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Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (the IACHR or, in the three other official languages Spanish, French, and Portuguese CIDH) is an autonomous organ of the Organization of American States (OAS).

Along with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, it is one of the bodies that comprise the inter-American system for the promotion and protection of human rights.

The IACHR is a permanent body, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., United States, and it meets in regular and special sessions several times a year to examine allegations of human rights violations in the hemisphere.

Its human rights duties stem from three documents:

The Executive Secretary of the IACHR is Dr. Santiago A. Canton.

History of the inter-American human rights system

The inter-American system for the protection of human rights emerged with the adoption of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man in April 1948 the first international human rights instrument of a general nature, predating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by more than six months.

The IACHR was created in 1959. It held its first meeting in 1960, and it conducted its first on-site visit to inspect the human rights situation in an OAS member state (the Dominican Republic) in 1961.

A major step in the development of the system was taken in 1965, when the Commission was expressly authorized to examine specific cases of human rights violations. Since that date the IACHR has received thousands of petitions and has processed in excess of 12,000 individual cases.

In 1969, the guiding principles behind the American Declaration were taken, reshaped, and restated in the American Convention on Human Rights. The Convention defines the human rights that the states parties are required to respect and guarantee, and it also ordered the establishment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. It is currently binding on 24 of the OAS's 35 member states.

Functions of the Inter-American Commission

The main task of the IACHR is to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the Americas.

In pursuit of this mandate it:

  • Receives, analyzes, and investigates individual petitions alleging violations of specific human rights protected by the American Convention on Human Rights.
  • Monitors the general human rights situation in the OAS's member states and, when necessary, prepares and publishes country-specific human rights reports.
  • Conducts on-site visits to examine members' general human rights situation or to investigate specific cases.
  • Encourages public awareness about human rights and related issues throughout the hemisphere.
  • Holds conferences, seminars, and meetings with governments, NGOs, academic institutions, etc. to inform and raise awareness about issues relating to the inter-American human rights system.
  • Issues member states with recommendations that, if adopted, would further the cause of human rights protection.
  • Requests that states adopt precautionary measures to prevent serious and irreparable harm to human rights in urgent cases.
  • Refers cases to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and litigates those same cases before the Court.
  • Asks the Inter-American Court to provide advisory opinions on matters relating to the interpretation of the Convention or other related instruments.

Special Rapporteurs

The IACHR has established three specialized mandates to monitor OAS states' compliance with inter-American human rights treaties in the following areas:

How the Commission processes cases

The Commission processes cases pursuant to its Rules of Procedure

Composition of the Inter-American Commission

The IACHR's ranking officers are its seven commissioners. The commissioners are elected by the OAS General Assembly, for four-year terms, with the possibility of reelection on one occasion, for a maximum period in office of eight years. They serve in a personal capacity and are not considered to represent their countries of origin but rather "all the member countries of the Organization" (Art. 43 of the Convention). The Convention (Art. 42) says that they must "be persons of high moral character and recognized competence in the field of human rights". No two nationals of the same member state may be commissioners simultaneously (Art. 37), and commissioners are required to refrain from participating in the discussion of cases involving their home countries.

Current Commissioners (2008)

Name State Position Elected Term
Paolo Carozza President 2005 2006–2009
Luz Patricia Mejía First Vice President 2007 2008–2011
Felipe González Morales Second Vice President 2007 2008–2011
Florentín Meléndez 2003
2007
2004–2007
2008–2011
Víctor E. Abramovich Cosarín 2005 2006–2009
Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro 2003
2007
2004–2007
2008–2011
Clare Kamau Roberts 2001
2005
2002–2005
2006–2009
Source: IACHR elects officers (3 March 2008). See also: IACHR distributes rapporteurships (4 March 2008).

Past Commissioners

Year State Commissioners President (post-2001)
Chairman (pre-2001)
1960–1963 Rómulo Gallegos
1960–1964 Reynaldo Galindo Pohl
1960–1968 Gonzalo Escudero
1960–1972 Ángela Acuña de Chacón
1960–1972 Durwood V. Sandifer
1960–1972 Manuel Bianchi Gundián
1960–1979 Gabino Fraga
1964–1968 Daniel Hugo Martins
1964–1983 Carlos A. Dunshee de Abranches
1968–1972 Mario Alzamora Valdez
1968–1972 Justino Jiménez de Arechega
1972–1976 Genaro R. Carrió
1972–1976 Robert F. Woodward
1972–1985 Andrés Aguilar
1976–1979 Carlos García Bauer
1976–1979 Fernando Volio Jiménez
1976–1983 Tom J. Farer
1976–1978 José Joaquín Gori
1978–1987 Marco Gerardo Monroy Cabra
1980–1987 Franciso Bertrand Galindo
1980–1985 César Sepúlveda
1980–1985 Luis Demetrio Tinoco Castro
1984–1988 R. Bruce McColm
1984–1987 Luis Adolfo Siles Salinas
1984–1991 Gilda Maciel Correa Russomano
1986–1989 Elsa Kelly
1986–1993 Marco Tulio Bruni-Celli
1986–1993 Oliver H. Jackman
1988–1991 John Reese Stevenson
1988–1995 Leo Valladares Lanza
1988–1995 Patrick Lipton Robinson
1990–1997 Óscar Luján Fappiano
1992–1995 Michael Reisman
1994–1997 John S. Donaldson 1997
1998–1999 Henry Forde
1992–1999 Álvaro Tirado Mejía 1995
1996–1999 Carlos Ayala Corao 1998
1996–1999 Jean-Joseph Exumé
1994–2001 Claudio Grossman 1996
2001
1998–2001 Hélio Bicudo 2000
1999–2001 Peter Laurie
2002–2002 Diego García Sayán
1996–2003 Robert K. Goldman 1999
2000–2003 Marta Altolaguirre Larraondo 2003
2000–2003 Juan E. Méndez 2002
2000–2003 Julio Prado Vallejo
2002–2005 Susana Villarán
2001–2005 José Zalaquett 2004
2004–2007 Evelio Fernández Arévalos 2006
2004–2007 Freddy Gutiérrez

Human rights violations investigated by the Inter-American Commission

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