"Informative text over the Inter-American System, presentation of petitions, consultations to the Court and visits to the Court’s Headquarters"
Description of the Inter-American System
The American States, in exercise of their sovereignty and within the framework of the Organization of American States (OAS), adopted a series of international instruments that have become the grounds for a regional system for the promotion and protection of human rights, known as the Inter-American Human Rights System (Inter-American System or IAHRS). This system acknowledges and defines these rights and establishes obligations tending to their promotion and protection and creates bodies destined to supervise their observance.
The Inter-American system was formally initiated with the approval of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man in 1948, within the framework of the Charter of the Organization of American States. Additionally, the system has other instruments such as the American Convention on Human Rights (American Convention or Convention); Protocols and Conventions on specialized matters, such as the Convention to prevent and punish Torture, the Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons, and the Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women, among others; as well as the Rules of Procedure and Statutes of its bodies. All these instruments are available for consultation at the following link:Instruments
The IAHRS is made up of two bodies: the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, Commission, or Inter-American Commission), whose headquarters are located in Washington, D.C, United States of America, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (Court, Inter-American Court, or Tribunal), whose headquarters are in San José, Costa Rica..
The Member States of the OAS are: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vicente and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, United States of America, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
The States that have ratified the American Convention are: Argentina, Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, 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.
The States that have acknowledged the Court’s jurisdiction are: Argentina, Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela. .
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
The Inter-American Commission was created in the III Resolution of the Fifth Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs held in Santiago, Chile in 1959, in order to correct the lack of bodies specifically in charge of supervising the observance of human rights in the system. According to Article 112 of the Charter of the Organization of American States, the Commission’s main function is to “promote the observance and defense of human rights and serve as a body of consultation for the organization in this field.”
It has seven members that are proposed by the State and elected, in a personal capacity, by the General Assembly of the OAS. The members of the Commission do not represent their countries but instead the thirty-five Member states of the OAS.
The functions and powers of the IACHR are defined in its Statute: in Article 18 regarding the Member States of the OAS, in Article 19 regarding the state parties to the Convention, and in Article 20 in what refers to the Member States that are not part of the Convention.
Based on that established in these Articles, it can be said that the Commission has, on one hand, competences with political dimensions, among which tasks include the in loco visits and the preparation of reports of the observations on the human rights situation in the Member States.
On the other hand, the IACHR carries out duties with a quasi-judicial dimension. It is within this competence of the IACHR that it receives the complaints of individuals or organizations regarding human rights violations, it examines these petitions and it hands down the cases in the supposition that they comply with the admissibility requirements established in Article 46 of the Convention. In this sense, once the petition is presented before the Commission, and the formal admissibility requirements have been examined, it is forwarded to the accused State so it may present its observations. Thus, a proceeding is started before the Commission (regulated in Article 48 of the Convention), in which “it shall place itself at the disposal of the parties concerned with a view to reaching a friendly settlement of the matter on the basis of respect for the human rights recognized in [the] Convention.” (Article 48(1)(f)) If a solution is not reached, the Commission may forward the case to the Court by filing an application (Article 32 of the Rules of Procedure of the Court)
Based on all the aforementioned, if an individual or an organization wishes to present before the Inter-American System a situation of potential human rights violation, it shall do so before the Inter-American Commission and not before the Court, see How to file a complaint before the Inter-American System?.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights
The Inter-American Court is one of three regional Courts for the protection of Human Rights, along with the European Court of Human Rights and the African Court of Human Rights and Peoples’ Rights.
In the Ninth International Conference of American States, held in Bogotá, Colombia in 1948, the resolution titled “Inter-American Court for the Protection of the Rights of Man” was adopted, which considered that the protection of these rights “shall be guaranteed by a juridical body, since there is no duly guaranteed right without the protection of a competent court.”
The Court was created by the American Convention on Human Rights, adopted in the Inter-American Specialized Conference on Human Rights, gathered in San José, Costa Rica, on November 22, 1969. The Convention went into force on July 1978 and the Court started its operations in 1979.
The Court hosts 7 national judges from Member States of the OAS elected, in a personal capacity and upon nomination of the States Parties to the American Convention, by the General Assembly of the OAS. The judges of the Court do not represent the interests of the States that nominate them as candidates.
Up to this date, twenty-one State Parties have acknowledged the Court’s contentious jurisdiction: Costa Rica, Peru, Venezuela, Honduras, Ecuador, Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala, Suriname, Panama, Chile, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Bolivia, El Salvador, Haiti, Brazil, Mexico, Dominican Republic, and Barbados.
The Court has essentially two functions, an adjudicatory one and an advisory one, to which we can add the power to adopt provisional measures.
Regarding the adjudicatory function, it is the mechanism through which the Court determines if a State has incurred in international responsibility for having violated any of the rights enshrined or stipulated in the American Convention on Human Rights. It must be pointed out that, pursuant with Article 61(1) of the Convention, only the State Parties and the Commission have the right to submit a case to the Court.
The cases before the Court are started by an application presented either by the Commission or by a State.
The Court’s verdicts are final and not subject to appeal, but there is a possibility that, within the ninety days following the notification of the verdict, and in the event of disagreement regarding the sense or scope of the same, the Court can issue an interpretation of the verdict upon request of any of the parties.
Within the obligation of the Court to periodically inform the General Assembly of the OAS is the power to monitor compliance with its verdicts. This task is performed through the revision of periodic reports forwarded by the State and objected by the victims and the Commission. During the year 2007, the Court started a new practice of holding hearings for the monitoring of compliance of the verdicts issued by the Court.
Regarding the advisory function, it is the means through which the Court responds to consultations made by the Member States of the OAS or its bodies. This advisory competence strengthens the capacity of the Organization to solve matters that arise from the application of the Convention, since it allows the bodies of the OAS to consult the Court in what corresponds to them.
Finally, the Court may adopt the provisional measures considered necessary in cases of extreme gravity and urgency and when necessary in order to avoid irreparable damages to people, both in cases being processed before the Court and in matters that have not yet been submitted to it, upon request of the Inter-American Commission.
From the aforementioned, we can conclude that the Inter-American Court, as indicated, is not competent to respond to the petitions presented by individuals or organizations, since they shall be filed before the Commission, which is the body in charge of receiving and evaluating the complaints presented by individuals based on violations to human rights by any of the State Parties.
"Informative text over the Inter-American System, presentation of petitions, consultations to the Court and visits to the Court’s Headquarters"
Who can file a complaint before the Commission?
According to Article 44 of the American Convention any person, for themselves or in representation of another, group of people, or governmental entities legally recognized, may file a petition or complaint before the Commission containing denunciations of a human rights violation. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) may also file complaints.
Who can be accused before the Inter-American System?
The Inter-American Commission can only receive complaints of alleged violations committed by States that have ratified the American Convention, since it is those States who are legally compelled to observe and respect the rights stipulated therein. As previously indicated, these States are: Argentina, Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, 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. The Court, on its part, hears cases against States that have acknowledged its jurisdiction, namely, Costa Rica, Peru, Venezuela, Honduras, Ecuador, Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala, Suriname, Panama, Chile, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Bolivia, El Salvador, Haiti, Brazil, Mexico, Dominican Republic, and Barbados.
It is important to mention that neither the Commission nor the Court can receive complaints against individuals.
Regarding the Member States of the OAS that are not part of the American Convention, they are compelled to respect the rights enshrined in the American Declaration of the of the Rights and Duties of Man (American Declaration), for which Article 49 of the Rules of Procedure of the Commission foresees the possibility that it receive and examine any petition that contains a denunciation of alleged violations of the human rights enshrined in the American Declaration, establishing the corresponding proceeding in Articles 28 through 43 and 45 through 47 of the Rules of Procedure of the IACHR.
How to present a complaint before the Inter-American System?
As stated, the only body of the Inter-American System competent to receive complaints from individuals or organizations is the Inter-American Commission; therefore the Court cannot process any document sent to it, unless it is part of a case that is already being processed before it, that is, that has already had its previous procedure before the Inter-American Commission or is a case presented by a State.
If you wish to present a complaint, the Commission’s contact information is:
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
Organization of American States
1889 F Street, N.W.
Washington D.C., 20006
United States of America
Fax: (202) 458 3992
Web Site: www.cidh.org
For greater ease, in the previously indicated link you will find the link "Complaint Form", which includes information that may result very useful.
In order for a petition to be accepted by the Commission, it shall comply with the requirements established in Article 46 of the Convention:
- 1. Admission by the Commission of a petition or communication lodged in accordance with Articles 44 or 45 shall be subject to the following requirements:
- that the remedies under domestic law have been pursued and exhausted in accordance with generally recognized principles of international law;
- that the petition or communication is lodged within a period of six months from the date on which the party alleging violation of his rights was notified of the final judgment;
- that the subject of the petition or communication is not pending in another international proceeding for settlement; and
- that, in the case of Article 44, the petition contains the name, nationality, profession, domicile, and signature of the person or persons or of the legal representative of the entity lodging the petition.
- The provisions of paragraphs 1.a and 1.b of this article shall not be applicable when:
- the domestic legislation of the state concerned does not afford due process of law for the protection of the right or rights that have allegedly been violated; no
- the party alleging violation of his rights has been denied access to the remedies under domestic law or has been prevented from exhausting them; or
- there has been unwarranted delay in rendering a final judgment under the aforementioned remedies.
Similarly, Article 28 of the Rules of Procedure of the Commission establishes the requirements for the consideration of petitions.
Can you ask the Court for information or request a type of action if your case/complaint has already been presented before the Commission?
It is important to point out that if you have already presented a complaint before the Commission, any consultation or process related to the same must be addressed directly to that body. This is because the Court cannot interfere in the Commission’s work, and therefore it cannot request information on pending cases before the Commission or intervene, in any way, in the processing of complaints.
Based on the aforementioned we recommend that you do not send documents regarding your case to the Inter-American Court, since the Court may not process them.
Is legal representation necessary to access the Inter-American System?
The preparation, presentation, and processing of a complaint is a relatively simple process, reason for which the claimant can do it on their own, without the need of professional assistance. However, for greater safety and understanding of the system by the interested party, legal advice from a professional is always recommended.
Presentation of Consultations before the Court
The Secretariat of the Inter-American Court may receive consultations made by any means, whether personal, by telephone, written, or by e-mail.
The majority of the questions are in reference to information on the Inter-American System and its operation. Due to the existence of a great amount of information on the System on this webpage, we recommend you look over the availability of instruments offered in the same.
Jurisprudence of the Court
In the cases of consultations regarding jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court, on our webpage you can access all the jurisprudence of this Court, both in contentious cases, as well as the orders of monitoring of compliance, the provisional measures adopted, and the advisory opinions. All this information may be consulted by country, subject, or type of resolution. Likewise, any person may have direct access to the dossiers of cases that have been heard by the Court and that are currently closed.
If you require the recordings of the public hearings of any of the cases decided by the Court, you may request them from the Secretariat of the Court by sending an e-mail to
, said recordings will be sent and, due to the budgetary limitations of the Tribunal, that delivery shall be covered by the interested party
Likewise, on this webpage you may find international law instruments of both the Inter-American System and other systems, as well as the different publications of the Inter-American Court , which contain various information on matters regarding the promotion and protection of human rights and the Inter-American Human Rights System, which may result to be very useful for those people who have questions regarding these issues.
Joint Library of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and Inter-American Institute of Human Rights
If the consultation refers to more specific matters, investigation issues, or any other related to the protection of human rights within the Inter-American System that cannot be found on this webpage, the Court and the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights have a Joint Library, which has a wide bibliographical listing and offers the service of elaborating specific bibliographies and they will send the documents by fax, e-mail, or conventional mail, where it is possible, in order to satisfy its users’ demands for information.
It is important to point out that the Court is a jurisdictional body and it does not have a department in charge of investigations, for which we recommend you contact the Joint Library if you have any consultation of this type. The Library’s contact information is:
Joint Library of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights
and the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights
San José, Costa Rica
Teléfono: (506) 22809365
Fax: (506) 22252741
Web Site: Library
Likewise, on the webpage of the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights you may find useful information on various issues related with human rights. The link is the following: