In 1994, during the 85 and 86 regular sessions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a Working Group was established to study the conditions of detention in which persons deprived of liberty were found in the Americas. In March 2004, during the 119th regular session of the IACHR, the Rapporteurship on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty was formally established.

Since 2004, this Rapporteurship has monitored the situation of people subjected to any form of deprivation of liberty in the OAS member states. To this end, and among other functions, the Rapporteurship makes visits to the States, promotes the mechanisms of the Inter-American Human Rights System to protect the rights of persons deprived of liberty, and prepares reports containing specialized recommendations addressed to the Member States of the OAS to advance in respecting and guaranteeing the human rights of persons deprived of liberty.

Since February 2019, the mandate of the Office of the Special Rapporteur also includes preventing and combating torture.