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Human Rights Law Research Guide: Inter-American

The Inter-American Human Rights Framework - Organs and Instruments

The Inter-American system for the protection of human rights was created with the adoption of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man in 1948. The human rights system was established under the auspices of the Organization of American States (OAS), which comprises 35 Member States from North, Central and South America and the Caribbean. All Member States must comply with the rights contained in the American Declaration.

All Member States are parties to the Charter of the Organization of American States (OAS Charter), adopted in 1948. See OAS Charter ratification, declaration and reservation details.

Article 53 of the OAS Charter established the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which was created in 1959. 

The American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR) (adoption in 1969 and entry into force in 1978) defines the human rights which the ratifying States have agreed to respect and ensure. Currently, 25 OAS Member States have ratified the Convention - see States' ratification status, declarations and reservations. Article 33(b) of the Convention created the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The Convention defines the functions and procedures of both the Inter-American Commission (Chapter VII) and the Court (Chapter VIII). 

REGIONAL INSTRUMENTS - BASIC DOCUMENTS

The Commission and Court interpret and apply several regional human rights instruments. The Commission's Basic Documents page includes the declarations, conventions, and protocols that describe the mandate and functions of the organs of the system -the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights - and the human rights obligations of the OAS Member States. The Basic Documents page includes the text of the documents, the Travaux préparatoires, and signatures and ratification status by OAS Member States.

THE COMMISSION

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights plays a unique ‘dual role’, which reflects its origin as a Charter based body and later transformation into a treaty body when the American Convention on Human Rights came into force. As an OAS Charter organ the Commission performs functions in relation to all 35 OAS Member States (Article 41 ACHR) and as a Convention organ its functions are applicable only to States that have ratified (are parties to) the Convention. 

The supervisory functions of the Commission include:

  • the individual complaint ('petition') system -  individuals, groups of individuals, and NGOs of any OAS Member State may submit a petition alleging violations of any of the regional human rights treaties. The Convention does not require that those filing complaints with the Commission be the victims of the alleged violations themselves.
  • monitoring of the human rights situation in the Member States
  • thematic hearings on specific topical areas of concern
  • adoption of emergency precautionary measures to protect individuals at risk

The Commission has established several thematic Rapporteurships (Special Mechanisms) to more closely monitor certain human rights themes or the rights of specific communities. The rapporteurships report their activities to the Commission. In its Annual Reports to the OAS General Assembly, the Commission provides an account of the rapporteurships’ activities.  

The Commission’s website includes:

More information on the Commission.

THE COURT

The two main functions of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights are to:

  • issue advisory opinions on issues relating to the interpretation of the Inter-American instruments at the request of an OAS organ or Member State. All OAS member states have the right to request advisory opinions regardless of whether they are parties to the American Convention; and
  • exercise contentious jurisdiction.

The Court is only able to hear and decide cases that:

  1. have first been processed by the Commission and are referred by a State party or the Commission. Individuals cannot bring a case directly to the Court; they have to have first filed a complaint with the Commission. The Court can only deal with individual complaints when they have been considered and referred to it by the Commission; and 
  2. that are brought against or by OAS Member States that have have specifically accepted the Court’s contentious jurisdiction (the authority of the Court to rule on cases) in accordance with Article 62(1) of the American Convention on Human Rights. The 20 States over which the Court may exercise its contentious jurisdiction are: Argentina, Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, and Uruguay.

The Court's decisions are binding and cannot be appealed.

The Court’s website includes:

More about the history of the Court.

 

Finding decisions of the Commission and Court

Searching the decisions of Commission and Court at the same time.

In the Inter-American Human Rights Caselaw Analyser (from the open access HURIDOCS) you can search or browse the decisions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights individually, or search them simultaneously by, for example, instrument, country or process. 

In WorldCourts, you can search or browse the decisions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights individually, or search them simultaneously using keywords / topics. Please note that WorldCourts has not been updated since 2014.

Commission Decisions

The Inter-American Commission’s Reports on Cases webpage contains reports on admissibility, merits, cases in court, friendly settlements, and archive decisions.

Court Decisions

The Inter-American Court's Jurisprudence Finder database can be browsed or searched for Decisions and Judgments, Provisional Measures, Compliance with Judgments, and Advisory opinions. The Decisions and Judgments are available in full text (in Word and PDF, and in English and Spanish), and case files, separate judicial opinions, and 'technical data' (useful procedural details, litigation history, summaries and analysis) are provided. 

The Loyola of Los Angeles Inter-American Court of Human Rights Project database and journal publishes detailed summaries of cases decided by the Inter-American Court. Summaries include descriptions of cases’ facts, procedural history, merits, and states’ compliance with the Inter-American Court’s judgment. Summaries are accessible via the journal and database. The Project also compiles data for each case. The basic and advanced search options allow users to search all of the Inter-American Court's decisions by case name, date of judgment, country, Judge, and Separate Opinion, as well as specific violations of the Inter-American conventions. Help with using the database.

Image source: Wikipedia Commons

Research Guides

The Inter-American System of Human Rights: A Research Guide by Cecilia Cristina Naddeo (2010) - on NYU Law's Globalex

'The Americas' in International Human Rights Research Guide by James Hart (2017) - on NYU Law's Globalex)