Reform process 2012

Consultation to Actors of the Inter-American System
for the Protection of Human Rights


The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was established by the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1959 with the mandate of promoting and protecting human rights in the region.  Accordingly, the Commission monitors the human rights situation in all the member states of the Organization, receives individual complaints, conducts activities through its thematic Rapporteurships, and performs other functions within its mandate.  The Commission promotes and protects the observance of human rights through these and other work programs that advance the cause of human rights, such as its publication of thematic reports, press releases, responses to inquiries and training for state agents, civil society organizations and other actors within the system.  Every year, hundreds of activities of this kind are carried out.

On June 29, 2011, the OAS Permanent Council created the Special Working Group to Reflect on the Workings of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) with a view to Strengthening the Inter-American Human Rights System (IAHRS).  The Special Working Group adopted its report on December 13, 2011.  On January 25, 2012, a number of States commented on the report, which was approved by the Permanent Council.  The IACHR currently has that report under consideration, in an open-minded and constructive spirit. 

Many civil society organizations have expressed their own views on the recommendations contained in the report.  On January 27, 2012, for example, following the Permanent Council’s approval of the Working Group’s recommendations, more than 90 human rights organizations signed a communiqué in which they voiced their opinions regarding the recommendations and the need to institute a dialogue to discuss them.  On March 28, 2012, in a public hearing scheduled by the IACHR, the International Coalition of Human Rights Organizations of the Americas, which represents over 700 civil society organizations, expressed its views regarding some of the recommendations approved in the working document.

During its 144th session, the IACHR decided to embark upon an in-depth and diligent study of its procedures and mechanisms.  As part of that analysis, it decided to consult the actors of the Inter-American System.  On May 30, 2012, the IACHR conducted the first regional seminar on the recommendations made by the states in the Report of the Special Working Group.  At the seminar, various actors pointed to the importance of exploring the scope, content and viability of the recommendations and how they might be implemented.

During its 145th session, the Commission prepared an agenda for its reform process, which takes into account the concerns and recommendations expressed in that report.  By way of this document, the Commission explains the methodology that it will use to review its rules, policies and practices in the course of 2012.

Since the creation of the Inter-American Commission in 1959, and following the entry into force of the American Convention on Human Rights in 1978, a series of amendments have been introduced in the Commission’s Rules of Procedure with a view to improving the procedures followed with respect to the petition and case processes, requests seeking precautionary measures, monitoring the human rights situation in the member states, the Commission’s thematic approaches and other matters.

The experiences of the Commission, the best practices it has cultivated and the lessons it has learned with respect to these mechanisms since the most recent amendments to its Rules of Procedure, have prompted the Commission to draw up an agenda for some further amendments to its Rules of Procedure, policies and practices, with a view to making its work more effective and to further strengthening its capacity to perform its principal function under the Charter of the Organization of American States, which is: “to promote the observance and protection of human rights and to serve as a consultative organ of the Organization in these matters.”  The Commission’s goal is to carry out that mandate to the fullest.  To that end, the following strategic objectives have been established for the 2011-2015 period:

  1. promoting full compliance with the Commission’s decisions and recommendations;
  2. facilitating victims’ access to the Commission and conducting the petition process with optimum efficiency;
  3. armed with precise and accurate information, staying abreast of the human rights situation in the member states of the Organization and acting accordingly;  
  4. recognizing and incorporating, in all its activities, the specific needs of groups that have historically been victims of discrimination;
  5. promoting the observance of human rights, knowledge and understanding of the system, and universal acceptance of regional human rights instruments;
  6. publicizing the Commission’s work and in so doing disseminating the knowledge acquired in the area of human rights, and  
  7. procuring sufficient resources to discharge its mandate and to achieve its strategic objectives.

To these the Commission adds the following:  striking a balance between the rigor and predictability necessary to preserve and strengthen legal certainty, and the flexibility needed to be able to adapt and respond to the needs of victims of human rights violations.  A fundamental principle for achieving these goals is to constantly promote transparency by designing better mechanisms for reporting its decisions and the criteria on which those decisions are based.

At a time when scarce resources are under increasing demand, it has to be recognized that the continued viability of the system requires that the IACHR’s available resources be commensurate with its ever increasing mandate.  Some examples will illustrate this point:  as of July 31, 2012, the IACHR’s workload consisted of the initial review of some 7200 petitions, preparation of the admissibility reports on 1150 petitions, preparation of the merits reports on 530 cases, follow-up of 182 reports that reach the recommendations’ follow-up stage, and 100 friendly settlement reports where the Commission’s role is to monitor the agreements that the states and the petitioners sign.  The Commission is also party to proceedings before the Inter-American Court in 132 cases in which compliance with the judgment is being monitored.  It also has 31 cases pending before the Court in which the Court has not yet issued a judgment.  It is also party to the Court’s proceedings in 36 cases of provisional measures ordered pursuant to Article 63(2) of the American Convention.   In its own right, the IACHR receives over 400 requests per year seeking precautionary measures and monitors a total of 585 requests whose measures are still in effect.  It also solicits information from both the states and the petitioners.

These duties have increased dramatically over the last ten years, without a correlative increase in the budget available to the Commission from the Regular Fund. To tend to its duties, the General Assembly of the OAS approved, for 2012, 31 positions for the Executive Secretariat of the IACHR, of which 17 are for lawyers. To tend in a minimum way to its mandate, the Commission must procure additional funds externally, with which the remaining 50% of its staff are financed.  The IACHR could expedite the initial review phase and the adoption of its reports, as set forth in its Strategic Plan, if it had the resources indicated in that document.  Under the Strategic Plan’s Program II, which concerns the individual petition system, the total estimated cost for the lines of action on initial review of petitions, admissibility and merits is US$1,800,000.  In the case of precautionary measures, the estimated cost of plan of action 2.7 under the Strategic Plan’s Program II in 2012 is US$527,000.

The Commission believes this is a useful and opportune moment to reflect upon how it might improve its methods, procedures and practices so that they achieve the objectives mentioned earlier.  To that end, it has prepared an agenda of reforms consisting of the following:

  1. Through the reforms it has under consideration, the Commission’s goal is to be responsive to the concerns expressed by actors of the system regarding the individual petition system, such as issues related to the time periods allowed at certain stages of the proceedings, and reporting the criteria and mechanisms the Commission has available to make the process and the proceedings more efficient and equitable;
  2. The Commission is contemplating changes in the way it handles requests seeking precautionary measures, to give actors of the system greater certainty and to lend greater transparency to the factors and issues it considers.  The Commission also plans to examine the best practices and lessons learned in the decades it has devoted to implementing protection measures, the goal being to improve this mechanism.  It will also continue to conduct periodic reviews of the measures granted;
  3. Currently, the Commission engages in monitoring country situations through on-site visits, working visits, country reports, and Chapter IV of its Annual Report.  At the present time, the Commission is examining some of the main elements of that chapter, such as its scope, its parameters, and the method used to prepare it.  It is also considering the possibility of making some of those elements mandatory, but only after the requisite extensive consultations and consideration;
  4. The Commission seeks feedback that will enable it to improve its promotional activities.  With that end in mind, it has assembled a list of the promotional activities it routinely conducts, so that actors of the system can offer their observations on the indicators that should be used to measure the activities’ impact, the criteria that need to be considered to determine their efficacy, and any other considerations that might maximize the return on these activities;
  5. The Commission has also created a module entitled “Other aspects relating to Strengthening”, which seeks to create an open and receptive  space for the actors of the System to communicate to the IACHR their concerns about all remaining aspects of the functioning of the Inter-American System for the Protection of Human Rights.

The five topics above are discussed in documents that can be accessed through the links listed below.  Any one of them may draw comments from the actors, which can be forwarded directly to the IACHR on this same page by return e-mail or by attaching a separate document in either Word or PDF format. The period to receive comments will end October 5, 2012.


Consultation Modules