STRUCTURE AND COMPETENCE
OF THE COMMISSION
The Fifth Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign
Affairs, held in Santiago, Chile, in August 1959, adopted Resolution
VIII, entitled “Human Rights,” by which practical application was
given to the principle of international protection of human rights, when
it was resolved in Part II:
To create an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, composed
of seven members elected, as individuals, by the Council of the
Organization of American States from panels of three names presented by
the governments. The Commission, which shall be organized by the Council
of the Organization and have the specific functions that the Council
assigns to it, shall be charged with furthering respect for such rights.
In compliance with this mandate, the Council of the Organization
of American States, in 1960, adopted the Statute of the Commission.
In accordance with the terms of the Statute, the Commission is an
“autonomous entity of the Organization of American States, the
function of which is to promote respect for human rights” (Article 1),
human rights being understood to be “those set forth in the American
Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.” (Article 2).
The Commission is composed of seven members, nationals of the
member states of the Organization, who represent all the member
countries of the Organization of American States and act in its name.
The members of the Commission are elected, for a term of four
years, by the Permanent Council of the Organization, from panels of
three persons proposed for the purpose by the governments of the member
states. Only one national of any one state may be elected a member of
the Commission. (Article 4).
The Chairman and Vice Chairman are elected by the members of the
Commission by an absolute majority of the votes of its members and for a
term of two years, and they may be reelected only once. (Article 6).
The permanent seat of the Commission is the General Secretariat
of the Organization of American States, although the Commission may move
to the territory of any American state when it so decides by an absolute
majority of votes and with the consent of the government concerned.
(Article 11 c).
The Commission meets for a maximum of eight weeks a year, in one
or two regular meetings, as decided by the Commission itself. It may
also hold special meetings. (Article 11 b).
The Secretariat of the Commission is made up of the technical and
administrative personnel appointed by the Secretary General of the
Organization and is organized as a specialized functional unit under the
direction of an Executive Secretary. (Articles 14 and 14 bis of the
The Statute adopted by the Council of the Organization in 1960
assigned the following functions and powers to the Commission. (Article
a) To develop an awareness
of human rights among the peoples of America;
b) To make recommendations
to the Governments of the member states in general, if it considers such
action advisable, for the adoption of progressive measures in favor of
human rights within the framework of their domestic legislation and, in
accordance with their constitutional precepts, appropriate measures to
further the faithful observance of those rights;
c) To prepare such studies
or reports as it considers advisable in the perform of its duties;
d) To urge the Governments
of the member states to supply it with information on the measures
adopted by them in matters of human rights;
e) To serve the Organization
of American States as an advisory body in respect of human rights.
The Second Special Inter-American Conference, which met in Rio de
Janeiro in 1965, in its Resolution XXII, entitled “Expanded Functions
of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights”, broadened the
Commission’s powers in the following terms:
FUNCTIONS OF THE
COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
The Second Special Inter-American Conference,
1. To request the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to conduct a continuing survey
of the observance of fundamental human rights in each of the member
states of the Organization.
2. To request the Commission
to give particular attention in this survey to observance of the human
rights referred to in articles I, II, III, IV, XVIII, XXV and XXVI of
the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.
3. To authorize the
Commission to examine communications submitted to it and any other
available information, to address to the government of any American
state a request for information deemed pertinent by the Commission, and
to make recommendations, when it deems this appropriate, with the
objective of bringing about more effective observance of fundamental
4. To request the Commission
to submit a report annually to the Inter-American Conference or Meeting
of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs. This report should
include a statement of progress achieved in realization of the goals set
forth in the American Declaration, a statement of areas in which further
steps are needed to give effect to the human rights set forth in the
American Declaration, and such observations as the Commission may deem
appropriate on matters covered in the communications submitted to it and
in other information available to the Commission.
5. In exercising the
functions set forth in paragraphs 3 and 4 of this resolution, the
Commission shall first ascertain whether the domestic legal procedures
and remedies of a member state have been duly pursued and exhausted.
6. That the Chairman of the
Commission may go to the Commission’s headquarters and remain there
for such time as may be necessary for the performance of his function.
7. That the secretariat
services of the Commission shall be provided by a specialized functional
unit, which shall be part of the General Secretariat of the Organization
and shall be organized so as to have the resources required for
performing the tasks entrusted to it by the Commission.
8. That the statutes of the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights shall be amended in accordance
with the provisions of his resolution.
In compliance with this resolution, in 1966 the Commission
incorporated the new functions approved by the Organization into its
Statute, as Article 9 (bis).
It also amended its Regulations in order to adapt them to the
carrying out of the new powers included in the Statute as amended,
especially with regard to the examination and handling of communications
or complaints on violations of human rights in the American countries.
In addition to maintaining the purely procedural provisions from
the Regulations of 1960, the revised Regulations contain the following
The Commission shall verify, as a condition precedent, whether
the internal legal procedures and remedies of each member state have
been duly applied and exhausted. (Article 54).
Establishes that a denunciation must be addressed to the
Commission within six months following the date on which, as the case
may be, the final domestic decision has been handed down or the signer
of the communication has become aware that his recourse to domestic
remedy has arbitrarily been hindered or the final domestic decision has
been unjustly delayed. (Article 55).
Establishes a limit of 180 days counting from the date on which
the denunciation was transmitted to a government in request of
information, for that government to supply the pertinent data. If the
government has not furnished the requested information within this
period, the occurrence of the events denounced will be presumed to be
true. However, the Commission may extend that term in cases in which it
finds this justified. (Article 51).
If the occurrence of the violation is confirmed, the Commission
shall prepare a report on the case and make appropriate recommendations
to the government concerned. (Article 56).
If the government concerned does not, within a reasonable time,
adopt the measures recommended, the Commission may make the observations
it considers appropriate in the annual report it presents to the General
Assembly of the Organization. (Article 57.1)
If the Assembly does not make any observations on the
Commission’s recommendations and if the government concerned has not
yet adopted the measures recommended, the Commission may publish its
report. (Article 57.2).
The Protocol of Amendment to the Charter of the Organization,
adopted in Buenos Aires in 1967 and ratified by all the member states,
strengthened the juridical status of the Commission when it made the
The Organization of American States accomplishes its purposes by
The General Assembly;
The Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs;
The Inter-American Juridical Committee;
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights;
The General Secretariat;
The Specialized Conferences; and
The Specialized Organizations.
There may be established, in addition to those provided for in
the Charter and in accordance with the provisions thereof, such
subsidiary organs, agencies, and other entities as are considered
There shall be an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights,
whose principal function shall be to promote the observance and
protection of human rights and to serve as a consultative organ of the
Organization in these matters.
An inter-American convention on human rights shall determine the
structure, competence, and procedure of this Commission, as well as
those of other organs responsible for these matters.
Until the inter-American convention on human rights, referred to
in Chapter XVIII, enters into force, the present Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights shall keep vigilance over the observance of
The Convention referred to in Article 112 of the Charter of the
Organization was approved in San José, Costa Rica, in November 1969.
That Convention, which is in the process of being ratified, contains the
pertinent provisions on the structure, competence, and procedure of the
Commission. Up to December 31, 1976, the Convention has been ratified by
Costa Rica and Colombia.
During the fiscal year 1975-76, without taking into consideration
the fixed expenditures under the heading of personnel, the largest part
of the budget was used for the meeting of the Permanent Subcommittee and
three sessions of the CIDH, one of them a special session to carry out
the mandates of the Assembly.
The following table shows the draft budget presented by IACHR for
the fiscal year 1976-77, as well as that which was approved by the
General Assembly at its sixth regular session.
The work of the Commission has been increasing in volume and in
intensity due to the constant increase of denunciations of violations of
human rights in various regions in the hemisphere and, as was already
pointed out elsewhere, that increase in the work load has not been
accompanied by a proportional enlargement of the means for handling it.
The Commission still is limited to the staff and resources that it had
several years ago. Fortunately, the Permanent Council of the
Organization, at its meeting on October 5, 1976, authorized the
Secretary General to accept a special contribution of $102,000 made by
the Government of the United States of America “to strengthen the
activities of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights” and
requested him to present a draft budget for the use of this contribution
by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
The IACHR drafted a budget at its thirty-ninth session, which was
approved by the Permanent Council on February 2, 1977.
worldwide agencies of the same kind
The Commission maintains cooperative relations with the
Inter-American Commission of Women, the Inter-American Children’s
Institute and the Inter-American Indian Institute. It also maintains
cooperative relations with the United Nations Commission on Human Rights
and the European Commission of Human Rights.