Press Release

Legal Assistance Fund Enters into Force

March 1, 2011

Washington, D.C. — The Rules of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) governing the Legal Assistance Fund of the Inter-American Human Rights System enter into force today. The rules were drafted by the IACHR, taking into account the input it received during a public consultation process held in 2010 with the OAS Member States, civil society representatives, and other interested experts.

The Legal Assistance Fund currently has (U.S.) $32,000 at its disposal, due to contributions made by Brazil and Colombia. While these resources are insufficient for the Fund to begin operating immediately, the IACHR is in the process of fund-raising and hopes to obtain additional resources in the near future.

The rules establish that the IACHR may grant resources from the Legal Assistance Fund to petitioners, when such resources are available, once the Commission has declared a complaint admissible or informed a petitioner of its decision to join the issue of admissibility to the merits. Under the rules, funds will be granted to individuals who demonstrate that they lack sufficient means to afford all or some of the expenses involved in gathering and sending documentary evidence, as well as expenses related to the appearance of the alleged victim, witnesses, or experts in Commission hearings and other expenses the Commission considers relevant for the processing of a petition or case.

The Directive Council of the Legal Assistance Fund, which will be composed of one representative of the Inter-American Commission and one representative of the OAS General Secretariat, will be in charge of analyzing the applications received and making decisions regarding the granting of financial assistance, based on available resources. The Commission and the OAS General Secretariat will select their representatives for the Directive Council in the near future, a step that will be announced publicly. Beneficiaries will receive any financial resources assigned to them in advance, and will be required to submit documentation afterward to support the expenses incurred.

The creation of the Legal Assistance Fund has its origins in a June 2008 resolution passed by the OAS General Assembly, which established that the purpose of the Fund is "to facilitate access to the inter-American human rights system by persons who currently lack the resources needed to bring their cases before the system." The General Assembly decided that the Legal Assistance Fund would have two separate accounts, one for the Inter-American Commission and the other for the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and would be funded by voluntary contributions. In November 2009, the OAS Permanent Council approved the Rules of Procedure for the Operation of the Legal Assistance Fund of the Inter-American Human Rights System, which established criteria for the Commission and the Court to use in setting up their respective rules of procedure. On February 4, 2010, the Inter-American Court approved its Rules for the Operation of the Victims' Legal Assistance Fund, which will enter into effect on June 1, 2010.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in a personal capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 17/11