ORIGIN, 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 I),
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 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.
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 11b).
The Secretariat of the Commission is made up of the technical and
administrative personal appointed by the Secretary General of the
Organization and is organized as a specialized functional unit under the
direction of an Executive Secretary (Article 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
To develop an awareness of human rights among the peoples of
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
To prepare such studies or reports as it considers advisable in
the performance of its duties;
To urge the governments of the member states to supply it with
information on the measures adopted by them in matters of human rights;
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 1975, 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 INTER-AMERICAN
ON HUMAN RIGHTS
The Second Special Inter-American Conference,
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.
To request the Commission to give particular attention in this
survey to observance of the human rights referred to in Articles I, II,
II, IV, XVIII, XXV and XXVI of the American Declaration of the Rights
and Duties of Man.
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 human rights.
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.
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.
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.
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
That the statutes of the Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights shall be amended in accordance with the provisions of this
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
exercise 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).
Established 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
This year, the thirtieth anniversary of the American Declaration
of the Rights and Duties of Man, was the setting for the entry into
force of the American Convention on Human Rights when on July 18, 1978,
the eleventh member state—Grenada—deposited its instrument of
ratification. By the end of the year, the following thirteen member
states of the Organization had deposited their instruments of
ratification or accession: Costa Rica, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras,
Haiti, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Panama, El Salvador,
Grenada, Peru and Jamaica.
On signing or ratifying the Convention, the following countries
made these statements or reservations:
The Delegation of Chile signs this Convention, subject to its
subsequent parliamentary approval and ratification, in accordance with
the constitutional rules in force.
The Delegation of Ecuador has the honor of signing the American
Convention on Human Rights. It does not believe that it is necessary to
make any specific reservation at this time, without prejudice to the
general power set forth in the Convention itself that leaves the
governments free to ratify it or not.
The American Convention on Human Rights, known as the “Pact of
San Jose, Costa Rica”, signed at San Jose, Costa Rica, on November 22,
1969, composed of a preamble and eighty-two articles, approved by the
Executive Branch in the Field of Foreign Affairs by Agreement 405, dated
June 14 of the current year, is hereby ratified, with the reservation
that such ratification is understood without prejudice to those
provisions of the Convention that might be in conflict with express
precepts of the Political Constitution of the Republic.
The Government of the Republic of Guatemala ratifies the American
Convention on Human Rights, signed at San Jose, Costa Rica, on November
22, 1969, with a reservation as to Article 4, paragraph 4 thereof, since
the Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala, in its Article 54, only
excludes the application of the death penalty to political crimes, but
not to common crimes related to political crimes.
The Dominican Republic, upon signing the American Convention on
Human Rights, aspires that the principle pertaining to abolition of the
death penalty shall become purely and simply that, with general
application throughout the states of the American region, and likewise
maintains the observations and comments made on the aforementioned Draft
Convention which is distributed to the delegations to the Council of the
Organization of American States on June 20, 1969.
Article 80.2 of the Constitution of Uruguay provides that
citizenship is suspended for a person indicted according to law in a
criminal prosecution that may result in a sentence of imprisonment in a
penitentiary. This restriction on the exercise of the rights recognized
in Article 23 of the Convention is not envisaged among the circumstances
provided for in this respect by paragraph 2 of Article 23, for which
reason the Delegation of Uruguay expresses a reservation on this matter.
Article 60, paragraph 5 of the Constitution of the Republic of
Venezuela establishes that: No one may be convicted in a criminal trial
without first having been personally notified of the charges and heard
in the manner prescribed by law. Persons accused of an offense against
the res publica may be tried in absentia, with the
guarantees and in the manner prescribed by law.
DECLARES, That, in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 1
of Article 45 of the Convention, the Government of the Republic of
Venezuela recognizes the competence of the Inter-American Commission on
Human Rights to receive and examine communications in which a State
Party alleges that another State Party has committed violations of human
rights set forth in that Convention, in the terms stipulated in
paragraph 2 of that article. This recognition of competence is made for
an indefinite period of time.
On July 21, 1978, under the terms of the provisions of the Pact
of San Jose, the Secretary General of the Organization asked all the
member states of the OAS to submit, within ninety days, their
nominations for members of the Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights, one of the organs for which provision is made in the Convention.
On the same day, the Secretary General also asked the States Parties to
the Convention to submit, within the same period, their nominations for
members of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the other organ
established under the Pact of San Jose.
Elections for the members of these two bodies will be held at a
future General Assembly of the Organization.
In order to clarify the situation arising from the period of
transition between the present Commission and the moment when the new
Commission is elected and installed, the Permanent Council of the OAS,
having been so authorized by the General Assembly, adopted the following
resolution on September 20, 1978:
FROM THE PRESENT INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON
RIGHTS TO THE COMMISSION PROVIDED FOR IN THE
CONVENTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
THE PERMANENT COUNCIL OF THE ORGANIZATION OF AMERICAN STATES,
That Article 150 of the Charter of the Organization of American
States provides that: “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 human rights”;
That this convention entered into force officially as of the date
on which the ratifications necessary for that purpose, pursuant to its
Article 74.2, were obtained, but that this does not mean that the organ
called for by the Convention to replace the one now promoting respect
for and protection of these rights has been established or enabled to
assume this work;
That it is advisable to avoid interruption in the functioning of
the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights;
That not all the member states that signed and ratified the
Charter of the Organization are parties to the American Convention on
Human Rights signed in San Jose, Costa Rica in 1969; and
HAVING SEEN the minutes of July 1, 1978, of the ninth meeting of
the First Committee “Juridical and Political Matters” of the eighth
regular session of the General Assembly (AG/Com.I/ACTA 9/78),
That the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, established
by the Fifth Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs,
shall continue to exercise its duties until the new commission, which
shall be elected by the General Assembly, is duly installed.
That the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights:
a. Shall continue to apply
its present Statute and Regulations, without change, to those member
states that are not parties to the American Convention on Human Rights.
b. Shall apply any new
Statute and Regulations that may be approved only to those states that
have ratified the American Convention on Human Rights.
c. Shall apply the present
Statute and Regulations, without change, to the state parties to the
aforementioned convention, pending approval of the new Statute and
The fifth special session of the General Assembly, held December
12 through 15, 1977, approved the program-budget of the Organization for
the biennium 1978-1979.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was allocated
$894.100 for 1978 and $837.600 for the following year. These funds
represent an increase of approximately 160 percent over the budget for
the immediately preceding biennium.
The new budget has permitted the Commission to strengthen its
Secretariat with the addition of five lawyers; to equip the Commission
and its Secretariat with a specialized library and documentation center;
to install a computer system for more efficient handling of cases being
processed and denunciations received; to cover the expenditures of
on-site observations of the Commission and to undertake action in the
Americas to promote the observance of human rights.
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 and Committee
on Human Rights and the European Commission of Human Rights. Its
cooperation with the latter was stepped up through establishment of a
staff exchange program between the two Secretariats.