Global Insider: Inter-American Commission Reforms Seek to Change a Mixed System

Last year, the Organization of American States (OAS) voted to begin reforming the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, its multilateral forum for investigating human rights conditions, with Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) countries led by Venezuela and Ecuador putting forward a number of reform proposals. In an email interview, Christina Cerna, a former human rights specialist at the commission who is currently a visiting scholar at the George Washington Univerity Law School and an adjunct professor at the Georgetown University School of Law, explained the commission’s history and prospects.*

WPR: How well does the Inter-American system function at present in terms of impartially protecting human rights in the Americas?

Christina Cerna: The failure of the Organization of American States (OAS) to require all member states to become parties to the American Convention has resulted in a multi-tiered series of obligations, which impedes impartial protection. Of the 35 member states, 24 are parties to the American Convention and 21 have also accepted the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Eleven of the nonstate parties, including the U.S. and Canada, are subject to the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights under the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, an instrument that was never intended to be legally binding, though the commission interprets it as such. Consequently, some states are hauled repeatedly before the court, for example by opposition figures in their countries, whereas others, the nonparties to the convention, never have to defend themselves before the court. This difference in treatment has generated resentment on the part of some countries that have bought into the system when they see others that have not made the same commitments remain relatively free of condemnation.

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