Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: Overview

Applies to/Se aplica a

State practice
State law
Individual cases
For Urgent Action
Only under 18-s
A

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) was created by a resolution of the Fifth Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Santiago, Chile, in 1959, and began working in 1960. It became one of the principal organs of the OAS with the Protocol of Buenos Aires from 1967, which amended the Charter of the OAS.
The Protocol of Buenos Aires (see http://www.oas.org/dil/treaties_B-31_Protocol_of_Buenos_Aires.htm) transformed the Inter-American Commission into a formal organ of the OAS and prescribed that the Commission’s principal function should be “to promote the observance and protection of human rights” (Articles 53 and 106 OAS Charter — see http://www.oas.org/dil/treaties_A-41_Charter_of_the_Organization_of_Amer...).

The Inter-American Commission is characterised by a unique “dual role”, which reflects its origin as a Charter based body and later transformation into a treaty body when the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR) came into force. As an OAS Charter organ the Inter-American Commission performs functions in relation to all member states of the OAS (Article 41 ACHR) and as a Convention organ its functions are applicable only to States parties to the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR).

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has three principal functions:

  • monitoring and investigating the situation of human rights in the Americas, which includes the production of country reports on the situation of human rights (see http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/reports/country.asp) or thematic reports (see http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/reports/thematic.asp). However, unlike in the United Nations or the African human rights system, there is no periodic reporting by States;
  • dealing with individual petition on alleged violations of human rights. This can involve trying to find an amicable solution, or referring a case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for those countries that have accepted the Court's jurisdiction;
  • Thematic or special rapporteurships, whose role is the monitoring and strengthening of specific aspects of human rights. Offices of rapporteurs "may function as thematic rapporteurships, assigned to a member of the Commission, or as special rapporteurships, assigned to other persons designated by the Commission." (see http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/mandate/rapporteurships.asp)

The dual role of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights means that it also has two different human rights charters as reference. All member states of the OAS have signed and ratified the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man of 1948. Article III of the American Declaration protects freedom of religion: “Every person has the right freely to profess a religious faith, and to manifest and practice it both in public and in private.” However, there is no reference to freedom of conscience in the American Declaration.
For those countries that have ratified the American Convention on Human Rights of 1969. Article 12 of the American Convention protects freedom of thought, conscience, and religion:
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of conscience and of religion. This right includes freedom to maintain or to change one's religion or beliefs, and freedom to profess or disseminate one's religion or beliefs, either individually or together with others, in public or in private.
2. No one shall be subject to restrictions that might impair his freedom to maintain or to change his religion or beliefs.

The list of countries that have ratified the American Convention is available at http://www.oas.org/dil/treaties_B-32_American_Convention_on_Human_Rights....

The American Convention also establishes the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. However, in addition to ratifying the American Convention, a State party must voluntarily submit to the Inter-American Court's jurisdiction for it to be competent to hear a case involving that state. Cases can only be brought by a State party or by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Some of the Rapporteurships of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights can also be useful in cases of conscientious objection to military service, or in raising issues around the violation of human rights of those campaigning for the rights to conscientious objection to military service. These are:

Contact Details: 
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Organization of American States 1889 F St NW Washington, D.C., 20006 United States of America Telephone: +1-202-458 6002 Fax: +1-202-458 3992 / +1-202-458 3650 / +1-202-458 6215 E-mail: cidhdenuncias@oas.org 
Further Reading: 
Jurisprudence

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