Press Release

IACHR completes 2 years of its Procedural Backlog Reduction Program and announces new actions approved following a second round of its participatory process of consultations

December 5, 2018

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Washington D.C. – In the context of its priority of reinforcing the cases and petitions system, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has finished implementing its first round of measures adopted since September 2016 to address its longstanding procedural backlog issue, and announces a second round of measures. As in the first round, this second round was developed incorporating proposals made by stakeholders in the system during a participatory public process of consultation initiated in June 2018 with a view to eliciting input on ways to strengthen the individual petitions and cases system.

On October 18, 2016, the IACHR adopted a cycle of measures for reducing the procedural backlog starting a process prior to the implementation of the Strategic Plan of the IACHR. At the same time, after an extensive process of participatory regional consultations, in March 2017 the IACHR approved its Plan and in May established its Action Plan for the Special Procedural Delay Reduction Program. This plan enabled the IACHR to achieve record results in terms of the number of petitions evaluated, admissibility reports adopted, reports on the merits adopted, and precautionary measures reviewed and approved, which were published in a press release that also announced additional measures, in line with the strategic objective of strengthening administrative transparency of the IACHR.

Over the past two years, the Executive Secretariat of the IACHR has allocated significant funds to addressing the procedural backlog accumulated since the nineties by substantially altering the way the Secretariat organizes its work, with more efficient and strategic management of the human resources and managerial and technological materials available, and by generating innovative management models, as well as other actions.

As recently pointed out, in the course of 2017 the IACHR approved 120 reports on admissibility: a historical record; and 35 reports on the merits: more than double the number approved the year before. It held the largest number of meetings ever to facilitate friendly settlement agreements and it granted 345 precautionary measures. It also reduced to an all-time low the number of petitions at the initial review stage and evaluated all (100%) of the petitions received in the immediately preceding year. In addition, the IACHR has engaged in ongoing dialogue and periodic efforts to harmonize its work with that of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, to which it referred 18 cases and 4 applications for provisional measures, and resumed requests for advisory opinion after a lapse of almost 10 years. The IACHR also registers the emblematic solution of its two oldest cases that were being processed for 27 and 23 years ago, respectively. In turn, the friendly settlements section released its most recent results and the precautionary measures section has been able to review and comprehensively update its portfolio and update the responses to the applications submitted, progressing to respond to a historical demand in relation to the delay in this procedure.

In this way, the IACHR fulfilled its first objectives to strengthen the system of petitions and cases, reduce procedural delays and obtain concrete results with a view to making the response more efficient and timely for the users of the system.

Important administrative measures were implemented at the same time, including the establishment of an Office of Assistant Executive Secretary exclusively devoted to attending to the petitions and cases system, friendly settlements, and precautionary measures; boosting the staff of this Secretariat with the recruitment of 21 new professionals after August 2016; having full-time staff in charge of coordinating among sections; reaching more stable contractual arrangements with the team of consultants; and raising the institutional status of the Protection Group to that of a Precautionary Measures Section. In September 2017, the Executive Secretariat of the IACHR started operating a Processing Unit (Unidad de Tramitación), which centralizes the administrative handling of petitions and cases at the various procedural stages, thereby freeing up attorneys to devote themselves to strictly legal tasks. Several steps were also taken to update the I.T. system for procedural management, by adding new functions to facilitate internal working arrangements, transparency, and effectiveness. The new administrative structure was announced on August 17, 2017 and published, along with its organizational chart, in Press Release No.123/2017.

Procedurally, a first step was the adoption of Resolution 1/16 and its application to 360 cases that had been in the procedural works for more than 10 years, with a view to joining analysis of admissibility and the merits in a single report. Application of Resolution 1/16 has been gradually phased in, with 307 petitions notified thus far. This is the largest number of petitions that have reached the merit stage in the history of the IACHR in a similar period.

The IACHR adopted new measures following an extensive participatory process of regional consultations with States and with civil society, with specialists and technical staff of the Executive Secretariat of the IACHR, geared to drafting the IACHR Strategic Plan 2017-2021 and its Plans of Action, such as strict enforcement of the requirements for admitting for processing, reduction of the number of requests for information at that stage, and enforcement of a policy of de-activating petitions in which the petitioner has been inactive for a prolonged period of time. At the admissibility stage, the measures include the use of a new, more concise admissibility report; at the merits stage, measures to reduce the scope and length of the description of the facts of the case by simplifying them, in addition to relying more on work portfolio specialization and use of joinders. All those changes were geared to significantly increasing the number of reports, while preserving their technical proficiency and the quality of their content.

In addition, and in response to a longstanding request of the inter-American human rights system, the IACHR managed to upgrade the human resources contingent for the cases and petitions system Thus, by abiding by the strict criteria governing its hiring policy, based on the principles of merit, transparency, and fair representation, the Executive Secretariat of the IACHR managed to boost its institutional and personnel capacity more effectively than at any time in the past few decades. The following Table show changes in personnel in each of the areas related to the cases system (using their current nomenclature).

Area/section August 2016 November 2018
Initial Review Section (formerly Registry Section)
2 6
Admissibility Section 6 11
Cases Section (formerly Merits Section and Court Group) 6 9
Precautionary Measures Section (formerly Protection Group) 4 7
Friendly Settlements Section 2 2
Processing Unit 8 14
TOTAL 28 49


The area was reinforced with a total of 21 professionals, an increase by 75%. The full list of the staff of the Secretariat can be found at the following link, broken down by section.

In February 2018, with the purpose of generating continuity to this important process and highlighting the importance of the cases and petitions system, the IACHR established a working group to keep track of the process for addressing the procedural backlog. The group comprises Commissioner Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño and Commissioners Joel Hernández, Francisco Eguiguren, Luis Ernesto Vargas, and the Executive Secretary Paulo Abrão. The group began by organizing the second round of consultations open to all system users and carried out June 2018, with a view to eliciting additional suggestions for dealing with the challenge of years of procedural backlog. The IACHR wishes to express its appreciation for the input received from organizations and States and, in particular, the proposals based on in-depth analysis put forward by the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL). After reviewing all suggestions, the IACHR decided to adopt the following additional measures for this second round of measures of the Plan of Action of the Special Procedural Delay Reduction Program established in its Strategic Plan:


1. Establishment of a task force to overcome the procedural backlog at the initial review stage.

The IACHR has created a special team to act as a task force charged with resolving the procedural backlog at the initial review stage. The IACHR was carrying out an initial appraisal of the petitions received in 2017. However, in addition to the first review of the 2017 petitions, there are also a large number of petitions prior to 2017 for which a decision on their processability is still pending. In addition, not all the petitions reviewed in the past two years have been notified to the parties. Accordingly, the IACHR is going to continue focusing on reviewing and starting the processing of pending petitions and it will correct the current practices that proved to be insufficient to respond in a timely maner to victims' complaints.

The IACHR has decided that that this special team will be supervised temporarily by the office of the Executive Secretary, which has set up a group of specialists to build a task force that is currently reviewing all petitions received until December 31, 2018.


1. Pilot plan for batches of decisions on the same topic

The Commission extended to the admissibility stage the pilot scheme of adopting a series of reports initially adopted at the merits stage dealing with due criminal process and due process in respect of sanctions. In practice, the implementation of that plan significantly increased productivity: reports were approved on all cases dealing with due criminal process in connection with a country's use of the death penalty; and progress was made in such recurrent areas as pre-trial detention (prisión preventiva) and the right to a second hearing (two-tier judicial system or doble instancia), to cite just two examples. The Commission decided to continue portfolio specialization in merits, admissibility, and also in the initial review of petitions. In order to do so, the IACHR instructed the Executive Secretariat to work systematically with model report formats for repetitive content.

Thus, part of the Admissibility Section team was assigned to this pilot plan, consisting of drafting admissibility reports using model paragraphs containing the same analysis for the various different situations arising in each subject matter.

2. Analysis of colorability

When the Commission adopted the current report on admissibility format, it decided that analysis of colorability should be in one short paragraph. The reason for this was that report should focus on the core matter, which is analysis of exhaustion of domestic remedies, with colorability being limited to just a mention of the Articles to be analyzed at the merits stage. However, in most reports over the last years the analysis has gradually been getting longer. The IACHR decided to go back to using the originally envisaged format for analysis of colorability, to generate more agility throughout the solution cycle: the preparation, review of reports, translation, discussion and approval.


The IACHR approved the following measures:

1. Reassignment of the most experienced legal experts in the Cases and Petitions system to work directly at the admissibility and merits sections as a way of focusing on efforts to overcome the backlogs at those stages;
2. Reducing the number of requests for comments/observations during the admissibility and merits stages, maintaining flexibility where necessary;
3. Continuing progress in the simplification of reports on admissibility and the merits, and taking it a stage further when cases are identical to others already resolved by the IACHR or the I/A Court of H.R., while taking care to ensure that the case can, if need be, be submitted to the jurisdiction of the Court without de facto limitations;
4. Maintaining the practice of joining cases when the Parties are identical and the facts and patterns similar, while always ensuring full respect for the Parties' right to defense and equality.
5. With regard to its policy on archiving cases, the IACHR decided to reduce from four years to three the time for which a Party is inactive before sending it a warning that the case may be archived; and to archive cases at the merits stage due to noncompliance by the petitioner with a regulatory requirement, specifically failure to submit additional observations on the merits, in cases in which scenarios a) and b) of Article 42.1 of the Rules of Procedure apply. Warnings that a case or petition may be archived are sent when there has been a period of no activity, regardless of whether or not procedures are pending. The IACHR deems it appropriate to ask petitioners whether the grounds for the petition subsist and if the petitioner is still interested in continuing processing in light of new events that may have occurred and the possibility that the petitioner may no longer be willing to continue with the petition or case. In other words, the petition or case will be archived because the IACHR does not have the information it needs to reach a decision on the petition or case, despite efforts to elicit it, and because there is a serious circumstantial evidence of disinterest in further processing.
6. Continuing the implementation of the policy of deactivating petitions without activity by the petitioner with the utmost caution, taking into account the circumstances of the case and the existence of information that will allow the IACHR to resolve the case, even without the impulse of the petitioner.
7. Continuing the implementation of its policy of anticipating study of petitions or per saltum (by-passing) policy, particularly in cases in which the decision may, based on past experience, remedy grave structural situations affecting the enjoyment of human rights, or in other cases in which the passage of time may render a decision useless.

In the context of the Program for Transparency and Access to Information and based on data available thus far, and with the purpose of making public the challenges facing the IACHR in its attempt to overcome the procedural backlog, the Executive Secretariat has decided to publish the following statistics:

1. At the initial review stage, there are still 7,400 petitions in respect of which a final decision on whether or not to process is still pending. These petitions involve applications from 2005 through 2018. The IACHR plans to resolve this serious backlog in two (2) years by deploying the task force already set up and generating a methodology that will enable initial review to begin as soon as petitions are received starting January 1, 2019. Over the past two years, four new professionals have joined this administrative section: a 200% increase over staffing in 2016.
2. In addition, there are currently 3,184 petitions for which a report still has to be drafted in the admissibility stage. 293 of these are procedurally ready for decision. These petitions include cases lodged between 1990 and 2018. To overcome this serious backlog, the IACHR has added five new professionals: an 83% increase over staff in August 2016.
3. At the merits stage, there are currently 1,054 cases that have been admitted, for which a report on the merits is still pending. Of these, 269 are, procedurally, ready, i.e., regarded as complete for the purposes of preparing a report on the merits. To overcome this serious, record backlog, the IACHR has added three new professionals, an increase of 50% over staff that existed in August 2016.
4. All the measures adopted in the past two years, namely the creation of the processing unit releasing expert lawyers from administrative chores; simplification of the format for reports on the merits; the joinder of cases; the transfer of provisional measures to the precautionary measures section; and the transferring of some of the tasks relating to follow-up on recommendations to a new dedicated section, as well as other micro-management measures, have increased the average number of reports on the merits and admissibility produced by professional.
5. Based on these new conditions, IACHR can expect to resolve over the next years the cases that are procedurally ready to date in the admissibility and merits stage, a goal equivalent to its report output for the past 10 years.

Overall, over the past two years, the staff of the Assistant Executive Secretariat for Cases, Petitions and Precautionary Measures of the IACHR has been boosted by the addition of 21 new staff members (all areas included). This is the most important reinforcement of the Cases System's human resources throughout its history.

It is estimated that the annual staff cost in August 2016 was at least US$2,816,600.00 and today, that figure is expected to be at least US$ 4,446,100.00, an increase of 58%. Part of that increase includes reclassification of functions for members of the Cases System team. Total costs involved in running the Cases System include, in addition, expenditure on translations, participation in sessions of the Court (per diem and fares for the team and experts), printing costs, I.T. maintenance, and so on.

In addition, the geographical representativeness of the total staff of the Executive Secretariat has increased: from 18 to today's 23. The representation of afro descendants and Caribbean nationals in the Executive Secretariat has also tripled.

The IACHR is conscious that all the steps it is taking to overcome the procedural backlog must be interpreted in accordance with the purpose of enhancing the efficacy and effectiveness of its response to victims of human rights violations. Accordingly, after implementing the first stage and approving the second through extensive and participatory consultation with all relevant stakeholders affected by the procedural backlog in the processing of petitions, cases and precautionary measures, especially with victims and the organizations representing them, the IACHR has decided to continue conducting a regular, half-yearly review and evaluation of the measures it has announced and implemented. The units in the Office of the Assistant Executive Secretary of Petitions and Cases will submit half-yearly public progress reports on results as part of the annual and semi-annual reports and/or balance sheets on execution of its Strategic Plan, in order to maintain its new practices of transparency and openness of key information. Any new actions arising out of this ongoing review and consultation process will be published and disseminated by the IACHR.

As part of its transparency program, the Executive Secretariat of the IACHR will issue a public call for the submission of curricula vitae, with a view to hiring consultants specializing in organizational statistics. Their job will be to: structure the output of the IACHR's in-house information; disaggregate some of the case-processing data by, for instance, constructing productivity time series; cross-compare statistical information; establish the cut-off years for generating current statistics; indicate the years that pending petitions date from and how many of them have been notified to the Parties; establish in how many of them additional information was requested before processing began; draw up data broken down by different types of petitions pending, subject matter, or countries with the largest case load; establish data on the most recurrent topics in cases still pending and on the main petitioner organization by country and topic; provide disaggregated information on petitions at the initial review and temporary registration stage; and other tasks.

It is important to note that, in 2017, the IACHR revamped the way its in-house work was structured, setting up teams that identified duplication of tasks and examined work flows, which resulted in the elimination of unnecessary processes and simplified the dynamics and flows needed to produce each of the Commission's products. This exhaustive effort led to the design of 31 work flows that are constantly being reviewed. The main goal was to reflect internal processes, get rid of overlaps, and achieve transparency and clarity in each of the steps taken, in each section of the Executive Secretariat, in arriving at a decision. For that work, it was crucial for having an integrated grasp of the work of the Executive Secretariat and for identifying the points at which each of the Offices of the Assistant Executive Secretaries intersect, thereby ensuring consistency and coordination in the Commission's institutional response. To access this working document, please click on the following (LINK).

Part of the changes and improvements to the efficiency of the work done by the IACHR are due to the doubling of the IACHR's operating budget assigned by the OAS. As is now well known, the doubling of the Regular Fund budget does not necessarily mean that the IACHR's overall financial budget is doubled. Without maintaining the same levels of voluntary contributions, the chief effect of the doubling of the Regular Fund budget is exclusively to generate stability in terms of expenditures and activities vis-a-vis financial outlays in 2017.

For the Executive Secretary of the IACHR, Paulo Abrão, "The IACHR has a unique mechanism for protecting human rights in the region, namely the petitions and cases and friendly system and friendly settlements. This first set of measures reflected in the Strategic Plan focused on three pillars: administrative reorganization; a review of work flows, protocols, and systems; and dialogue with the Inter-American Court. The second stage of measures is present new horizons to the IACHR. The old, traditional challenges are being overcome and immediately other demands are arising. This quest for more efficient management needs to be permanent."

The First Vice President of the IACHR, Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño, has said: "We are very pleased and encouraged by the transformations wrought in the Executive Secretariat over the past two years. Today, we have clear and measurable goals and, above all concrete, visible results. The new administrative structure of the IACHR has had a resounding impact on the response capability of the IACHR."

She adds: "The steps being taken to address the procedural backlog need to be coordinated with actions to follow up on recommendations. Strengthening actions designed to follow up on recommendations is vital for dealing comprehensively with the increased demand. The more States comply with decisions, the fewer the challenges posed by human rights violations. Effectiveness in terms of numbers must be related to the effectiveness of implementation."

In line with the Strategic Plan, follow-up to IACHR recommendations has been strengthened across all aspects of the Commission's work. That follow-up will take the form of programs and actions to boost comprehensive implementation of its recommendations, and will involve a range of civil society actors, academic institutions, and autonomous entities, in coordination with State authorities.

At the same time, the program for strengthening friendly settlements envisaged in the Strategic Plan is called upon to play a key part in overcoming the procedural backlog. As Commissioner Francisco Eguiguren put it, "Expanding use of the friendly settlement mechanism needs to be front and center. The right form of justice is swift justice, capable of generating an appropriate legal response tailored to each concrete case under current standards."

Responses by the IACHR need to incorporate all its mandates and protection tools, such as technical cooperation activities, so as to ensure comprehensive implementation of inter-American recommendations and standards. "Disseminating the system, explaining its protocols, and specifying the criteria for processing a case may, for instance help lower the number of manifestly groundless petitions that cause so much work for the IACHR. Strengthening institutions and governments' public policies on human rights have a preventive impact and point the way toward structural solutions for a future less plagued with human rights violations," says Commissioner Joel Hernández.

For his part, Commissioner Luis Ernesto Vargas underscores the importance of learning from successful examples of dealing with procedural backlog. "Many countries and even other international systems for protecting human rights are experiencing similar challenges. In addition to increasing its human resources, which clearly has a financial limit, the IACHR has adopted and commits to adopting new working procedures and investing strongly in technology to facilitate access to the IAHRS."

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 257/18