Press Release

IACHR Presents Report, in Costa Rica and Guatemala, on Guarantees for the Independence of Justice Operators in the Americas

February 5, 2014

San Jose, Costa Rica - For the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the exercise of human rights in a democratic system requires a legal and institutional system in which laws prevail over the will of rulers and individuals, and in which there is effective judicial control over the constitutionality and legality of the government’s actions. Justice operators play an essential role in realizing and maintaining such a legal and institutional system. They are the main players in ensuring that the rule of law prevails. Specifically, they are the ones who guarantee the right of access to justice. Justice operators enable a complaint to go through the proper channels and, in the case of human rights violations, make it possible to investigate and punish those responsible and to provide reparation to the victims, while ensuring due process of law for anyone who may be subject to the State’s punitive power.

However, in a number of States in the Americas, judges, prosecutors, and ombudspersons do their work without any guarantee that they can act independently, either as individuals or at an institutional level. Moreover, the IACHR has detected a series of interferences by public authorities and non-State actors that create de jure or de facto barriers for individuals seeking access to justice. Such barriers are associated with the absence of institutional designs for resisting such interference, along with the lack of adequate procedures for appointment and selection as well as the lack of due process guarantees in disciplinary proceedings.

Due to the foregoing situation, the Inter-American Commission is presenting its report Guarantees for the Independence of Justice Operators: Toward Strengthening Access to Justice and the Rule of Law in the Americas, which was approved by the full Commission on December 5, 2013. It identifies the obligations of States parties in terms of ensuring access to justice and the guarantees they must provide to justice operators to ensure that they can act independently. The report also broadens international law standards in this area and identifies ongoing obstacles in the hemisphere.

The Chair of the Inter-American Commission and Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, José de Jesús Orozco, will present the report at events taking place this week in Costa Rica, on February 5, and Guatemala, on February 6.

The report was structured to take into account the various aspects that can come into play in the ability of justice operators to act independently, at the institutional or the individual level. Thus, in the report the Commission lays out general considerations related to the independence of justice operators when it comes to access to justice, as well as the applicable instruments of international law. It also analyzes what guarantees of independence should be provided to the judiciary system, prosecutors’ offices, and ombudspersons’ offices at an institutional level. The report also examines criteria to be observed in processes to select and appoint justice operators, and refers to some of the aspects that are essential to ensure the independence of justice operators, such as proper conditions of service that allow them to freely exercise their rights. At the same time, the report lays out the minimum guarantees that States should offer when it comes to disciplinary proceedings so as not to hamper justice operators’ ability to act independently, and refers to the advisability of having an independent body to manage and exercise authority over judiciary entities.

The report closes with a series of recommendations the Commission makes to the OAS Member States, in hopes that these will be of use in helping to strengthen those involved in imparting and administering justice and, particularly in cases of human rights violations, helping to eliminate the impunity that continues in many of these cases.

The Commission particularly appreciates the financial support of Finland, which has made it possible for this report to be prepared and published.

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

No. 10/14