Press Release

IACHR Expands and Deepens Civil Society Participation in Efforts to Fulfil its Mandate

February 9, 2019

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Washington, D.C. – Throughout 2018, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expanded and deepened the participation of civil society in all its activities, including public hearings, consultations, training workshops and bilateral and multilateral meetings. Civil society participation in the region is essential for the IACHR to adequately fulfil its mandate to promote and protect human rights, and the Commission values and appreciates the cooperation of civil society organizations.

A total of 535 civil society organizations took part in the 106 public hearings held over four Periods of Sessions in 2018, to discuss both regional matters and the situation of human rights in 22 countries around the Americas. All those Periods of Sessions included open meetings with civil society, both from host countries and with an inter-American scope. During the 167th, 168th and 170th Periods of Sessions, the IACHR board also met with a coalition of NGOs active in the Inter-American Human Rights System. Each Period of Sessions further includes work meetings between the State and civil society to advance the case system, addressing precautionary measures, friendly settlements and cases and the need to monitor recommendations. Over the course of 2018, approximately 100 such meetings were held during Periods of Sessions. 

“Civil society participation is crucial for the success of IACHR Periods of Sessions,” said Commissioner Margarette Macaulay. “The information shared in public hearings is essential to keep the Commission informed of the latest developments regarding human rights in the region. Constant meetings with civil society have also been key to hear their arguments, find out what they need, know their opinions on the Commission’s work and listen to their suggestions on how to permanently improve that work,” Macaulay noted.

Sessions further include bilateral meetings with civil society organizations on the various human rights issues that interest them. Commissioners also take part in some additional meetings and events with civil society organizations, on the sidelines of Periods of Sessions. In 2018, approximately 130 such events were held alongside sessions.

“Holding Periods of Sessions away from the headquarters improved access to the IACHR for civil society organizations from various parts of the region and expanded the role of actors involved with the Inter-American Human Rights System,” said the IACHR’s President, Commissioner Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño. “So, in 2018, the IACHR not only kept up its practice of opening up channels for regular dialogue with civil society, but also deepened such channels and expanded them to include new actors, which increasingly democratized access to the Inter-American Human Rights System,” the IACHR President said.
Many meetings were held with civil society during in loco visits to Honduras and Brazil, and they proved crucial for the IACHR’s work on site by providing a fuller diagnosis of the human rights situation in those countries. Civil society support and involvement was also essential in preparations for those visits. Meetings with civil society organizations were also held during the General Assembly of the OAS and the Summit of the Americas, while virtual meetings were held with civil society from Colombia, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
Meetings with civil society were also held in the context of IACHR involvement in the 37th and 38th Periods of Sessions of the United Nations Human Rights Council. IACHR Executive Secretary Paulo Abrão met with civil society organizations who were taking part in events organized by the Commission or by other institutions on the sidelines of Council sessions, which expanded the role of actors the IACHR keeps in touch with.

In July, the Executive Secretary’s Chief of Staff and the Special Rapporteur for Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights met in Brussels with organizations from EU-LAT, an advocacy network of social organizations and movements in Europe that promotes solidarity between people in that region and in Latin America. On that occasion, talks addressed the challenges and problems concerning human rights in Latin America, as well as opportunities for collaboration with the IACHR.

Regarding the petition and case system, in the context of plans to reduce procedural backlog, the IACHR held broad and open virtual consultations in which civil society made valuable contributions. That process also involved consultations with States. 

“Measures were broadly debated and analyzed with all actors relevant for the system, and we received excellent feedback from civil society on our suggestions, which we appreciate,” said Commissioner Luis Ernesto Vargas Silva. “Implementing such measures led to a significant increase in the production of petition and case reports, which beat the record levels set in 2017 while preserving their content’s technical substance and quality,” Commissioner Vargas Silva noted.

Regarding the work of the Inter-American Court, the Commission continued to deepen its assistance for civil society actors involved as victim representatives, and to support both those representatives and victims directly throughout the process. The Commission is also in touch with organizations, academics and experts on various issues, so they can provide assistance on cases submitted to the Inter-American Court based on their expertise, particularly in matters that involve new developments in jurisprudence. They make their contributions through amicus curiae briefs and expert reports on matters regarding inter-American public order.

Concerning precautionary measures, the Commission is in close contact with various civil society actors to obtain relevant information that enables it to identify specific contexts or risky situations affecting beneficiaries or people who request precautionary measures, in order to ensure that the mechanism is as effective as possible. The Commission has kept up talks with civil society organizations on measures taken to streamline decision-making and procedures to request precautionary measures.

Regarding thematic reports, the IACHR has prioritized and fulfilled its commitment to conduct public consultations, in order to receive input and feedback from all relevant actors and from the general public. 
“Civil society organizations in the region have been very actively involved and have responded to consultations leading to the production of our thematic reports,” said Commissioner Antonia Urrejola, Second Vice President of the IACHR. “A lot of the input we receive on all the questionnaires we publish is highly technical and proves useful. In some cases, it is even essential to produce reports with the high quality that is a trademark of IACHR reports,” Commissioner Urrejola noted.

One such round of consultations was conducted to draft the report Internal Displacement in the Northern Triangle: Guidelines to Develop Public Policy. Those consultations obtained responses from seven organizations and academic institutions in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. To gather inputs for that report, regional consultations were also held in Guatemala City on February 22, with the involvement of civil society as well as international organizations and State officials from the three countries.

Ahead of the report on National Systems to Protect the Rights of Older Persons in the Americas, the IACHR further drafted a questionnaire to obtain information from civil society and academia on the challenges and best practices of OAS Member States to ensure recognition for the rights of older persons and to effectively protect those rights. The IACHR and its two Special Rapporteurships further carried out consultations with justice operators, experts and civil society to revise regional standards on the fight against corruption from a human rights perspective, which led to the adoption of Resolution 1/18 on Corruption and Human Rights.

To prepare the report Women Journalists: Gender-Based Discrimination and Violence against Women Journalists for Exercising their Profession, the IACHR’s Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression carried out consultations in Bogotá, Colombia, with 23 women from around the region, including representatives of Afro-descendant, indigenous and LGBTI groups, and journalists who had been victims of violence. The Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression further received responses from civil society organizations on a round of consultations on the state of the recommendations held in the report Access to Information, Violence against Women, and the Administration of Justice in the Americas, which were included in a report on access to information to combat violence against women in the region. This Special Rapporteurship launched in December a public round of consultations on deliberate misinformation and its impact, especially in election contexts. The inputs received will be used to inform the Special Rapporteurship’s approach to that topic. 

Further, the Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights held a fruitful series of meetings and contacts with civil society actors over the course of 2018. This Special Rapporteurship received proposals from civil society on a questionnaire that sought inputs to draft a report on States’ international obligations to ensure and protect human rights in the business sphere. Further, ties between this Special Rapporteurship and civil society became stronger in 2018, as the Rapporteur took part in numerous promotion and academic activities in various countries about issues linked to her mandate. There was broad civil society participation at a workshop held in Colombia that also addressed experiences in Chile and Mexico. The workshop focused on challenges and best practices regarding business and human rights in the context of national human rights plans. In Heidelberg, Germany, the Special Rapporteur shared a working day with the team at FIAN International. In Madrid, she met with the board of Spain’s umbrella organization for development NGOs Coordinadora ONGD. Progress was also made towards an agreement with OXFAM International.

The Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights took part in the Forum on Restoring Faith in Freedom, organized by the Carter Center in Atlanta, in the United States. Other meetings were held with civil society during the Forum on the Right to Cities and on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights—held in Mexico City and organized by the city’s Commission on Human Rights—and the Citizens’ Forum on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights and the Sustainable Development Goals—held in Guadalajara and organized by the National Human Rights Commission and by Jalisco’s State Commission on Human Rights. The Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights organized (alongside the Observatory of the Inter-American Human Rights System of the National Autonomous University of Mexico) a meeting of experts in Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights that brought together prominent activists from all over the region. It also organized a meeting of experts to draft its thematic report on business and human rights, involving representatives of civil society and academia in various countries around the region.

According to Soledad García Muñoz, the IACHR’s Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights, “the Special Rapporteurship’s ties to civil society are crucial for its success, in the context both of its daily activities and of IACHR Periods of Sessions and other events the Special Rapporteurship organizes or takes part in. This mandate was created largely as a result of civil society demands, and at its current, emerging stage, civil society acts as a source of support and a constant driving force.”

Consultations to draft work programs for all IACHR thematic units were another context where the Commission sought and attained very high rates of civil society participation. Regarding the Unit on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the IACHR held public consultations on June 22, 2018 in Lima, with the assistance of Peru’s Pontificia Universidad Católica. A total of 70 people from 17 countries took part in the event on site, including persons with disabilities, activists, representatives of NGOs, experts, academics and authorities of the various States. Those consultations also gathered online contributions from civil society and other sectors. 

“All inputs are being taken into consideration as we draft the first work program for this thematic unit,” said Commissioner Francisco Eguiguren Praeli, who is in charge of the unit. “The thematic units on Memory, Truth and Justice and on the Rights of Older Persons had already held such consultations previously. So all IACHR thematic units have now received valuable inputs from civil society they can consider while drafting their work programs. We want to acknowledge those organizations’ efforts to help us with these tasks and thank them for their support, so we may design these work programs in a participatory and transparent manner,” the Commissioner said. 

The IACHR invited civil society organizations and other interested parties from the 35 Member States of the OAS to submit information about the situation of human rights in the region, so we may consider it while drafting Chapter IV A of the IACHR’s annual report, concerning the year 2018, which is set to be submitted to the General Assembly of the OAS. The IACHR also held consultations with civil society organizations in writing, in order to draft Chapters IV B and V of its annual report.

The Commission and its Rapporteurships further held events to promote inter-American standards with significant civil society participation. For example, about 450 people took part in events to disseminate standards on freedom of expression organized by that Special Rapporteurship, including members of civil society, academics, students, legislators and justice operators. At those events, discussions focused on violence against women journalists, on the Internet and on freedom of expression, and they highlighted misinformation in election contexts, access to information in the context of extractive industries, women and access to information, regulations concerning official advertising, and the challenges facing freedom of expression from a regional perspective, among other topics.

To monitor its recommendations, the IACHR conducted 15 promotion activities and talks with networks involving academia and civil society, as well as training sessions targeting State officials, ombudspersons, social leaders and members of civil society from around the region. At those events, the IACHR received comments and feedback to improve monitoring mechanisms, and it encouraged innovations in the design of its annual report. In the context of its efforts to set up partnerships with academic networks, the Commission signed a memorandum of understanding with the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law (Heidelberg, Germany). The Commission is currently also working with the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights at Peru’s Pontificia Universidad Católica, to collect data on IACHR jurisprudence concerning merits reports and friendly settlements.

Regarding special monitoring mechanisms, the IACHR has promoted constant dialogue and exchanges with organizations representing civil society, victims of human rights violations and relatives of such victims. The IACHR highlights its constant presence in Mexico and its periodic meetings with the families of missing students in the context of the Special Monitoring Mechanism for Events in Ayotzinapa. The Commission further highlights preparation video conferences and meetings held by the IACHR with civil society and participation in the two Workshops on the Implementation of Public Policies Regarding Human Rights in the Dominican Republic. This tool to complement IACHR strategy was implemented mainly in response to demands by Dominican civil society for different ways to address historic human rights challenges, and it enables the restoration of channels for dialogue with the State. Concerning the Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua, the IACHR highlights cooperation with civil society organizations and the constant exchange of information with them. It also highlights the creation of human rights hubs, the provision of technical assistance to NGOs on data collection and the 10 training days held in the context of the Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua, which provided training to 273 students and members of civil society and social movements in Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

In 2018, the IACHR continued to work to strengthen the capacities of civil society and public officials, through workshops and promotion activities held in 26 countries around the region in the context of the Strategic Plan’s program to provide training and promote human rights thinking and culture in the region.
“Our records indicate that 5,695 people received IACHR training on human rights issues throughout 2018,” said Commissioner Joel Hernández. “That includes officials of several States, but a high percentage is made up of civil society. Such activities reflect one of the IACHR’s strategic goals, which is to promote democracy, human dignity, equality, justice and fundamental liberties by building up the capacity of organizations and networks of social and academic actors to act for the defense of human rights,” Commissioner Hernández explained.

Representatives of civil society also took part in the International Course on Public Human Rights Policy, held by the IACHR in cooperation with MERCOSUR’s Institute of Public Human Rights Policy. Further, 14 representatives of civil society organizations from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico took part in the IACHR’s Regional Training Workshop on the Inter-American System to Protect Human Rights, its standards and working mechanisms, held in the context of the Project on Democracy and Human Rights. A total of 29 representatives of civil society took part in the annual course on the Inter-American and International Human Rights Systems, held with the support of the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights (IIHR), the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights, the American University’s Washington College of Law, and the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice at the University of Texas. A further 15 people active in the defense of human rights on a regional scale took part in a workshop on digital rights and freedom of expression. These are only a few examples of the many workshops aimed at civil society that were held over the course of 2018.

“During 2018, civil society participation has been deepened, broadened and consolidated in all IACHR actions, activities and decision-making processes,” said Commissioner Flávia Piovesan. “The IACHR expanded the scope of civil society participation and influence and managed to both increase the number and diversify the range of organizations who work and cooperate with the Commission with the common goal of protecting and promoting human rights in the region.”

“This set of outcomes reflects the implementation of the Strategic Plan and its specific program to strengthen civil society capacities and participation, and it is the result of the IACHR’s participatory management principle and of the Commission’s willingness to engage in dialogue,” said IACHR Executive Secretary Paulo Abrão.

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. 031/19