Press Release

IACHR Launches New Stage in Efforts to Overcome Procedural Backlog

May 9, 2018

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María Isabel Rivero
IACHR Press and Communication Office
Tel: +1 (202) 370-9000

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Santo Domingo – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), meeting in the Dominican Republic for its 168th Period of Sessions, reviewed a first round of measures adopted to strengthen the petition and case system, and reported on new actions to address the challenge of procedural backlog.

The IACHR highlighted the need to increase the transparency of the Executive Secretariat’s measures as a key cross-sectional axis, and it detailed the actions it has carried out to address pending challenges in the petition and case system. All the actions implemented by the Executive Secretariat since 2014 and the major results achieved have led to a positive balance, although serious challenges persist. 

In 2017, as was recently highlighted, the IACHR approved 120 admissibility reports, which was a record figure, and it approved 35 merits reports, more than double the previous year’s figure; it held the highest number of working meetings in its history to facilitate friendly settlements; and it granted 45 precautionary measures. Further, the Commission managed to reduce to a record low the number of petitions in the initial assessment stage, and it assessed 100% of the petitions received in the immediately prior year. The IACHR also took part in talks and periodic harmonization efforts with the Inter-American Court, it sent 18 cases to that Court, issued 4 requests for provisional measures and started to issue Advisory Opinions again, after almost 10 years without doing so. This has allowed the Commission to meet its initial goals to strengthen the case and petition system, reduce procedural backlog and activate concrete moves to make responses more efficient and timely for system users.

Those achievements include the creation of an Assistant Executive Secretariat that deals exclusively with the petition and case system, with friendly settlements and with precautionary measures; an increase in staff at that Secretariat, compared to August 2016 figures; full-time officers to coordinate sections and greater contractual stability for consultants; and a higher institutional status for the protection group, which is now a precautionary measures section. The IACHR’s Executive Secretariat launched a Processing Unit in September 2017. That Unit centralizes administrative dealings regarding petitions and cases in the various procedural stages, to free lawyers so they may focus on exclusively legal tasks. Various actions have also been taken to update the computerized procedural management system, to add new functions and facilitate internal work, while improving transparency and effectiveness.

In procedural terms, measures adopted include a strict application of the formalities to initiate proceedings, a reduction in the number of requests for information and the implementation of a policy to drop petitions where the petitioning party has been inactive for too long. In total, Resolution 1/16 has been applied to 360 cases, with a view to unifying the admissibility and merits assessments in one single report. A further set of actions were approved in August 2017 to supplement the Plan of Action held in the Strategic Plan’s Procedural Backlog Program. Such actions include the use of a new, shorter admissibility report template in the admissibility stage; in the merits stage, measures to reduce the factual framework and the length of reports, with a view to simplifying reports on recurring themes; and specialization, using work portfolios and scaling. All these changes are aimed at significantly increasing the production of reports on case merits. The IACHR stresses that constant dialogue with the Inter-American Court is essential to implement many of these measures, and that both bodies hold periodic meetings.

For IACHR Executive Secretary Paulo Abrão, “the IACHR has at its disposal a unique mechanism to protect human rights in the region, namely the petition and case system and friendly settlements. This first set of measures included in the Strategic Plan focused on three themes: administrative restructuring; reviewing flows, protocols and work systems; and dialogue with the Inter-American Court. We need to launch a second stage, with new measures such as, for example, hiring seven new professionals for this area in the coming months, and keeping up the implementation of the remaining activities mentioned in the Strategic Plan.”

The IACHR has created a IACHR Group to support the process to overcome procedural backlog. That group consists of Commissioners Esmeralda de Troitiño, Joel Hernández, Francisco Eguiguren and Luis Ernesto Vargas. As a first step, in the coming months, this group will lead a consultation open to all system users. The goal is to gather more suggestions, with a view to strengthening the measures adopted to address the challenge of years of procedural backlog. In this sense, the group would like to urge anyone willing to take part in this initiative to email their suggestions to cidhplaneacion@oas.org by June 30.

“We encourage users to think about proposals with a comprehensive perspective on the system and its users. There are two very clear goals: how to deepen solutions for years of delays, and how to maintain for current cases procedural formalities that are quick and simplified but above all guarantee quality, legal rigor and due access to justice for victims,” says Executive Secretary Paulo Abrão.

Commissioner Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño notes that actions to address procedural backlog need to be articulated with actions to follow up on recommendations. “Strengthening recommendation follow-up is essential to tackle the rise in demand overall. The more States comply with decisions, the fewer challenges we will face regarding human rights violations. Efficient numbers need to go hand in hand with effective implementation.” In line with the Strategic Plan, follow-up on IACHR recommendations has been strengthened cross-sectionally, throughout the Commission’s work. Follow-up is set to be developed through programs and actions that promote a comprehensive implementation of recommendations, including various sectors of civil society, academic institutions and autonomous bodies, in coordination with State authorities.

The program to strengthen friendly settlements as prescribed by the Strategic Plan will need to play a key role when tackling procedural backlog: “Expanding the use of the friendly settlement mechanism needs to be central. Adequate justice is speedy justice with the capacity to generate an appropriate legal response that is suitable for each concrete case and reflects existing standards,” says Commissioner Francisco Eguiguren.

The IACHR’s responses need to comprehensively integrate all of the Commission’s mandates and protection tools, including activities for technical cooperation to promote a comprehensive implementation of the recommendations and of Inter-American standards. “Publicizing the system, clarifying its protocols and specifying the processing criteria may help to reduce, for instance, the number of manifestly unfounded petitions, which mean a lot of work for the IACHR. Strengthening institutions and government public policies regarding human rights helps with prevention and contributes to generating structural solutions to have fewer human rights violations in the future,” says Commissioner Joel Hernández.

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 and to defend 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. 097/18