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Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (the IACHR or, in Spanish, CIDH) is one of the two bodies that comprise the inter-American system for the promotion and protection of human rights.
The IACHR is an autonomous organ of the Organization of American States (OAS). Its human rights duties stem from three documents: the OAS Charter , the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and the American Convention on Human Rights. It is a permanent body, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., United States, and it meets in regular and special sessions several times a year.
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.
How the Commission processes cases
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 (2005)
- Clare Kamau Roberts (Antigua & Barbuda) 2002-2005 (President)
- Susana Villarán (Peru) 2002-2005 (First Vice-President)
- Paulo Sergio Pinheiro (Brazil) 2004-2007 (Second Vice-President)
- José Zalaquett (Chile) 2002-2005
- Evelio Fernández (Paraguay) 2004-2007
- Freddy Gutiérrez (Venezuela) 2004-2007
- Florentín Meléndez (El Salvador) 2004-2007
The four newest Commissioners were elected by the member states of the OAS at the General Assembly held in Santiago, Chile, in June 2003. With this result, for the first time ever there is no national of the United States on the seven-member Commission. The unsuccessful U.S. candidate was Rafael E. Martinez.
- Rómulo Gallegos (Venezuela) 1960-1963
- Reynaldo Galindo Pohl (El Salvador) 1960-1964
- Gonzalo Escudero (Ecuador) 1960-1968
- Ángela Acuña de Chacón (Costa Rica) 1960-1972
- Durwood V. Sandifer (United States) 1960-1972
- Manuel Bianchi Gundián (Chile) 1960-1976
- Gabino Fraga (Mexico) 1960-1979
- Daniel Hugo Martins (Uruguay) 1964-1968
- Carlos A. Dunshee de Abranches (Brazil) 1964-1983
- Mario Alzamora Valdez (Peru) 1968-1972
- Justino Jiménez de Arechega (Uruguay) 1968-1972
- Genaro R. Carrió (Argentina) 1972-1976
- Robert F. Woodward (United States) 1972-1976
- Andrés Aguilar (Venezuela) 1972-1985
- Carlos García Bauer (Guatemala) 1976-1979
- Fernando Volio Jiménez (Costa Rica) 1976-1979
- Tom J. Farer (United States) 1976-1983
- José Joaquín Gori (Colombia) 1976-1978
- Marco Gerardo Monroy Cabra (Colombia) 1978-1987
- Franciso Bertrand Galindo (El Salvador) 1980-1987
- César Sepúlveda (Mexico) 1980-1985
- Luis Demetrio Tinoco Castro (Costa Rica) 1980-1985
- R. Bruce McColm (United States) 1984-1988
- Luis Adolfo Siles Salinas (Bolivia) 1984-1987
- Gilda Maciel Correa Russomano (Brazil) 1984-1991
- Elsa Kelly (Argentina) 1986-1989
- Marco Tulio Bruni-Celli (Venezuela) 1986-1993
- Oliver Hamlet Jackman (Barbados) 1986-1993
- John Reese Stevenson (United States) 1988-1991
- Leo Valladares Lanza (Honduras) 1988-1995
- Patrick Lipton Robinson (Jamaica) 1988-1995
- Óscar Luján Fappiano (Argentina) 1990-1997
- Michael Reisman (United States) 1992-1995
- John S. Donaldson (Trinidad and Tobago) 1994-1997
- Henry Forde (Barbados) 1998-1999
- Álvaro Tirado Mejía (Colombia) 1992-1999
- Carlos Ayala Corao (Venezuela) 1996-1999
- Jean-Joseph Exumé (Haiti) 1996-1999
- Claudio Grossman (Chile) 1994-2001
- Hélio Bicudo (Brazil) 1998-2001
- Peter Laurie (Barbados) 1999-2001
- Diego García Sayán (Peru) 2002-2002
- Robert K. Goldman (United States) 1996-2003
- Marta Altolaguirre Larraondo (Guatemala) 2000-2003
- Juan Méndez (Argentina) 2000-2003
- Julio Prado Vallejo (Ecuador) 2000-2003
Human rights violations investigated by the Inter-American Commission
- Barrios Altos massacre (Peru)
- Lori Berenson (Peru)
- La Cantuta massacre (Peru)
- Deaths in Ciudad Juárez (Mexico)
- Antoine Izméry (Haiti)
- Plan de Sánchez massacre (Guatemala)
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