Frequently Asked Questions on Friendly Settlements

What is a friendly settlement?

Friendly settlement is a process facilitated by the Commission to enable the State concerned and the alleged victims and/or petitioners to reach an agreement that offers a solution to the alleged human rights violations, without resorting to a contentious proceeding. The friendly settlement process depends on the will of the parties and, therefore, both parties have to agree to initiate the procedure and take it forward. To this end, the parties must express their will to the Inter-American Commission.

When does the IACHR make itself available to the parties for a friendly settlement?

According to the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR), the IACHR may make itself available to the parties with a view to reaching a friendly settlement of the matter on the basis of respect for human rights, at any stage of the proceedings.

In practice, the IACHR has offered its good offices to the parties to that end, at the following moments:

  • Upon forwarding the initial petition to the State.
  • Upon notifying the parties of the adoption of a report on admissibility.
  • When one of the parties requests the good offices of the IACHR for reaching a friendly settlement.

How is a friendly settlement procedure initiated?

Under Article 40 (2) of the Rules of Procedure of the IACHR, the friendly settlement procedure shall be initiated and continue on the basis of the consent of the parties. That may be:

  • Ex officio (Art. 40 (1) of the IACHR Rules of Procedure); or
  • At the request of any of the parties (Art. 40 (1) of the IACHR Rules of Procedure)

How does a friendly settlement procedure conclude?

  • When the parties reach an agreement that is approved by the IACHR (Arts. 49 of the American Convention on Human Rights and 40 (1) of the IACHR Rules of Procedure).
  • When any of the parties decides that it does not wish to continue with the friendly settlement procedure before the IACHR issues its report approving the friendly settlement agreement (Art. 40 (4) of the IACHR Rules of Procedure)
  • When the IACHR finds ex officio that (Art. 40 (4) of the IACHR Rules of Procedure):
    • The matter is not susceptible to such a resolution through that process; or
    • Any of the parties does not display willingness to reach a friendly settlement based on respect for human rights.

What role does the IACHR play in the friendly settlement procedure?

In light of the precepts contained in the American Convention on Human Rights, the Commission understands that its role is to facilitate negotiation and agreements between the parties.

To that end, it provides its good offices and advances the process toward a friendly agreement. Without analyzing any factual or legal considerations, the Commission approves agreements freely entered into by the parties, having first verified that they are compatible with the object and purpose of the American Convention on Human Rights and having objectively analyzed the level of compliance with the commitments adopted by the parties.

What happens when a friendly settlement does not produce the result expected?

What happens when a friendly settlement does not produce the result expected by the parties?

If the parties do not reach a friendly settlement or if, having signed the agreement, they express their intention not to continue with the process, they must notify the IACHR so that it may continue to process the petition or case at the admissibility or merits stage, as appropriate. The processing of the petition or case may culminate with a report on the merits in which the IACHR makes a decision regarding the alleged human rights violations. In that case, the IACHR may publish a report and supervise the compliance of the State with its recommendations, or as long as the State has ratified the competence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the IACHR may decide to refer the case before the said tribunal, which may issue a judgment ordering the state to comply with a series of reparation measures for the rights declared as violated.

What happens when a friendly settlement produces the result expected by the parties?

Once the parties sign a friendly settlement agreement, the IACHR waits to receive information on its compliance. The terms of the friendly settlement agreement and the type of reparation measures it envisages will depend on the facts alleged in the petition or case in question and on the common agreement of the parties.

When a friendly settlement process succeeds, the IACHR approves the friendly settlement agreement and publishes a report in accordance with Article 49 of the American Convention on Human Rights. The timing of the Commission's report in this regard depends on the level of compliance and/or the express will of the parties stated in the agreement or in a subsequent written communication.

According to the Article 49 of American Convention on Human Rights and 40 (5) of the Rules of Procedure of the IACHR, and the practice of the IACHR, prior to adopting the report, the Commission verifies that:

  • The victim or his or her successors have consented to the friendly settlement agreement; and
  • The friendly settlement agreement is based on respect for the human rights recognized in the American Convention on Human Rights, the American Declaration, and other applicable instruments.

Furthermore, unless established otherwise in the agreement, before approving it, the Commission verifies either that the friendly settlement agreement has been substantially complied with or, at a minimum, that its performance has been initiated in such a way as to demonstrate unequivocally the will of the state to fully comply with the commitments stablished therein.

The Commission's report on the friendly settlement agreement contains:

  • A brief statement of the facts;
  • A statement of the solution reached;
  • A transcription of the friendly settlement agreement ;
  • Verification that the agreement is founded on the respect for the human rights recognized in the American Convention on Human Rights, American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of the Man, and other applicable instruments;
  • An analysis of compliance with the commitments contained in the agreement.

What is the follow up of the report of a friendly settlement?

Following the publication of a friendly settlement approval report, the IACHR monitors compliance with the agreed clauses, in accordance with the provisions contained in Article 48 of its Rules of Procedure, which enables it to adopt the follow-up measures it deems appropriate, such as:

  • Requesting information from the parties
  • Holding working meetings in the course of rapporteur country visits.
  • Holding working meetings in the course of rapporteur country visits.
  • Providing information it deems pertinent on progress in compliance with decisions and recommendations.
  • Reporting on the progress in the compliance with commitments adopted under friendly settlement agreements in the annual report of the IACHR to the OAS General Assembly.

What types of remedies can be achieved?

  • A. Restoration of the Infringed Right

    Restitution includes measures for restoring the victim to the situation known before the violation. Its effect is to terminate the activity or conduct that is considered a violation of the victims’ rights and reestablish the situation to what it was before the events occurred. The Commission understands that the nature of the acts that led to the supposed violation is what determines whether restitution can be deemed a feasible measure of reparation, since restitution is only possible when the consequences of the presumed violation can be fully restored. In this sense, restitution can be an effective form of reparation when, for example, one seeks to restore freedom, return property, or issue identification documents.

  • B. Medical, Psychological, and Social Rehabilitation

    Medical and psychological rehabilitation measures have been included in 21 of the 106 friendly settlement agreements approved by the Inter-American Commission until 2012. Their purpose is to help victims overcome their suffering, especially that caused by illnesses and the deterioration of their living conditions.

  • C. Satisfaction Measures: Truth, Acknowledgment, and Justice

    Satisfaction measures can take various forms, depending on the circumstances of each case.99 Nevertheless, in the Commission’s experience, satisfaction measures break down into five categories: acknowledgement of responsibility and public admission of the facts; search for and return of the remains of victims of human rights violations; official declarations and court rulings to restore the victim’s honor and reputation; enforcement of judicial and administrative sanctions against those responsible for the violations; and measures designed to keep the victims’ memory and/or legacy alive by building monuments, memorials, and other measures alike.

  • D. Economic Compensation

    By signing friendly settlement agreements, victims of human rights violations and their heirs have received monetary payments as reparation for the harm caused by the violations. The payment of monetary compensation as a reparation measure has in some cases allowed the next of kin of victims of human rights violations to have a decent life.

  • E. Measures of Non-Repetition

    Over the years, the friendly settlements that the Commission has approved have had a positive impact, not only on the immediate victims of the human rights violations, but also on society as a whole, because the agreements provide for measures of reparation that have fostered change in the structure in which the violations occurred. Those measures are called “measures of nonrepetition” and their purpose is to prevent the commission of human rights violations in the future. These measures may include legislative reforms, adoption of public policies and training of State agents.

  • For more information on this topic visit the Report "Impact of the Friendly Settlement Procedure"

How to request a working meeting?

The parties in a friendly settlement procedure may request the IACHR to hold working meetings during two of its ordinary sessions held in Washington, D.C., generally in the months of March and October. The IACHR receives several requests for working meetings during each of its sessions, and tries to grant as many as possible, but for time reasons, sometimes it is not possible to grant them all. In the working meetings that take place with the direct participation of the IACHR, usually count with the presence of the commissioner-rapporteur for the state concerned. Working meetings on friendly settlements are private. The requests for working meetings should be submitted with no less than 50 days before the start of the period of sessions of the IACHR. Because the IACHR publishes is annual session’s program, as well as the deadline to request the working meetings, users are encouraged to regularly check the IACHR website. Additionally, is important to highlight that the IACHR may invite the parties to hold meetings during the working visits to states members of the OAS.

Read the Friendly Settlements Handbook Read the report: "Impact of the Friendly Settlement..."

Instructional video: What is a friendly settlement?

Instructional video: What is the impact of friendly settlements?

Instructional video: Examples of friendly settlements