LEGAL BASES AND ACTIVITIES OF THE IACHR
The 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, the American Convention on Human Rights, and the
Statute of the Commission. The IACHR is one of two bodies in the
inter-American system responsible for promoting and protecting human
rights, the other being the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which is
located in San José, Costa Rica.
The IACHR 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.
3. In April of
1948 the OAS approved the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of
Man (the “American Declaration”) 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 80 visits to 23 member States. Based in part on its on-site investigations the IACHR has published 56 special country and thematic reports to date.
5. In 1965, the IACHR was expressly authorized to examine complaints or petitions regarding specific cases of human rights violations. By 2001, 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 (the “American Convention”) was adopted. The Convention entered into force in 1978. As of February of 2001, 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 created 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
Convention, Articles 19 and 20 of the Commission’s Statute, and Articles
22 to 50 of the Commission’s Rules of Procedure.
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
presented to the Permanent Council and General Assembly of the OAS.
Stimulates public consciousness regarding human rights in the
Americas. To that end, the Commission 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
Organizes and carries out conferences, seminars and meetings with
representatives of Governments, academic institutions, non-governmental
groups and others in order to disseminate information and to increase
knowledge regarding issues relating to the inter-American human rights
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 Inter-American
Court order "provisional measures" in urgent cases which involve
danger to persons, even where a case has not yet been submitted to the
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 over 900 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 and/or the American Declaration.
The denunciation may be presented in any of the four official
languages of the OAS (English, French, Portuguese or Spanish) and may be
presented by the alleged victim of the violation or by a third party.
9. During this reporting period, the Commission met on four occasions: during its 110th regular session from February 20 to March 9, 2001; during its 111th special session between April 3 and April 6, 2001; during its 112th regular session on June 14 and 15, 2001; and during its 113th regular session from October 9 to October 17 and November 12 to November 16, 2001.
During its 110th regular session, the Commission elected its new
board of officers, which was comprised of Dean Claudio Grossman,
President, Dr. Juan E. Méndez, First Vice President, and Lic. Marta
Altolaguirre, Second Vice President.
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 63 reports on individual petitions and cases and held 46 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. The Commission’s audiences included a hearing on the situation of human rights activists in the hemisphere, where the Commission received information about threats, attacks and assaults perpetrated in several of the region’s countries against human rights organizations and defenders with the intention of interfering with their work.
12. Also during this session, the IACHR held its annual joint meeting with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, at which several issues of mutual interest were discussed. These issues included implementation of the amendments to the bodies’ rules of procedure and closer cooperation between the two institutions in performing their duties.
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. In this connection, on March 2, 2001 at a special ceremony at the Organization of American State’s Headquarters addressed by the OAS Secretary General, the Inter-American Press Association affirmed its adherence to the Inter-American Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression.
14. In the course of its session, the Commission had the opportunity to meet with the Minister of Justice of the Republic of Peru, Mr. Diego García-Sayán, as well as Ambassador Manuel Rodríguez Cuadros, that country’s permanent representative to the OAS. At this meeting, Mr. García-Sayán, on behalf of the Peruvian State, submitted a wide-ranging proposal of resolving 165 cases, accounting for more than half of the cases involving Peru under process by the Commission at that time.
15. The Commission held its 111th special session in Santiago, Chile, at the invitation of the Government of Chile. During this special session, the Commission held working sessions and met with senior officials of the three branches of the Chilean Government, including the President of the Republic, Dr. Ricardo Lagos. The Commission also held discussions with representatives of different sectors of civil society, including 80 non-governmental organizations as well as meetings with Chilean political parties.
16. During the session, the Commission also approved its annual report of activities for the year 2000, which was subsequently presented to the Permanent Council of the OAS in April 2001 and to the OAS General Assembly during its 31st regular session in San José, Costa Rica in June 2001.
17. In addition, the Commission analyzed numerous individual cases, approved admissibility and merits reports, including decisions to publish 14 reports, adopted precautionary measures in respect of several situations, and analyzed the progress made in 37 cases before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
18. During its 112th special session, the Commission continued with its study of numerous individual communications alleging violations of human rights protected by the American Convention and the American Declaration. The Commission also deliberated upon numerous administrative matters concerning the functioning of the Commission Secretariat.
19. During its 113th regular session, the Commission continued its examination of individual petitions on violations of the human rights protected by the American Convention and the American Declaration and adopted a total of 60 reports, 48 of which involved decisions to publish the Commission’s conclusions and recommendations. The Commission also discussed the preparation of its 2001 Annual Report, to be presented to the OAS General Assembly during its 32nd regular session in Barbados in June 2002.
20. In the course of this session the Commission also acknowledged the significance of two events that occurred on September 11, 2001. The Commission expressed its strong solidarity with the government and people of the United States of America in the wake of the criminal terrorist attack it suffered on that date. In addition, the Commission recognized the adoption of the Inter-American Democratic Charter by the OAS member states on September 11, 2001 at the 28th special session of the OAS General Assembly in Lima, Peru, which the Commission considered to be an important step toward strengthening the indissoluble link between democracy and human rights in the hemisphere.
21. The hearings held in conjunction with the Commission’s 113th regular session were convened from November 12 to November 16, 2001, during which time 52 audiences were held on individual petitions and cases being processed before the Commission, as well as others of a general nature dealing with the human rights situations of countries in the hemisphere. During the course of the session, the Commission focused with particular concern upon the threats to the lives and physical safety of human rights defenders in the Americas. In this connection, the Commission held a meeting with Mrs. Hina Jilani, Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations on the Situation of Human Rights, which served as an opportunity to exchange information and ideas on mechanisms to guarantee more effectively the work of those defenders.
On August 1, 2001, Dr. Santiago A. Canton took up the post of
Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights,
replacing Ambassador Jorge E. Taiana who completed a five-year term as
Executive Secretary. Since
November of 1998, Dr. Canton had been the Commission’s Special
Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, prior to which he held positions as
Director of Public Information for the Organization of American States in
1998 and Director for Latin America and the Caribbean of the National
Democratic Institute for International Affairs from 1994 to 1998.
Visit to Panama
23. From June 6 to June 8, 2001, the Commission conducted its third on-site visit to the Republic of Panama, at the invitation of its Government, in order to observe the general situation of human rights in that country. The Commission’s delegation was comprised of its President, Dean Claudio Grossman, Second Vice-President, Lic. Marta Altolaguirre, Commissioner Dr. Hélio Bicudo, and the Commission’s Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Dr. Santiago Canton. Also attending were the Commission’s Executive Secretary, Ambassador Jorge E. Taiana, Assistant Executive Secretary, Dr. David Padilla, and Commission human rights specialist and desk officer for Panama, Dr. Raquel Poitevien. In addition, Dr. Isabel Madariaga participated as an attorney and consultant on indigenous matters, and Mrs. Martha Keller and Mrs. Nadia Hansen provided administrative support.
24. During its visit, the Commission met with numerous officials from governmental and non-governmental institutions and associations, including the President of the Republic of Panama, Her Excellency Mireya Moscoso, the President of the Supreme Court, Dr. Mirtza Franceschi de Aguilera, and numerous government ministers. The Commission also interviewed representatives of more than 30 non-governmental human rights organizations who submitted reports on their different areas of work.
25. In addition, the Commission conducted visits to numerous pertinent facilities and institutions in Panama, including the Joyita Penitentiary, the Women’s Rehabilitation Center, and the Juvenile Detention Center. This also included a visit to the National Psychiatric Hospital, which the Commission conducted together with experts from the Pan American Health Organization and World Health Organization.
26. As is customary during these visits, the Commission received complaints from numerous individuals, either directly or through their representatives, who claim to have been the victims of human rights violations, and interviewed persons who wished to supplement the information provided in their petitions and cases being processed by the Commission. Pursuant to its mandate and functions, the Commission will prepare a report on the situation of human rights in Panama, which will contain pertinent conclusions and recommendations to the Republic of Panama.
27. From December 7 to December 13, 2001, the Commission conducted its fourth on site visit to the Republic of Colombia, at the invitation of President Andrés Pastrana’s Administration, to observe the situation of human rights in that country. The Commission’s delegation for the visit included its President, Dean Claudio Grossman, First Vice-President, Dr. Juan E. Méndez, Second Vice-President, Lic. Marta Altolaguirre, and Commissioners Professor Robert K. Goldman, Professor Hélio Bicudo, Dr. Peter Laurie and Dr. Julio Prado Vallejo. The Executive Secretary and Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Dr. Santiago A. Canton, and Commission Secretariat attorneys Verónica Gómez, Mario López, and Ignacio Alvarez also participated in the visit. Administrative support was provided by Mrs. Gabriela Hageman, Mrs. Gloria Hansen, and Mrs. Gloria Molina. The delegation was also accompanied by attorney Débora Benchoam and Ms. Victoria Amato from the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression in the Americas.
28. During its visit, the Commission met with officials from the three branches of government, including the President of Colombia, the ministers responsible for numerous government departments, and judges from the Constitutional Court and Superior Court of the Judiciary. The Commission also met with non-governmental organizations, church representatives, political leaders, journalists and media representatives, representatives of campesino, ethnic and women’s associations, trade unions, and other civil society representatives at the national and local levels. In addition, the Commission maintained contact with international organizations, such as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN High Commission for Refugees, and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
In the course of its investigations, sub-delegations of the
Commission traveled to three principal centers, Bogotá, Medellín and
Barrancabermeja, and received information and testimony on the situation
in all regions of the country and particularly in Cundinamarca, Antioquia,
Magdalena Medio, Arauca, Valle, Cauca, Putumayo, Nariño, Tolima and
Catatumbo. Considerable information was gathered concerning the situation
of the civilian population that has been victimized by the violence
generated by the armed conflict in Colombia, including information on
hundreds of thousands of persons displaced as a result of the violence
sponsored by armed groups. The Commission also had opportunities to visit
numerous pertinent facilities in Colombia, including the National Model
Prison, to observe the situation of human rights in those locations.
30. The Commission’s conclusions and recommendations to the Colombian State will be incorporated into a report on the situation of human rights in Colombia, to be released in 2002.
31. On March 21, 2001, the Commission released its third report on the human rights situation in Paraguay. The report was prepared using information and documents received before, during and after the Commission’s on-site visit to the Republic of Paraguay from July 28 to July 30, 1999 at the invitation of that country’s government. In its report, the Commission examined different aspects of the human rights situation in Paraguay, including the legal system and protection of human rights, the progression of the democratic institutional framework in the country, the right to personal liberty, the right to be free from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment, and prison conditions. The report highlighted in particular the human rights standards adopted in Paraguay’s 1992 Constitution and other national laws, as well as Paraguay’s ratification of nearly all of the inter-American human rights conventions.
32. On May 4, 2001, the Commission released its fifth report on the situation of human rights in the Republic of Guatemala. The report was prepared using information and documentation received before, during and after the Commission’s on-site visit to Guatemala conducted from August 6 to August 11, 1998 at the invitation of the government of that country. This report constituted the first in-depth analysis of the human rights situation in Guatemala by the Commission since the signing of the Firm and Lasting Peace in 1996. In its report, the Commission dealt with a diverse range of aspects of the human rights situation in Guatemala including chapters on economic, social and cultural rights and the administration of justice. Other topics of discussion included the right to life, the right to personal liberty, the right to freedom of thought and expression, and the rights of indigenous peoples. Of particular focus in the report was the paramount challenge of creating a judicial system in Guatemala that offers a first line of defense for the effective protection of the rights and freedoms of that country’s population.
33. At the invitation of the Government of Peru, from June 26 to June 28, 2001, the Commission made a protocolary visit to that country. The Commission’s delegation was comprised of its President, Dean Claudio Grossman, Commissioner Dr. Hélio Bicudo, Executive Secretary Ambassador Jorge E. Taiana, and Commission attorney and desk officer for Peru, Ignacio Alvarez. During the visit, the Commission interview various Peruvian officials and acknowledged the efforts of the people and country of Peru in restoring democracy and the rule of law to their country.
34. From July 2 to July 5, 2001, a delegation of the Commission comprised of its President, Dean Claudio Grossman and Commission attorney and desk officer for Mexico, Mario López, carried our a visit to the Republic of United Mexican States at the invitation of the government of that country. The purpose of the visit focused upon follow up measures for compliance with Commission reports on individual cases of violations of human rights in Mexico pursuant to Articles 46 and 62 of the Commission’s Rules of Procedure. Among the advances achieved during the meetings were the creation of several working groups with participation of authorities and representatives of victims, which were assigned the mandate of identifying concrete measures for compliance with the recommendations, as well as proposals for reparations and for bringing Mexican internal legislation into conformity with its international human rights obligations.
35. On July 24, 2001, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Organization of American States signed an agreement aimed at strengthening the Office of the Rapporteur on the Rights of the Child of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The purpose of the agreement was to support the efforts and activities of the Office aimed at promoting and defending the human rights of children throughout the hemisphere.
36. The Executive Secretary of the Commission announced on December 7, 2001 the decision to create a Human Rights Defenders Functional Unit within the Office of the Executive Secretary. The Unit’s main functions will be to receive information regarding the situation of human rights defenders in the hemisphere, maintain contact with non-governmental and governmental organizations, and co-ordinate the work of the Executive Secretariat with regard to human rights defenders in the Americas. The decision to create the functional unit was made following the issuance by the General Assembly of the Organization of American States during its 31st regular session of Resolution AG/RES. 1818 (XXXI-0/01), in which it requested the Commission to continue to pay due attention to the situation of human rights defenders in the Americas and to consider preparing a comprehensive study in the area for consideration by pertinent political authorities.
human rights treaties
During this reporting period, the Commission was pleased to note
the signing and/or ratification by certain OAS member states of several
treaties for the protection of human rights in the Americas.
On January 8, 2001, the Permanent Representative of Peru to the
Organization of American States signed the Inter-American Convention on
Forced Disappearance of Persons, and on May 4, 2001, the Republic of
United Mexican State signed the same instrument.
In addition, on January 31, 2001, the Permanent Representative of
Peru to the OAS presented the Organization’s Secretary General with a
document certifying the normalization of that country’s situation vis
a vis the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and its compliance with
the Court’s judgments that ruled inadmissible the July 1999 unilateral
action by Peru attempting to withdraw from the contentious jurisdiction of
the Inter-American Court.
On February 15, 2001, the State of Grenada deposited its instrument
of ratification of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention,
Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (the “Convention of
Belem Do Pará”), making it the 30th state to ratify that
On June 5, 2001, Chile signed the Additional Protocol to the
American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights (the “Protocol of San Salvador”), and on September 10,
2001, the same state signed the Additional Protocol to the American
Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty.
On, respectively, January 10, 2001, January 25, 2001, February 16,
2001, July 20, 2001, August 15, 2001 and August 30, 2001, the States of
Argentina, Mexico, Panama, Uruguay, Brazil, and Peru ratified the
Inter-American Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities, bringing to 7 the number
of State Parties to that treaty, with the 6th instrument of
ratification of Brazil bringing the convention into force.
The Commission continued in 2001 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 Sixth
Annual Moot Court Competition on the inter-American system of human rights
in May 2001, organized by the Washington College of Law of the American
University. Since its first competition in 1996, the Inter-American Moot
Court 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
Throughout 2001, members of the Commission and Secretariat also
participated in numerous international conferences on the inter-American
system of human rights and related topics, including gender issues,
impunity for human rights violations, capital punishment, trafficking in
persons, and the rights of refugees. During these events, Commissioners
and Secretariat Staff took part in various activities, including panel
discussions, training seminars, and workshops relating to strengthening
regional systems of human rights protection.
In addition, in February and July 2001, the Commission convened two
two-day seminars on the inter-American human rights system in the
Caribbean region, the first at the invitation of the Government of Grenada
on February 1 and 2, 2001 and the second at the invitation of the
Government of Belize on July 19 and 20, 2001. These seminars were
organized in collaboration with Caribbean Human Rights Network, the
Inter-American Institute for Human Rights, and the Commonwealth
Secretariat and were funded in part through support from the Government of
the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. These events
were intended to promote the instruments and mechanisms of the
inter-American human rights system in the region, and included
participation by present and former IACHR Commissioners, government
ministers and officials, judges and representatives of regional human
rights organizations. Nearly 200 individuals in public and private
organizations and institutions from across the Western and Eastern
Caribbean, Central American, the United States and Canada attended the
On August 23 and 24, 2001, the Commission held a human rights
seminar in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, at the invitation of the
Government of that State. The objective of the seminar was to promote the
inter-American human rights system, and participants included
parliamentarians, officials with government departments and agencies,
judges, lawyers, academics and representatives of non-governmental
organizations and members of civil society.
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.
49. Between January 1, 2001 and December 31, 2001, the Commission submitted the following contentious cases to the Inter-American Court: Case 11.752 (Walter David Bulacio) against the Republic of Argentina; Case 11.603 (19 Comerciantes) against the Republic of Colombia; Case 11.073 (Juan Sánchez) against the Republic of Honduras; and Case 10.636 (Myrna Mack) against the Republic of Guatemala. With the submission of this case to the Inter-American Court, the Commission now has a total of 32 cases before the Court.
50. Also during 2001, the Commission participated in numerous public hearings before the Court. During the Court’s 25th extraordinary session from March 12 to March 16, 2001, the Commission participated in hearings on: reparations in the Villagrán Morales and Others (“Street Children”) Case (Guatemala); provisional measures in the Bámaca, Carpio Nicolle and Colotenango Cases (Guatemala); and recognition of international responsibility in the Barrios Altos case (Peru). During the Court’s 51st regular session from May 21 to June 2, 2001, the Commission participated in hearings on: provisional measures in the “La Nación” Case (Costa Rica); reparations in the Durand and Ugarte Case (Peru); merits in the Las Palmeras Case (Colombia); and preliminary objections in the Cantos Case (Argentina). During the Court’s 52nd regular session from August 27 to September 7, 2001, the Commission participated in hearings on: the taking of testimony in the Trujillo Oroza Case (Bolivia); and reparations in the Cantoral Benavides Case (Peru). During the Court’s 53rd regular period of sessions from November 26 to December 8, 2001, the Commission participated in hearings on: provisional measures in the Caso del Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustin Pro Juárez y Otros (Mexico); and reparations in the Bámaca Velásquez case (Guatemala).
51. During this reporting period, the Commission also took note of several judgments issued by the Court on the merits of cases before it during 2001, including: the merits judgment in the Constitutional Court Case (Peru), issued on January 31, 2001; the merits judgment in the Baena Ricardo et al. Case (Panama), issued on February 2, 2001; the merits judgment in the Olmedo Bustos (“The Last Temptation of Christ”) Case (Chile), issued on February 5, 2001; the merits judgment in the Ivcher Bronstein Case (Peru), issued on February 6, 2001; the merits judgment in the Barrios Altos Case (Peru), issued on March 14, 2001; the merits judgment in the Mayagna (Sumo) Awas Tingni Indigenous Community of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua Case (Nicaragua), issued on August 31, 2001; and the merits judgment in the Las Palmeras Case (Colombia), issued on December 6, 2001.