Dealing with the Backlog: IAHRN Online Debate

How to deal with the backlog of cases facing the Inter-American Human Rights Commission?

During the recent sessions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), held from 2-15 April 2016 in Washington, D.C., a pressing issue was made apparent that profoundly affects the Commission’s functioning – and, consequently, the Inter-American System as a whole. The issue is the backlog of pending cases before the Commission and the measures that could potentially be used to resolve it.

According to the IACHR’s Annual Report, by the end of 2015 a total of 9673 petitions were pending initial evaluation and 1903 were at the admissibility and/or merits stages. These are worrisome numbers if we also consider that the IACHR is understaffed and under-resourced, and that people in the Americas region are increasingly taking recourse to the Inter-American Human Rights System in an effort to realise their rights.

In various civil society side events during the sessions, Commissioners mentioned several potential ways of dealing with the backlog, including 1) a more active policy of archiving “old” cases; and, 2) the possibility of accumulating large numbers of petitions/cases related to a particular national context in order to produce a single report on the violations committed in this environment (without the option of any of these cases being referred to the Inter-American Court).

The IACHR is yet to issue an official or definite pronouncement as to how it will process the backlog. For many stakeholders of the IAHRS, it is crucial that any decision in this regard follows a broad consultation with all interested parties, and in particular with those who have turned to the System for the justice they could not obtain in their own countries, and who, after many years, may now be facing an additional obstacle in their search for truth, justice, and reparation.

While the aforementioned backlog is of grave concern to all users of the Inter-American System, the IACHR – a body mandated to protect human rights – would need to be mindful not to infringe those rights itself, in an effort to minimize criticisms for its inability to respond effectively to past and present human rights situations.

Ultimately, many stakeholders argue that the underlying causes of the backlog may be traced back to OAS Member States, which not only have the international responsibility for the human rights violations committed, but are also responsible for the lack of adequate funding provided to the bodies charged with hearing these cases. In this sense, and echoing the current position of the Commission itself, States in the Americas must assume their responsibility towards the Inter-American System of Human Rights, assigning adequate financial resources for the effective dispatch of its mandate.

The Inter-American Human Rights Network is committed to contributing to the ongoing debate on these pressing issues and invites contributions to be published on our website. Contributors are invited to respond to any of the following main questions:

• How should the Inter-American Commission deal with its backlog of cases?
• What comparative and relevant experiences exist from which to learn (positive or negative)?

We welcome blog posts of up to 1000 words in length. Please send any potential contributions to Clara Sandoval at csando@essex.ac.uk for review and advice on publication.

For further information on the backlog, and the Commission’s efforts to reduce it, see the following report by University of Texas – School of Law from 2011: Maximizing Justice, Minimizing Delay: Streamlining Procedures of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

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