ORIGIN AND LEGAL BASES OF THE IACHR


          According to the Charter of the OAS, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is a principal organ of the Organization with the primary function of promoting the observance and protection of human rights.  It also serves as the consul­ta­tive organ of the Organization in these matters.


          The Commission was created by Resolution VI of the Fifth Meeting of Consul­tation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs (Santiago, Chile, 1959).  Part II of that resolution provided that the Commission was to be composed of seven members selected in a personal capacity from panels of nominees presented by the governments of the OAS member states, and that its purpose would be to promote respect for human rights.


          The Council of the Organization approved the Statute of the Commission on May 25, 1960.  Under the provisions of the Statute (Article 2) the Commission was established as an autonomous entity of the Organization of American States.  Human rights were understood to be those set out in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (Bogota, 1948).


          Pursuant to that Statute, on June 29, 1960 the Council elected the members of the Commission.  It is important to note that the members of the Commission represent all the member states of the OAS and act in their name.


          The Commission's first session was held in Washington, D.C., from October 3 through 28, 1960.  Since that first session, the Commission has held ninety-five (95) sessions, some of them at its headquarters in the General Secretariat, others in various member states of the Organization.


          The Second Special Inter-American Conference (Rio de Janeiro, 1965) amended the Commission's Statute.  The amendments were (in the form of additions and changes) intended to make the Statute stronger and as effective as possible in assisting the Commission in the performance of its functions.  It was further recognized (Resolution XXII) that the IACHR had "performed valuable service in carrying out its mandate."  The 1960 Statute was amended as follows:  i) it authorized the Commission to pay "particular attention" to the observance of the human rights referred to in Articles I, II, III, IV, XVIII, XXV, and XXVI of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man; ii)  it authorized the Commission to examine communications sent to it and any other information available, to address  the government of any member state "for information deemed pertinent, and to make recommendations to it, in order to bring about more effective observance of fundamental human rights," and iii) it requested the Commission to present an annual report to the then Inter-American Conference or the Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, so that the progress accomplished and the protection of human rights could be examined at the ministerial level.  When discharging its mandate, the IACHR must first ascertain whether a member state's legal procedures and remedies have been properly invoked and exhausted.  


          Later, at the Third Special Inter-American Conference (Buenos Aires, 1967), the Protocol of Amendment to the Charter of the Organization of American States was signed.  That Protocol of Amendment added important provisions to the Charter which were of particular concern to the Commission, and to human rights in general, and which established a quasi-conventional structure on the subject matter.  On the one hand, the Commission became one of the organs through which the Organization accomplishes its purposes (Article 51.e of the Charter); and was instructed to continue to monitor the observance of human rights until the American Convention on Human Rights entered into force (Article 150, transitory).


          On November 22, 1969, the Inter-American Specialized Conference on Human Rights, convoked by the Council of the OAS (San Jose, Costa Rica), approved the American Convention on Human Rights, which entered into force on July 18, 1978, when Grenada deposited the eleventh instrument of ratification.[1]


          At its ninth regular session (La Paz, Bolivia, 1979), the General Assembly of the OAS approved the Commission's new Statute.  Articles 6 and 8 were later amended at the tenth regular session of the General Assembly (Washington, D.C., 1980).  Article 1 of the Statute defines the IACHR as "an organ of the Organization of American States, created to promote the observance and defense of human rights and to serve as a consultative organ to the Organization in this matter."  Human rights were defined as the rights set forth in the American Convention on Human Rights, for the States Parties thereto, and as the rights set forth in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, for the other member states.  As with the previous Statute, the membership of the Commission, defined in Article 2, continued to be seven members who represent all the member states of the OAS.  Under Article 3, the members of the Commission are to be elected by the General Assembly to terms of four (4) years, and may be reelected once (Article 6).


          The Commission's functions and powers with respect to all the member states are spelled out in Article 18 of its Statute and those that apply to the States Parties to the American Convention are enumerated in Article 19.  Its powers in relation to member states that are not yet parties to the Convention are set forth in Article 20.[2]


          The Commission is further governed by its Rules of Procedure, approved in 1980 and subsequently amended in 1985, 1987, 1995 and 1996.




                                                                HUMAN RIGHTS


          During the period to which this report refers the Commission brought five cases before the Court and continued its relations with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, as described in Chapter II of this report, particularly with regard to hearings concerning the Court's advisory and contentious jurisdiction in matters submitted to it by the Commission.


                               JOINT MEETING OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COURT AND



          The Court and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights held a joint meeting at the headquarters of the latter on December 5, 1996, taking advantage of the fact that members of both bodies were in Washington, D.C., attending the Seminar on the Inter-American System for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, which was held on December 2–4, 1996.




          The Court was represented at this meeting by its President, Prof. Héctor Fix-Zamudio; its Vice-President, Prof. Hernán Salgado Pesantes; judges Alejandro Montiel Arguello, Amb. Oliver Jackman, Dr. Alirio Abreu Burelli, Prof. Antonio A. Cançado Trindade, and Dr. Máximo Pachecho; its Secretary, Lic. Manuel Ventura Robles; and its Acting Assistant Secretary, Lic. Víctor Rodríguez Rescia.


          The Inter-American Commission, in turn, was represented by its Chairman, Dean Claudio Grossman; its First Vice-Chairman, Amb. John Donaldson; its second Vice-Chairman, Dr. Carlos Ayala Corao; its members Amb. Alvaro Tirado Mejía, Prof. Robert Goldman, and Dr. Jean Josehp Exumé; its Executive Secretary, Amb. Jorge E. Taiana; and Assistant Executive Secretaries Dr. Domingo E. Acevedo and Dr. David J. Padilla.  In addition, the meeting was attended by IACHR attorneys and student fellows.


            Topics addressed:


          1.         Fulfillment of General Assembly resolution AG/RES. 1041 (XX-O/90), which says:



          8.       To request the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to establish coordinating mechanisms conducive to mutual cooperation within their areas of competence for the further protection of human rights.


          In reference to this mandate, consideration was given, on the one hand, to the coordination of procedural aspects and, on the other, to mechanisms that might be established for coordination in substantive areas.


          a.         Coordination mechanisms for procedural aspects


          The members of the Commission and the judges of the Court felt that it was necessary to establish permanent coordination mechanisms with regard to procedural aspects.  The following mechanisms, which may or may not already exist, were mentioned:


          i.        Holding a joint annual meeting of the Commission and the Court, the site to alternate between the headquarters of the Commission and that of the Court.


          ii.       Establishing a mechanism that will allow the ranking officers of the Court and the Commission to hold a meeting at the time their annual reports are presented to the Permanent Council and the General Assembly of the Organization.


          iii.       Exchanging information.  It was felt that it would be very useful if the members of the Court could have copies of the documents produced by the Commission, except reports on the application of Article 50 of the Inter-American Convention, and in particular cases that might subsequently be referred to the Court for consideration.


                   In this regard, it was said that the members of the Commission should have all the documents (judgments, resolutions, and other documents) approved by the Court.  At the same time, it would also be very useful if the petitions for precautionary measures prepared by the Commission could be circulated to the judges.


          iv.      Arranging for facilities in the offices of the Executive Secretariat for the President and the judges of the Court when they are in Washington, D.C., on an official mission.  It was agreed to ask the respective secretaries to look into this possibility.


          v.       Increasing communication between the secretariats of the two bodies and coordinating their activities more closely.  It was agreed to do this.


          b.         Coordination in substantive areas


          As the first point under this heading, the President of the Commission raised the subject of ex parte communications, such as hypothetical questions, but no agreement was reached on this matter.


          The President of the Court pointed out that all written documents and communications presented by one of the parties are transmitted to the other party.  Moreover, all requests for advisory opinions submitted by any of the states, together with the documentation relevant to the matter being consulted, are transmitted to the Commission.  It was felt, therefore, that from the standpoint of the Court there was no problem in this regard.


          i.          Presentation of evidence offered by the Commission


          With regard to this point, it was considered that any evidence which has the characteristics of nationality and contradiction, submitted to the Commission by the parties to a case, may be regarded as full proof before the Court, even though it may be questioned by the parties at some time in the process.


          It was pointed out that the problem arises only in connection with oral testimony.


          The Chairman of the Commission indicated that this organ is going to consider amending the provisions in its Rules of Procedure with regard to the oral testimony of witnesses, including expert witnesses.



          ii.         Duration of proceedings


          The Chairman of the Commission raised the subject of the duration of  proceedings, both in the Commission and in the Court.  The President of the Court explained that his institution has always attempted to stay within the time limits specified.


          On this matter the members of the Court said that it would be useful, based on the principle of procedural economy, if in certain cases the Court could reject, without any prior hearing, requests for preliminary exceptions when they were completely groundless.  It was argued that that would considerably reduce the duration of proceedings in cases in which one of the parties alleges preliminary exceptions that are groundless and irrelevant in the context of the case at hand.


          iii.         Representation of victims


          This matter was the subject of extensive discussion by the members of both agencies, and it was agreed to continue the debate at the next joint meeting of the Court and the Commission.


          iv.        Content of reparations


          On this point several considerations were raised both by the members of the Commission and by the judges of the Court.  It was agreed to continue the discussion of this topic at the next joint meeting.


          v.         Compliance with decisions of the Court


          Discussion of this topic prompted several interventions by the judges of the Court and the members of the Commission.  The study of measures or procedures that the Court or the Commission might suggest for getting the states to comply fully and promptly with decisions handed down by the Court was left pending.


          Several suggestions were outlined in this regard, but none of them appeared to meet with the approval of all the members who were participating in the joint meeting.


          2.         Fulfillment of the mandates of the General Assembly AG/RES. 1333 (XXV-O/95) and AG/RES. 1417 (XXVI-O/96)


          As it is known, these resolutions refer to a draft rule of procedure regarding conflicts of interest of members of the Commission, external advisers, or students working at the Commission as interns.


          It was agreed that a report on this matter would be submitted to the General Assembly at its next regular session.


          3.         Fulfillment of the mandates of the General Assembly AG/RES. 1330 (XIV-O/95) and AG/RES. 1394 (XXVI-O/96)


          These resolutions recommend to the Court and the Commission that in their respective annual reports they include detailed information on both the purpose and the results of the regular meetings being held.


          It was agreed to report to the General Assembly in the manner requested.


          4.         Fulfillment of the mandate given by the General Assembly in Resolution AG/RES. 1404 (XXVI-O/96)


          In this resolution the General Assembly resolved:


                   13.     To instruct the Permanent Council to evaluate the workings of the inter-American system for the protection and promotion of human rights so as to initiate a process leading to its improvement, possibly by modifying the respective legal instruments as well as the methods and working procedures of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, for which it shall request the cooperation of the Commission and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights...




                   15.     To promote dialogue between the member states, between those states and the Inter-American Commission on and Court of Human Rights, and with experts in the field, so as to contribute to a process of reflection leading to improvement of the inter-American human rights system.


          As part of the task involved in this mandate from the General Assembly, the Commission held a seminar on December 2–4, 1996, which was attended by judges of the Court, representatives of the member states, and other users of the system, as well as experts on the subject from academic institutions and other international organizations such as the United Nations and the European Union.  The Commission will report to the Permanent Council on this event, and through the latter body, to the General Assembly.  It will also report the results of the seminar to the Secretary General of the Organization.  



          5.         New Rules of Procedure of the Court


          The Commission noted the amendments that the Inter-American Court had introduced in its Rules of Procedure, which will enter into effect on January 1, 1997.


          6.         Date of the next meeting of the Commission and the Court


          It was agreed that the next joint meeting would take place in the city of San Jose on a date to be set at a later time.





          The Commission has continued its cooperative relationship with the specialized organizations of the OAS in matters pertaining to human rights.  These organizations include the Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM); the Inter-American Children's Institute; and the Inter-American Indian Institute.  As part of this cooperation, there has been an exchange of publications and working papers that, because of their nature, may be of mutual interest.




                                                                HUMAN RIGHTS


          The Commission also continued to cooperate with the United Nations agencies charged with protecting and promoting human rights.  These include the Commission on Human Rights, the Human Rights Committee provided for in the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of the United Nations, and in particular, that Committee's Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.  Such cooperation will assist the Commission in dealing with similar cases that are referred to it.


          The Commission has maintained a close cooperative relationship with the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights.


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    [1] The States Parties are as follows: Argentina, Barbados, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, and Venezuela.  Of these, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Jamaica, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela have recognized the competence of the Commission to receive interstate communications in accordance with Article 45 of the American Convention.  Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, and Venezuela have recognized the mandatory jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights under Article 62 of the Convention.  OEA/Ser.A/16, No. 36, Treaty Series.


    [2] For additional information, see "Basic Documents Pertaining to Human Rights in the Inter-American System" (OEA/Ser.L/V/II.92, doc. 31 rev. 3, updated to May 1996).