Remarks by the IACHR President to the Permanent Council of the OAS

Address by the President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States

Washington, D.C., March 8, 2013

Mr. Chairman,

Thank you for the opportunity to attend, together with my fellow commissioners, this dialogue with the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States.

Before I begin, allow me once again to express our condolences to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and its people for the passing of their head of state. Our representative informed us that the Council observed a minute of silence yesterday and is to hold a solemn session to respect his memory. Both are fitting measures.


This is an occasion of unparalleled importance for my colleagues and me. After 18 months of unbroken dialogue between the member states of the Organization, inter-American civil society, and the Commission, the Commission is on the verge of its final deliberations on the reform of its Rules of Procedure, policies, and practices. These deliberations will be informed by the continuous observations put forward by the member states in this forum, in addition to all those that the Commission has received from civil society organizations in recent years. In particular, they will be fueled by the observations offered by 6 states, 47 civil society organizations, 3 universities, 8 individuals, and 1 nongovernmental state entity in the recent public consultation held by the Commission.

At this important juncture, I would like to recall the main elements of the reform process thus far.

On June 29, 2011, the Permanent Council of the OAS created the Special Working Group to Reflect on the Workings of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights with a View to Strengthening the Inter-American Human Rights System. On December 13, 2011, the Working Group adopted its report and on January 25, 2012, the report was approved by the Permanent Council. A large number of civil society organizations expressed their views about the recommendations put forward. Thus, for example, on January 27, 2012, following the approval of the Working Group's recommendations by the Permanent Council, more than 90 human rights organizations signed a communiqué setting out their position on the recommendations and the need for a dialogue forum to discuss them. On March 28, 2012, the International Coalition of Human Rights Organizations in the Americas, representing more than 700 civil society organizations, also expressed its opinion on a number of the approved recommendations at a public hearing before the IACHR.

At its 144th session, the IACHR decided to embark upon an in-depth and diligent study of its procedures and mechanisms.  As part of that analysis, it decided to consult the users of the inter-American System.  On May 30, 2012, the IACHR held the first regional seminar on the recommendations made by the states in the Report of the Special Working Group.  At the seminar, various actors pointed to the importance of exploring the scope, content and viability of the recommendations and how they might be implemented.

During its 145th session, the Commission prepared an agenda for its reform process, which took into account the concerns and recommendations expressed in that report. 

In that document, the Commission explained the methodology that it would use to review its rules, policies and practices in the course of 2012, which took as its fundamental guiding premise the pronouncement contained in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man that “juridical and political institutions … have as their principal aim the protection of the essential rights of man.”

The Commission has kept that aim in mind in studying all the proposals regarding its rules, policies, and practices; any change or amendment will be based upon a well-reasoned conclusion as to how to improve protection of human rights.

The Commission undertook to conduct the review process guided by the following principles:

  • broad participation by all stakeholders in the process of reviewing the rules, practices, and policies implemented by the IACHR;
  • consideration of all the inputs of the various actors and independent and autonomous adoption of the decisions most likely to be conducive to the fulfillment of its mandate; and
  • the importance of rendering all its acts as effective as possible.

I am pleased to inform you, Excellencies, that the Commission believes that it has adhered fully to those commitments.

On August 25, 2012, the IACHR published four consultation modules on matters addressed in its Rules of procedure; namely, individual petitions and cases, precautionary measures, monitoring of the human rights situation in countries, promotion, and universality. It also published a fifth consultation module on other aspects relating to strengthening of the system. This method of consultation yielded observations from 11 member states and over 100 organizations and individuals.

The IACHR also convened five subregional forums in August and September 2012, in coordination with stakeholders in the Mesoamerican, Andean, Southern Cone, Caribbean and North American regions, concretely in Bogotá, Colombia; Santiago, Chile; San José, Costa Rica; Mexico City, Mexico, and Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.

The forums afforded ample opportunity for discussion open to all system users and parties interested in strengthening it. High-level authorities and ministers were among the participants. All the forums were attended by members of the Commission and its executive secretary. Members of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights attended the forums in Bogotá and San José. A member of the European Court of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms attended the forum in Bogotá, while the Director of the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights (IIHR) participated in the one held in San José.

In sum, 122 individual experts and representatives of civil society organizations participated as speakers in the forums: 27 in Bogotá, 9 in Santiago, 32 in San José, 47 in Mexico and 7 in Port-of-Spain. To these are added the several dozens of organizations that attended the forums and events. The forums were broadcast live on the IACHR website. Videos of most of the forums and transcriptions of some of the speeches and presentations were posted on the IACHR website.

Parallel to the forum in Mexico, a meeting was held in Mexico City with the participation of delegates from the substantive areas in charge of the inter-American human rights system agenda in 21 OAS member states as well as 26 representatives of civil society. The purpose of the meeting was to identify trends, proposals, and opinions regarding the strengthening of the work done by the IACHR.

Apart from the forums convened by the IACHR, nongovernmental organizations have arranged activities on strengthening the IACHR, with the participation of members of the Commission and its Executive Secretary. For example, on October 15, 2012, a meeting on the future of the IAHRS was held in Washington, D.C, sponsored by American University Law School and 34 other law schools. The following day, the Due Process of Law Foundation, the Latin America and Caribbean Network for Democracy, and the Legal Defense Institute (IDL) organized a meeting on the subject in Lima, Peru.

The recommendations and observations of the Special Working Group, member states, civil society organizations, victims, and other IAHRS stakeholders, received during the forums, the IACHR's open consultation process, meetings organized by other entities or organizations, and, in general, the inputs afforded by the inter-American human rights community, have provided the IACHR with invaluable ideas for improving the system. After evaluating them, in October 2012, the Commission issued a comprehensive response to this Council on the recommendations of the Special Working Group and other stakeholders in the IAHRS.

After issuing the report the Commission got down to drafting its Rules of Procedure, policies and practices. Following a meeting held in San Jose, Costa Rica, from February 7 to 9, 2013, it released a draft. The Commission immediately published the draft and announced a new open consultation process, this time from February 15 to March 1, 2013, to receive observations and comments on the integral process of reform that it intends to carry our during the first half of 2013.

The proposals for the reform of the Rules, policies and practices of the Commission are the result of painstaking consideration of all the comments received and careful analysis of the workings of the Commission and the inter-American human rights system, on the basis of three fundamental principles

  • Principle of integral consideration. The process of reform has included the consideration of all 53 recommendations made to the Commission by the Council, as well as the various observations put forward by states, victims, and civil society;
  • Principle of strengthening the useful purpose of the Commission. The Commission has analyzed each recommendation according to a sole test, giving careful and detailed consideration to the foreseeable outcome of its implementation. Where this objective, technical, and independent analysis has led the Commission to conclude that the recommended measure will strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights, the Commission has included the measure in its reform process and has planned its full implementation; and
  • Principle of transparency. The Commission has sent all relevant information to all actors in the system in a timely manner, and underlines its intention to continue doing so.

The reform program is divided into three instruments: a draft reform of the Rules, a program of possible reforms to the Commission’s Strategic Plan, and a program of change of practices.  Through these, the Commission intends to implement its program of reform using the best-suited tools to ensure full impact.

In all, six states, 47 civil society organizations, three universities, eight individuals, and one nongovernmental state entity submitted observations. Broadly speaking, the tone of the observations was positive: several states expressed their optimism and wide appreciation for the efforts of the Commission. The non-state observations were also respectful of the process and valued its openness and transparency; a considerable portion of them also noted that, in their opinion, the reforms were mainly in response to the requests and interests of states parties and they expressed their concern that, as a result, the procedure is more complex and limits access to the more unprotected users. At the same time, they did not consider that the states had earmarked a large enough budget or made sufficient financial commitments, which are necessary for tackling the new tasks that the Commission will be taking on.


On this last occasion before the Commission begins its deliberations on its Rules of Procedure, I would like to outline the reasons for our reform program.

With respect to precautionary measures, the core purpose of the reform is to promote juridical security. The fundamental change will be the Commission's publication of the grounds for its decisions. I believe that it is important to mention that there has always been a procedure involving written considerations in which the whole of the Commission has taken part, and that, consistently since 2002 and without exception since 2006, written legal assessments by the Commission en banc have always been part of the decision-making process. As a result, decisions have always been well reasoned. The change that the Commission now believes it appropriate to introduce in its decision-making process is to publish those arguments. This, I hope will allay the fears of organizations concerned that this procedure might become a cumbersome obstacle to prompt decisions. As I said, then, the main object of the reform is to foster juridical security, and our duty henceforth will be to ensure that said security is in harmony with the useful purpose of the protection procedure; namely, to be an effective mechanism for preventing irreparable harm to individuals from materializing. The Commission is resolutely determined not to jeopardize that useful purpose and, therefore, I call for any discussions that contribute nothing to the protection of the individual to be abandoned. I refer, in particular, to the supposed contradiction with regard to the basis of the measures, which is futile and utterly devoid of any legal foundation.

As regards the individual petitions system, the Commission's reforms are designed to make the procedure more predictable. The Commission is pleased to note that, by and large, all the comments on the potential reforms have been positive and it will give careful consideration to all the observations offered by states and civil society to ensure their success.

Through its reform, the Commission proposes to completely restructure its annual report. The main objective in this case has been transparency. To that end, the Commission intends to increase the usefulness and accessibility of the information it provides where changes in its accountability are concerned. At the same time, the Commission recognizes the historical value that its annual report has acquired in contributing to the analysis of the human rights situation in the Hemisphere. The Commission is determined that its annual report should continue to be a useful tool for acknowledging good practices demonstrated by states in the region as well as for documenting the problems and challenges faced by their peoples.


Since the beginning of this process, the Commission has regarded the work of the Permanent Council, the contributions made both individually and in a coordinated manner by civil society organizations in the Americas, and the considerations of the Commission itself as elements in a process that we could aptly describe as symbiotic. Our perspective has benefited from the experience and knowledge of the victims as well as from their just claims. The views of states have been essential for understanding the aspirations and accomplishments of our democracies in addition to the challenges that face them. I hope that we can agree—one and all—that the Commission has treated their contributions to the reform process with respect. I can assure you that for my colleagues and me, one of the paramount considerations has been that all the actors in the system should feel that they have been heard and respected.

Through the reform process, the Commission has prepared a report on the concerns of all the system's actors. In particular, I would like it to be clear that the Commission studied and addressed, where appropriate, every single recommendation presented to it by the Special Working Group in the report that set this process in motion. Having said that, the Commission defends its duty and authority, as an organ of the Organization, to give separate consideration to all the contributions received and to issue its authoritative opinion on the reform.

Our aim is to publish the reform next week. In the meantime, this Council has set March 22 as the date of the forty-fourth special session of the General Assembly of the Organization, whose sole agenda item is the strengthening of the Commission. This highlights, again, the symbiotic nature of our activities: the Commission has considered all the states' observations; civil society and states will have the opportunity to examine the reform in detail and time to ready their positions at the special General Assembly session.

Even in purely numerical terms, this symbiotic series of activities is supremely impressive. Since July 2011, it has entailed

  • 29 meetings of the Permanent Council’s Special Working Group;
  • 51 country position papers setting out the opinions of member states;
  • 98 position papers outlining the opinions of more than 1,000 organizations, individuals, academic institutions, and other nongovernmental entities;
  • 5 hemispheric forums attended by more than 150 speakers from civil society organizations and 32 states;
  • 3 hemispheric hearings in which this Council and more than 70 civil society organizations have taken part;
  • 15 regular and special meetings of this honorable Council;
  • 37 deliberation meetings of the Commission;
  • 2 hemispheric consultations, and
  • 1 special session of the General Assembly.

In light of the above summary, I would like to salute the extraordinary investment that the permanent representatives have made in this process, not only through the institutional structures of their missions but also in a personal capacity. In particular, we acknowledge the meticulous dialogue and the careful and responsible way in which the concepts surrounding the extremely sensitive subjects with which we are concerned have been constructed. Thanks to these efforts and this seriousness, the documents put forth by the Council enjoy unique legitimacy; namely, that born of inter-American consensus.

Excellencies, my colleagues and I would like to invite you to consider the measures necessary to ensure that the forty-fourth special session of the General Assembly of the Organization crowns this process in a way that considers and strengthens the accomplishment of our mandate “to promote the observance and protection of human rights and to serve as a consultative organ of the Organization in these matters.”

Thank you very much.