IACHR

Press Release

IACHR Seeks to Reduce the Backlog in the System of Petitions and Cases

October 18, 2016

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María Isabel Rivero
IACHR Press and Communication Office
Tel: +1 (202) 370-9001
mrivero@oas.org

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Washington, D.C. – One of the main challenges the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) faces is to reduce the backlog in the system of petitions and cases inasmuch as this affects the possibilities of providing a timely response to individuals who resort to the inter-American system to report violations of their human rights. 

The root cause of the backlog is the steady increase in the number of petitions the IACHR receives in a context of structural shortcomings in financing the organs of the inter-American human rights system. The Commission does not have the necessary human resources to provide the timely response required. The Commission reiterates its appeal to OAS member states to implement the measures necessary for it to have an appropriate budget that is sufficient for it to comply with its mandate.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, the Commission has been exploring and implementing initiatives to address the backlog with existing resources, in keeping with its Rules of Procedure. To this end, a Procedural Delay Group comprised of several commissioners and staff from the Executive Secretariat was created. This Group has held working meetings and made proposals on this subject to the plenary of the Commission.

The Commission reaffirms the importance of the system of petitions and cases in complying with its mandate to promote and protect human rights in the hemisphere. This system is an essential tool to ensure justice and reparations, fight against impunity, and achieve structural reforms both in law as well in practice. With this in mind, the IACHR has adopted decisions that seek to implement the necessary measures to respond in a timely and effective manner to victims and States.

Featured below are the measures adopted to date, as well as additional measures that are slated for implementation in the short and medium term.

Measures implemented to overcome the backlog in the initial review stage

The Commission created a special group made up of attorneys from the Executive Secretariat for the purpose of addressing the chronic backlog that existed at this stage—i.e., for all petitions that had been received prior to the end of December 2013. The Commission decided to focus its initial efforts on this stage, taking into account the number of petitions pending a decision, the relevance of providing a response as to whether the petition can be processed by the IACHR, and the importance of undertaking processing or allowing for the possibility of a friendly settlement for those petitions that fulfill the respective requirements.

This group worked from December 2014 to July 2016, achieving results that are unparalleled in the history of the system of petitions and cases, with a total of 6405 petitions evaluated. As a result of these evaluations, 1304 were approved for processing, 3508 were not approved for processing, and in 1135 petitions it was decided to request additional information from the petitioning party. Additionally, 458 petitions were deactivated due to the petitioning party’s failure to respond to prior requests for information. The Commission is currently implementing these decisions administratively.

In parallel with the work of this special group, the Registration Group continued evaluating petitions received in 2014 and is currently evaluating petitions received in 2015. Under this initiative, the Commission was able to overcome the backlog in the initial review stage, having made decisions on all the petitions that were submitted up until 2014. Furthermore, the Commission has the installed capacity in the Registry Group to undertake the initial review of petitions during the calendar year immediately following the year the complaint is received.

Measures underway to address the delay in admissibility and merits stages

Joining petitions and cases

From the early days of the system of petitions and cases, the Commission has had the competence to either join or divide petitions. The IACHR has exercised this authority in many petitions and cases. Some joined cases have been submitted to and ruled on by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Article 29(5) of the current Rules of Procedure of the Commission stipulates that:

If two or more petitions address similar facts, involve the same persons, or reveal the same pattern of conduct, the Commission may join them and process them together in the same file.

The Commission has decided to join cases more frequently, provided that there are factors that lead it to deem that the assumptions set forth in the Rules of Procedure are met. The Commission has been joining petitions and cases—in the admissibility and merits stage respectively—that respond to the same normative, institutional, or factual context; or where there are similarities between the facts alleged; or that involve the same individuals.

This measure allows the Commission to analyze in a joint fashion groups of cases that fit the scenarios mentioned above, which has an impact on progressively reducing the backlog.

Summary merits report based on prior decisions in substantially identical situations

The Commission has considered the possibility of ruling on some cases by making reference to prior decisions of the system’s organs regarding an identical situation, thereby making it unnecessary to undertake a complete analysis of the merits that repeats the same points. This kind of decision entails the existence of clear precedent and a factual determination in each case concluding that the factual circumstances are the same as those of the precedent to be used as grounds for the decision. Petitions involving the same facts, individuals and rights, would not in any case be examined twice, as this would constitute an inadmissible duplication of proceedings.

Some petitions currently being processed and/or that will be processed regard situations that are substantially identical to others that have already been heard by the Commission and/or the Court. The use of this kind of simplified merits reports in which the legal analysis is limited to citing a prior decision of one or both of the organs of the inter-American system would therefore also contribute to reducing the backlog.

Archiving of petitions and cases

Article 42 of the Rules of Procedure of the Commission stipulates that:

1. At any time during the proceedings, the Commission may decide to archive the file when it verifies that the grounds for the petition or case do not exist or subsist. The Commission may also decide to archive the case when:

(…)

b. the unjustified procedural inactivity of the petitioner constitutes a serious indication of lack of interest in the processing of petition.

2. Before considering the archiving of a petition or case, it shall request that the petitioners submit the necessary information and notify the possibility of a decision to archive. Once the time limit specified for that purpose has expired, the Commission shall proceed to adopt the corresponding decision.

(…)

In recent years, the Commission has considered that five years of inactivity on the part of the petitioning party constitutes a serious indication of a lack of interest in the terms of the Rules of Procedure. The Commission understands inactivity to be a total absence of any kind of communication. As shown in the provisions cited, the Rules of Procedure stipulate that, once the above-mentioned inactivity has been verified, the IACHR is to send a notice to the petitioning party advising them that the petition may be archived and requesting that they indicate whether they are still interested in continuing with the petition or case. Where no response is forthcoming, the IACHR may proceed to archive the petition or case, which will be final, except in the special cases provided for under the same Rules of Procedure.

In 2015, the Executive Secretariat conducted an exhaustive review of the files in the admissibility and merits stages in order to identify those petitions and cases where the petitioning party had been inactive for five years or more. In these cases, the above-mentioned notice was sent and 107 petitions and cases were archived, either because no response to the notice was received or the petitioning party submitted a request for discontinuance. Having archived this first group, the Executive Secretariat continues to undertake periodic reviews of the admissibility and merits files to identify petitions and cases subject to archiving.

In addition to the foregoing, the Commission decided that it will not issue archive reports for each individual case. Instead, it decided to publish a list of petitions and cases archived annually based on the objective criteria of their inactivity for a specific period of time or as a result of the petitioning party’s request for discontinuance.

The implementation of this archiving policy, in addition to simplifying these decisions, allows the Commission to focus its efforts on those petitions and cases that are active and in which it is clear that the petitioning party is interested in continuing with the claim.

Measures to be adopted as of October 2016

In addition to the measures referred to above, the Commission has continued to prioritize finding other alternatives to resolve the backlog. In this context, in September 2016, the Commission approved the measures described below that are to be implemented as of October 2016. These measures, like the others taken to date, are in keeping with the Rules of Procedure in force.

Changes to the admissibility and inadmissibility reports’ format

The Commission decided to make changes to admissibility and inadmissibility reports in order to simplify the presentation of the significant points. The new admissibility and inadmissibility reports will be more brief save for exceptional cases; repetition of some information will be eliminated; the initial sections on processing and competence will be condensed in a template.

This measure will expedite drafting, review, translation, and approval of these reports with an impact on the Commission’s productivity at this stage, ensuring that there is no effect on the rigorous analysis of the requirements for admissibility. During the rest of 2016, the Commission will deliberate on reports prepared with the current format and, in a transition process, on others prepared with the new format. 

Furthermore, the Commission instructed the Executive Secretariat to analyze the possibility of also simplifying the content of the merit reports with regard to aspects such as the description of the parties’ arguments, the citing of the evidence available and the narration of the undisputed facts, among others. This measure will continue to be discussed by the Commission.

Reducing five years of inactivity to four as an indication of lack of interest

With regard to archiving petitions and cases, the Commission decided that henceforth it shall consider four years of inactivity by the petitioning party as a serious indication of lack of interest. The Executive Secretariat will identify in the admissibility and merits files those cases that are in this situation in order to send notices advising the petitioner of the possible decision to archive as provided for under Article 42 of IACHR Rules of Procedure.

Adoption of joint admissibility and merits decisions under certain circumstances

During the initial decades of the system of petitions and cases the Commission issued its decisions on admissibility and merits in the same report. It was pursuant to the amendments made to the Rules of Procedure in 2000 that the Commission decided to divide these decisions into two reports, reserving the right to adopt joint decisions on admissibility and merits, where relevant.

In this respect, Article 36(3) of the Rules of Procedure stipulates that:

In exceptional circumstances, and after having requested information from the parties in accordance with the provisions of Article 30 of these Rules of Procedure, the Commission may open a case but defer its treatment of admissibility until the debate and decision on the merits. The decision shall be adopted by a reasoned resolution of the Commission, which will include an analysis of those exceptional circumstances. The exceptional circumstances that the Commission shall take into account will include the following:

a. when the consideration of the applicability of a possible exception to the requirement of exhaustion of domestic remedies would be inextricably tied to the merits of the matter;

b. in cases of seriousness and urgency, or when the Commission considers that the life or personal integrity of a person may be in imminent danger; or

c. when the passage of time may prevent the useful effect of the decision by the Commission.

The Commission decided to apply this provision of the Rules of Procedure in a whole series of cases in the exceptional circumstances indicated in Resolution 1/16, which is being made public today. This Resolution constitutes for this series of cases the “reasoned resolution” required by the Rules of Procedure in order to defer its decision on admissibility until the debate and decision on the merits.

This measure will allow a significant number of cases in the admissibility stage to be transferred to the merits stage, thus avoiding the need to prepare, translate, and consult on two separate reports in those cases where a timely decision is required pursuant to the circumstances laid out in Resolution 1/16.

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 area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 150/16