The Inter-American Human Rights System became effective with the adoption of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man in Bogotá, Colombia in April of 1948. This Declaration was the first international human rights instrument of a general nature. The system was established for the promotion and protection of human rights in the 35 independent member States of the Organization of American States (OAS). The American Convention on Human Rights, also known as the Pact of San Jose, was adopted on November 22, 1969. It is an international treaty that contemplates the rights and liberties that must be respected by States Parties.

The Convention establishes two organs: the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ("IACHR" or "the Commission") and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ("Court" or "Inter-American Court"). These two bodies form what has become known as the Inter-American Human Rights System, and are both competent to hear issues regarding the compliance of agreements undertaken by States Parties to the Convention, and regulates their operations.

Apart from the Convention, there are nine other major human rights instruments, which were either signed and/or ratified by the following countries (the links provide the dates of ratification and signature):