Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

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Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
Logo of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.png
English abbreviation logo
PurposeHuman Rights monitoring in the Americas
Region served
(ACHR signatories,
OAS members)
Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, The Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela
Executive Secretary
Brazil Paulo Abrao
Parent organization
Organization of American States

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (the IACHR or, in the three other official languages – Spanish, French, and Portuguese – CIDH, Comisión Interamericana de los Derechos Humanos, Commission Interaméricaine des Droits de l'Homme, Comissão Interamericana de Direitos Humanos) 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:

History of the Inter-American human rights system[edit]

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 by the OAS 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.[1][2]

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 the Dominican Republic in 1961.[2]

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.[2]

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.[1]

Functions of the Inter-American Commission[edit]

The main task of the IACHR is to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the Americas.[3]

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.
  • Works to resolve petitions in a collaborative way that is amiable to both parties.
  • 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.[4]
  • 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.

Rapporteurships and units[edit]

The IACHR has created several rapporteurships, a special rapporteurship and a unit to monitor OAS states' compliance with inter-American human rights treaties in the following areas:[5]

The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression and Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights are the two special rapporteurships of the IACHR, having a rapporteur dedicated full-time to the job.[5] The other rapporteurships are in the hands of the commissioners, who have other functions at the IACHR and also their own jobs in their home countries, since their work as commissioners is unpaid.

The Unit on the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Trans, Bisexual, and Intersex Persons was created in 2011.

The IACHR also has a Press and Outreach Office.[6]


The Commission processes petitions lodged with it pursuant to its Rules of Procedure.

Petitions may be filed by NGOs or individuals. Unlike most court filings, petitions are confidential documents and are not made public. Petitions must meet three requirements; domestic remedies must have already been tried and failed (exhaustion), petitions must be filed within six months of the last action taken in a domestic system (timeliness), petitions can not be before another court (duplication of procedure).

Once a petition has been filed, it follows the following procedure:[3]

  • Petition is forwarded to the Secretariat and reviewed for completeness; if complete, it is registered and is given a case number. This is where the state is notified of the petition.
  • Petition reviewed for admissibility.
  • The Commission tries to find a friendly settlement.
  • If no settlement is found, then briefs are filed by each side on the merits of the case.
  • The Commission then files a report on the merits, known as an Article 50 report from relevant article of the Convention. This is a basically a ruling by the Commission with recommendations on how to solve the conflict. The Article 50 report is sent to the state. This is a confidential report; the petitioner does not get a full copy of this report.
  • The state is given two months to comply with the recommendations of the report.
  • The petitioner then has one month to file a petition asking for the issue to be sent to the Inter-American Court (only applicable if the State in question has recognized the competence of the Inter-American Court).
  • The Commission has three months, from the date the Article 50 report is given to the state, to either publish the Article 50 report or send the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Alternatively, the Commission can also choose to monitor the situation. The American Convention establishes that if the report is not submitted to the Court within three months it may not be submitted in the future, but if the State asks for more time in order to comply with the recommendations of the Article 50 report, the Commission might grant it on the condition that the State signs a waiver on this requirement.


Politicization and position in debatable matters[edit]

The Commission's performance has not been always welcomed. Among others, Venezuela has criticized its politicization. Many others criticize the Commission's stress in some rights instead of some others. These criticisms have given rise to what was called the "Strengthening process of the Commission". This process began in 2011, led by the States belonging to the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas.[7][8]

Location of its headquarters[edit]

Officers of Ecuador, Argentina, Bolivia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, supported the motion for moving the Commission's headquarters, which are currently in Washington D.C. These countries suggested moving the IACHR's headquarters to a Member State to the American Convention of Human Rights. Among the suggested countries were Argentina, Costa Rica and Peru.


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 re-election 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. 35 of the Convention). The Convention (Art. 34) 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[edit]

Name State Position Elected Term
Margarette May Macaulay  Jamaica President 2015 2016–2019
Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño  Panama First Vice-President 2015 2016–2019
Luis Ernesto Vargas Silva  Colombia Second Vice-President 2017 2017–2019
Francisco José Eguiguren Praeli  Peru Commissioner 2015 2016–2019
Joel Hernández García  Mexico Commissioner 2017 2017–2021
Antonia Urrejola Noguera  Chile Commissioner 2017 2017–2021
Flávia Piovesan  Brazil Commissioner 2017 2017–2021
Source: IACHR Starts 2018 with New Composition and Distributes Rapporteurships (10 January 2018). See also: IACHR Composition.

Past Commissioners[edit]

José Zalaquett, President 2004
Year State Commissioners President (post-2001)
Chairman (pre-2001)
1960–1963  Venezuela Rómulo Gallegos 1960
1960–1964  El Salvador Reynaldo Galindo Pohl
1960–1968  Ecuador Gonzalo Escudero
1960–1972  Costa Rica Ángela Acuña de Chacón
1960–1972  USA Durward V. Sandifer
1960–1972  Chile Manuel Bianchi Gundián
1960–1979  Mexico Gabino Fraga
1964–1968  Uruguay Daniel Hugo Martins
1964–1983  Brazil Carlos A. Dunshee de Abranches
1968–1972  Peru Mario Alzamora Valdez
1968–1972  Uruguay Justino Jiménez de Arechega
1972–1976  Argentina Genaro R. Carrió
1972–1976  USA Robert F. Woodward
1972–1985  Venezuela Andrés Aguilar
1976–1979  Guatemala Carlos García Bauer
1976–1979  Costa Rica Fernando Volio Jiménez
1976–1983  USA Tom J. Farer
1976–1978  Colombia José Joaquín Gori
1978–1987  Colombia Marco Gerardo Monroy Cabra
1980–1987  El Salvador Franciso Bertrand Galindo
1980–1985  Mexico César Sepúlveda
1980–1985  Costa Rica Luis Demetrio Tinoco Castro
1984–1988  USA R. Bruce McColm
1984–1987  Bolivia Luis Adolfo Siles Salinas
1984–1991  Brazil Gilda Maciel Correa Russomano
1986–1989  Argentina Elsa Kelly
1986–1993  Venezuela Marco Tulio Bruni-Celli
1986–1993  Barbados Oliver H. Jackman
1988–1991  USA John Reese Stevenson
1988–1995  Honduras Leo Valladares Lanza
1988–1995  Jamaica Patrick Lipton Robinson
1990–1997  Argentina Óscar Luján Fappiano
1992–1995  USA Michael Reisman
1994–1997  Trinidad and Tobago John S. Donaldson 1997
1998–1999  Barbados Sir Henry de Boulay Forde
1992–1999  Colombia Álvaro Tirado Mejía 1995
1996–1999  Venezuela Carlos Ayala Corao 1998
1996–1999  Haiti Jean-Joseph Exumé
1994–2001  Chile Claudio Grossman 1996
1998–2001  Brazil Hélio Bicudo 2000
1999–2001  Barbados Peter Laurie
2002–2002  Peru Diego García Sayán
1996–2003  USA Robert K. Goldman 1999
2000–2003  Guatemala Marta Altolaguirre Larraondo 2003
2000–2003  Argentina Juan E. Méndez 2002
2000–2003  Ecuador Julio Prado Vallejo
2002–2005  Peru Susana Villarán
2001–2005  Chile José Zalaquett 2004
2004–2007  Paraguay Evelio Fernández Arévalos 2006
2004–2007  Venezuela Freddy Gutiérrez
2002–2009  Antigua and Barbuda Sir Clare Kamau Roberts
2004–2009  El Salvador Florentín Meléndez
2006–2009  Argentina Víctor Abramovich
2006–2009  USA Paolo Carozza 2008
2004–2011  Brazil Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro
2008–2011  Venezuela Luz Patricia Mejía 2009
2009–2011  El Salvador María Silvia Guillén
2010–2013  Colombia Rodrigo Escobar Gil
2010–2013  USA Dinah Shelton
2008–2015  Chile Felipe González Morales 2010
2012–2015  Saint Lucia  Trinidad and Tobago Rose-Marie Belle Antoine 2015
2012–2015  Jamaica Tracy Robinson 2014
2012–2015  Paraguay Rosa María Ortiz

Human rights violations investigated by the Inter-American Commission[edit]


  1. ^ a b Goldman, Robert K. “History and Action: the Inter-American Human Rights System and the Role of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.” Human Rights Quarterly 31 (2009): 856-887.
  2. ^ a b c OAS (1 August 2009). "OAS - Organization of American States: Democracy for peace, security, and development". Retrieved 28 September 2019.
  3. ^ a b “Basics.”, Organization of American States, Retrieved 28 September 2019
  4. ^ "Precautionary Measures". Organization of American States. June 2012. Archived from the original on 5 August 2012. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
  5. ^ a b "Rapporteurship Distribution". 1 August 2009. Retrieved 28 September 2019.
  6. ^ "Contact the IACHR Press Office". 1 August 2009. Retrieved 28 September 2019.
  7. ^ "Controversial Inter-American Reforms Process to Continue | Inter Press Service". Retrieved 19 November 2019.
  8. ^ "Chipping at the foundations". 9 June 2012. Retrieved 19 November 2019 – via The Economist.
  9. ^ "Peru; New Defense Minister takes office". Defense Market Intelligence. 25 July 2012. Archived from the original on 6 November 2013. Retrieved 13 April 2013.
  10. ^ "Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Organization of American States) REPORT Nº 98/03*" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 October 2011.
  11. ^ Malone, Patrick (16 August 2011). "Human rights group questions court ruling". The Pueblo Chieftain.
  12. ^ Michael Haggerson (31 March 2012). "Human rights court agrees to hear Guantanamo detainee case". The Jurist. Archived from the original on 2 April 2012. Retrieved 6 April 2012. The IACHR will investigate whether the US's failure to transfer Ameziane is in compliance with international human rights law.
  13. ^ "Mexico: Expert report on Ayotzinapa disappearances highlights government's incompetence". Amnesty International. 6 September 2015. Retrieved 7 September 2015. A new report by a group of experts from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights on the investigation of the disappearance of 43 students in Guerrero, Mexico, uncovers the authorities’ utter incompetence and lack of will to find the students and bring those responsible to justice, said Amnesty International.

External links[edit]