ORIGIN AND LEGAL BASES OF THE IACHR
According to the Charter of the OAS, the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights is a principal organ of the Organization
with the primary function of promoting the observance and protection
of human rights. It also
serves as the consultative organ of the Organization in these
The Commission was created by Resolution VI of the Fifth
Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs (Santiago,
Chile, 1959). Part II of
that resolution provided that the Commission was to be composed of
seven members selected in a personal capacity from panels of nominees
presented by the governments of the OAS member states, and that its
purpose would be to promote respect for human rights.
The Council of the Organization approved the Statute of the
Commission on May 25, 1960. Under
the provisions of the Statute (Article 2) the Commission was
established as an autonomous entity of the Organization of American
States. Human rights were
understood to be those set out in the American Declaration of the
Rights and Duties of Man (Bogota, 1948).
Pursuant to that Statute, on June 29, 1960 the Council elected
the members of the Commission. It
is important to note that the members of the Commission represent all
the member states of the OAS and act in their name.
The Commission's first session was held in Washington, D.C.,
from October 3 through 28, 1960.
Since that first session, the Commission has held ninety-five
(95) sessions, some of them at its headquarters in the General
Secretariat, others in various member states of the Organization.
The Second Special Inter-American Conference (Rio de
Janeiro, 1965) amended the Commission's Statute.
The amendments were (in the form of additions and changes)
intended to make the Statute stronger and as effective as possible in
assisting the Commission in the performance of its functions.
It was further recognized (Resolution XXII) that the IACHR had
"performed valuable service in carrying out its mandate." The 1960 Statute was amended as follows:
i) it authorized the Commission to pay "particular
attention" to the 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; ii)
it authorized the Commission to examine communications sent to
it and any other information available, to address
the government of any member state "for information deemed
pertinent, and to make recommendations to it, in order to bring about
more effective observance of fundamental human rights," and iii)
it requested the Commission to present an annual report to the then
Inter-American Conference or the Meeting of Consultation of
Ministers of Foreign Affairs, so that the progress accomplished and
the protection of human rights could be examined at the ministerial
level. When discharging
its mandate, the IACHR must first ascertain whether a member state's
legal procedures and remedies have been properly invoked and
Later, at the Third Special Inter-American Conference
(Buenos Aires, 1967), the Protocol of Amendment to the Charter of the
Organization of American States was signed.
That Protocol of Amendment added important provisions to the
Charter which were of particular concern to the Commission, and to human
rights in general, and which established a quasi-conventional
structure on the subject matter. On
the one hand, the Commission became one of the organs through which the
Organization accomplishes its purposes (Article 51.e of the Charter);
and was instructed to continue to monitor the observance of human rights
until the American Convention on Human Rights entered into force
(Article 150, transitory).
On November 22, 1969, the Inter-American Specialized
Conference on Human Rights, convoked by the Council of the OAS (San
Jose, Costa Rica), approved the American Convention on Human Rights,
which entered into force on July 18, 1978, when Grenada deposited the
eleventh instrument of ratification.
At its ninth regular session (La Paz, Bolivia, 1979), the General
Assembly of the OAS approved the Commission's new Statute.
Articles 6 and 8 were later amended at the tenth regular session
of the General Assembly (Washington, D.C., 1980).
Article 1 of the Statute defines the IACHR as "an organ of
the Organization of American States, created to promote the observance
and defense of human rights and to serve as a consultative organ to the
Organization in this matter."
Human rights were defined as the rights set forth in the American
Convention on Human Rights, for the States Parties thereto, and as the
rights set forth in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of
Man, for the other member states. As
with the previous Statute, the membership of the Commission, defined in
Article 2, continued to be seven members who represent all the member
states of the OAS. Under
Article 3, the members of the Commission are to be elected by the
General Assembly to terms of four (4) years, and may be reelected once
The Commission's functions and powers with respect to all the
member states are spelled out in Article 18 of its Statute and those
that apply to the States Parties to the American Convention are
enumerated in Article 19. Its
powers in relation to member states that are not yet parties to the
Convention are set forth in Article 20.
The Commission is further governed by its Rules of Procedure,
approved in 1980 and subsequently amended in 1985, 1987, 1995 and 1996.
RELATIONS BETWEEN THE IACHR AND THE INTER-AMERICAN COURT OF
During the period to which this report refers the Commission
brought five cases before the Court and continued its relations with the
Inter-American Court of Human Rights, as described in Chapter II
of this report, particularly with regard to hearings concerning the
Court's advisory and contentious jurisdiction in matters submitted to it
by the Commission.
JOINT MEETING OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COURT AND
THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION
ON HUMAN RIGHTS
The Court and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights held
a joint meeting at the headquarters of the latter on December 5, 1996,
taking advantage of the fact that members of both bodies were in
Washington, D.C., attending the Seminar on the Inter-American System for
the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, which was held on December
The Court was represented at this meeting by its President, Prof.
Héctor Fix-Zamudio; its Vice-President, Prof. Hernán Salgado Pesantes;
judges Alejandro Montiel Arguello, Amb. Oliver Jackman, Dr. Alirio Abreu
Burelli, Prof. Antonio A. Cançado Trindade, and Dr. Máximo Pachecho;
its Secretary, Lic. Manuel Ventura Robles; and its Acting Assistant
Secretary, Lic. Víctor Rodríguez Rescia.
The Inter-American Commission, in turn, was represented by its
Chairman, Dean Claudio Grossman; its First Vice-Chairman, Amb. John
Donaldson; its second Vice-Chairman, Dr. Carlos Ayala Corao; its members
Amb. Alvaro Tirado Mejía, Prof. Robert Goldman, and Dr. Jean Josehp
Exumé; its Executive Secretary, Amb. Jorge E. Taiana; and Assistant
Executive Secretaries Dr. Domingo E. Acevedo and Dr. David J. Padilla.
In addition, the meeting was attended by IACHR attorneys and
Fulfillment of General Assembly resolution AG/RES. 1041 (XX-O/90),
To request the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the
Inter-American Court of Human Rights to establish coordinating
mechanisms conducive to mutual cooperation within their areas of
competence for the further protection of human rights.
In reference to this mandate, consideration was given, on the one
hand, to the coordination of procedural aspects and, on the other, to
mechanisms that might be established for coordination in substantive
Coordination mechanisms for procedural aspects
The members of the Commission and the judges of the Court felt
that it was necessary to establish permanent coordination mechanisms
with regard to procedural aspects.
The following mechanisms, which may or may not already exist,
Holding a joint annual meeting of the Commission and the Court,
the site to alternate between the headquarters of the Commission and
that of the Court.
Establishing a mechanism that will allow the ranking officers of
the Court and the Commission to hold a meeting at the time their annual
reports are presented to the Permanent Council and the General Assembly
of the Organization.
Exchanging information. It
was felt that it would be very useful if the members of the Court could
have copies of the documents produced by the Commission, except reports
on the application of Article 50 of the Inter-American Convention, and
in particular cases that might subsequently be referred to the Court for
In this regard, it was said that the members of the Commission
should have all the documents (judgments, resolutions, and other
documents) approved by the Court. At
the same time, it would also be very useful if the petitions for
precautionary measures prepared by the Commission could be circulated to
for facilities in the offices of the Executive Secretariat for the
President and the judges of the Court when they are in Washington, D.C.,
on an official mission. It was agreed to ask the respective secretaries to look into
Increasing communication between the secretariats of the two
bodies and coordinating their activities more closely.
It was agreed to do this.
Coordination in substantive areas
As the first point under this heading, the President of the
Commission raised the subject of ex parte communications, such as
hypothetical questions, but no agreement was reached on this matter.
The President of the Court pointed out that all written documents
and communications presented by one of the parties are transmitted to
the other party. Moreover,
all requests for advisory opinions submitted by any of the states,
together with the documentation relevant to the matter being consulted,
are transmitted to the Commission.
It was felt, therefore, that from the standpoint of the Court
there was no problem in this regard.
Presentation of evidence offered by the Commission
With regard to this point, it was considered that any evidence
which has the characteristics of nationality and contradiction,
submitted to the Commission by the parties to a case, may be regarded as
full proof before the Court, even though it may be questioned by the
parties at some time in the process.
It was pointed out that the problem arises only in connection
with oral testimony.
The Chairman of the Commission indicated that this organ is going
to consider amending the provisions in its Rules of Procedure with
regard to the oral testimony of witnesses, including expert witnesses.
Duration of proceedings
The Chairman of the Commission raised the subject of the duration
of proceedings, both in the
Commission and in the Court. The
President of the Court explained that his institution has always
attempted to stay within the time limits specified.
On this matter the members of the Court said that it would be
useful, based on the principle of procedural economy, if in certain
cases the Court could reject, without any prior hearing, requests for
preliminary exceptions when they were completely groundless.
It was argued that that would considerably reduce the duration of
proceedings in cases in which one of the parties alleges preliminary
exceptions that are groundless and irrelevant in the context of the case
Representation of victims
This matter was the subject of extensive discussion by the
members of both agencies, and it was agreed to continue the debate at
the next joint meeting of the Court and the Commission.
Content of reparations
On this point several considerations were raised both by the
members of the Commission and by the judges of the Court.
It was agreed to continue the discussion of this topic at the
next joint meeting.
Compliance with decisions of the Court
Discussion of this topic prompted several interventions by the
judges of the Court and the members of the Commission.
The study of measures or procedures that the Court or the
Commission might suggest for getting the states to comply fully and
promptly with decisions handed down by the Court was left pending.
Several suggestions were outlined in this regard, but none of
them appeared to meet with the approval of all the members who were
participating in the joint meeting.
Fulfillment of the mandates of the General Assembly AG/RES. 1333
(XXV-O/95) and AG/RES. 1417 (XXVI-O/96)
As it is known, these resolutions refer to a draft rule of
procedure regarding conflicts of interest of members of the Commission,
external advisers, or students working at the Commission as interns.
It was agreed that a report on this matter would be submitted to
the General Assembly at its next regular session.
Fulfillment of the mandates of the General Assembly AG/RES. 1330
(XIV-O/95) and AG/RES. 1394 (XXVI-O/96)
These resolutions recommend to the Court and the Commission that
in their respective annual reports they include detailed information on
both the purpose and the results of the regular meetings being held.
It was agreed to report to the General Assembly in the manner
Fulfillment of the mandate given by the General Assembly in
Resolution AG/RES. 1404 (XXVI-O/96)
In this resolution the General Assembly resolved:
instruct the Permanent Council to evaluate the workings of the
inter-American system for the protection and promotion of human rights
so as to initiate a process leading to its improvement, possibly by
modifying the respective legal instruments as well as the methods and
working procedures of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, for
which it shall request the cooperation of the Commission and the
Inter-American Court of Human Rights...
promote dialogue between the member states, between those states and the
Inter-American Commission on and Court of Human Rights, and with experts
in the field, so as to contribute to a process of reflection leading to
improvement of the inter-American human rights system.
As part of the task involved in this mandate from the General
Assembly, the Commission held a seminar on December 2–4, 1996, which
was attended by judges of the Court, representatives of the member
states, and other users of the system, as well as experts on the subject
from academic institutions and other international organizations such as
the United Nations and the European Union.
The Commission will report to the Permanent Council on this
event, and through the latter body, to the General Assembly. It
will also report the results of the seminar to the Secretary General of
New Rules of Procedure of the Court
The Commission noted the amendments that the Inter-American Court
had introduced in its Rules of Procedure, which will enter into effect
on January 1, 1997.
Date of the next meeting of the Commission and the Court
It was agreed that the next joint meeting would take place in the
city of San Jose on a date to be set at a later time.
RELATIONS WITH SPECIALIZED ORGANIZATIONS OF THE OAS
The Commission has continued its cooperative relationship with
the specialized organizations of the OAS in matters pertaining to human
rights. These organizations
include the Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM); the
Inter-American Children's Institute; and the Inter-American
Indian Institute. As part
of this cooperation, there has been an exchange of publications and
working papers that, because of their nature, may be of mutual interest.
RELATIONS WITH OTHER ORGANIZATIONS ASSOCIATED WITH
The Commission also continued to cooperate with the United Nations agencies charged with protecting and promoting human rights. These include the Commission on Human Rights, the Human Rights Committee provided for in the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of the United Nations, and in particular, that Committee's Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. Such cooperation will assist the Commission in dealing with similar cases that are referred to it.
The Commission has maintained a close cooperative relationship
with the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights.
The States Parties are as follows: 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, Trinidad and
Tobago, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
Of these, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa
Rica, Ecuador, Jamaica, Peru, Uruguay,
and Venezuela have recognized the competence of the
Commission to receive interstate communications in accordance with
Article 45 of the American Convention.
Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa
Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras,
Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname,
Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, and Venezuela
have recognized the mandatory jurisdiction of the
Inter-American Court of Human Rights under Article 62 of the
No. 36, Treaty Series.