What is the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights?

Instructor: Charlotte Bunch

Charlotte has been teaching secondary education for five years. She has a bachelor's degree in Secondary Education and a master's degree in Curriculum and Instruction.

There are many large organizations throughout the world that protect human rights. Explore the functions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The Inter-American Human Rights System

Let's imagine that you live in a country currently experiencing tremendous political turmoil. Political groups are rioting in the streets, the government is arresting people without any crime committed, and members of the state military have killed civilians in their homes. This scenario is not too far from what has occurred in many countries throughout the Americas. Today, we are going to look at how human rights are protected in the Americas through a Commission that is part of the Inter-American Human Rights System.

The Inter-American Human Rights System is a human rights system for the Americas, responsible for monitoring and implementing human rights in the 35 independent countries that are members of the Organization of American States. The Organization of American States (OAS) is part of a larger international human rights network that works to protect the human rights of people living throughout the Americas. This network consists of organizations like the United Nations, Council of Europe, and the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (only to name a few!). The Inter-American Human Rights System contains both a Court and a Commission. The Inter-American Court on Human Rights is the judicial portion of this system and decides cases that have been brought against member nations of the OAS. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) monitors if member states are fulfilling and protecting human rights throughout the Americas. Let's go into much more detail about the history and functions of the court!

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights


The IACHR began in 1960. Initially, the Commission only made recommendations to member states to improve human rights protections with a nation's laws. However, in 1965 the Commission was given the power to investigate general human rights practices and specific cases of human rights violation. It also gained the power to look at petitions that have come from individuals and nongovernmental organizations that are accusing nations of human rights violations.

The Commission is located in Washington, D.C., at the OAS headquarters. There are seven elected members who serve four-year terms. The Commission holds hearings concerning specific topics, publishes studies, requests nations adopt precautionary measures to protect individuals, and has established thematic rapporteurships to monitor human rights themes or the rights of specific communities. Rapporteurships are special devices dedicated to protecting and promoting rights of historically marginalized groups. This allows for the Commission to oversee human rights conditions concerning specific topics. There are nine different rapporteurships and one unit based on specific topics and the goals. The overall goal of each of these is to intensify, support, and organize the work for each issue. The different rapporteurships are listed below:

  • Rapporteurship on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • Rapporteurship on the Rights of Women
  • Rapporteurship on the Rights of Migrants
  • Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression
  • Rapporteurship on the Rights of the Child
  • Rapporteurship on Human Rights Defenders
  • Rapporteurship on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty
  • Rapporteurship on the Rights of Afro-Descendants and against Racial Discrimination
  • Rapporteurship on the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Trans, Bisexual, and Intersex Persons
  • Unit on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Some examples of what these rapporteurship do include advising the Commission to process petitions, visit countries and investigate human rights conditions, create reports and studies, create recommendations to member nations, organize seminars, and raise awareness of human rights issues.

While the Commission makes important decisions, these decisions do not have to be followed. The Commission can say a violation has happened and recommend it be corrected, but it cannot enforce any decision. What impact does the Commission have? Well, the Commission does have impact on political situations. The studies and investigations the Commission has completed have provided insight and great pressure with more than sixty country reports in twenty nations. There have been thousands of cases decided on the important issues of disappearances, assassinations, and torture. The Commission is able to refer cases to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights where a binding decision is reached and a reward for damages for human rights violations can be issued. The Commission and the Court work together to find and eliminate human rights violations.

Important Cases of the Inter-American Commission

Through the history of the Inter-American Commission, over 12,000 cases have been processed. As we can't go through all of these cases, below are examples of two prominent cases the Commission participated in:

Dominican Republic

A map of the Dominican Republic, which was under investigation for human rights violations during the 1960s

Let's first begin with the Commission's investigation of the Dominican Republic in 1965. After upheaval with the government from 1961 to 1965, chaos within the Dominican Republic followed. The OAS sent the Commission to Santo Domingo to explore claims of human rights violations. During this time, the representatives investigated cases of torture, political prisoners, prison conditions, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrest, and disappearances and was able to negotiate prisoner releases. Even the Provisional Government invited the Commission to stay and report on the presidential election of 1966. The outcomes of these investigations were two reports and many recommendations were given to the provisional government and changes were then made. While this did not solve all of the problems in the Dominican Republic, this was a positive step towards stabilizing the country.


Alberto Fujimori was accused of several human rights violations

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