report
to the General Assembly. The Commission also made public during the
General Assembly its Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Peru, its
Report on the Human Rights Situation of Asylum Seekers within the Canadian
Refugee Status Determination System, and its Report on the Situation of
Human Rights in the Dominican Republic.
The General Assembly adopted several resolutions in the area of
human rights and humanitarian law. Because
of their importance for the promotion and defense of human rights in the
Americas and for consolidation of the inter-American system, the following
resolutions are reproduced below:
For further detail concerning the Commission's periods of sessions in
2000, see the IACHR 2000 Press Releases on the Commission's web site: