What is the Inter-American Human Rights System?

The Inter-American Human Rights System (IAHRS) comprises a series of mechanisms and structures designed to protect and promote the rights of individuals and groups in the Americas. Its principal components are the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (hereafter “the Commission”) and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (hereafter “the Court”). Both institutions fall within the broader organisational structure of the Organisation of American States (OAS); a regional body with 35 member states from across the region.

The Commission’s main role is to assess petitions dealing with allegations of human rights abuses in any OAS member state. After receiving evidence and evaluating the petition, the Commission may make recommendations to the state concerned on how to address any violation identified. In certain circumstances, it may also refer cases to the Court to adjudicate. This body is formally empowered to make binding rulings on those countries which have accepted its contentious jurisdiction. Where individuals from member states are deemed to be at immediate risk of serious harm, both the Court and Commission may also order the implementation of emergency measures to protect them (precautionary and provisional measures respectively).

The below video, on advocacy before the IAHRS, is reproduced with permission from the website of the International Justice Resource Center.

Together the Court and the Commission have a fairly broad remit to examine human rights issues in the Americas. They are responsible for the interpretation and implementation of a wide range of human rights declarations, conventions and protocols, including:

Further reading:

  • Cerna, C. M. (2004) ‘The Inter-American System for the Protection of Human Rights’, Florida Journal of International Law, vol. 16, pp. 195-212.
  • Dulitzky, A. (2011) ‘The Inter-American Human Rights System Fifty Years Later: Time for Changes’, Quebec Journal of International Law vol. 127, pp. 127-164
  • Garcia Ramirez, S. and M. Castañeda Hernandez (eds.), Recepción Nacional del Derecho Internacional de los Derechos Humanos y Admisión de la Competencia Contenciosa de la Corte Interamericana, UNAM, 2009
  • Hampson, F. (2011) ‘The scope of the extra-territorial applicability of international human rights law’, in Gilbert, Hampson and Sandoval (eds.) The Delivery of Human Rights: Essays in honour of Professor Sir Nigel Rodley, Routledge, pp. 157-182.
  • Harris, D. and Livingstone, S. (eds) (1998) The Inter-American System of Human Rights, London: OUP.
  • Piovesan, F. (2013) Dirietos Humanos e o Direito Constitucional Internacional, 14th edition, Brasilia: Saraiva, pp. 217-246.