Commemorating Human Rights: The Organization of American States Continues Its Commitment to the Recognition of the Dignity of Mankind through the Work of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Article excerpt

In 2009, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will celebrate its 50th anniversary. * The decision to create the Commission was made during the Fifth Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, held in Santiago, Chile, in 1959. In the Final Act adopted at the meeting, the OAS member states said that "liberty, justice, and peace are based on recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of the individual." On August 18, 1959, the Fifth Meeting of Consultation resolved to "create an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, composed of seven members elected, as individuals, by the Council of the Organization of American States from panels of three names presented by the governments. The Commission, which shall be organized by the Council of the Organization and have the specific functions that the Council assigns to it, shall be charged with furthering respect for such rights." The mission of the IACHR was to oversee the implementation of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, adopted by the OAS in 1948. At the 1959 Meeting of Consultation in Chile, the countries also observed that "the climate in this hemisphere is favorable to the conclusion of a convention."

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The decision to create an Inter-American Commission and to begin drafting an American Convention on Human Rights made the 1959 meeting a milestone in efforts to protect and guarantee human rights in the Americas.

But this important step was part of a process that had begun years earlier, as the entire world grappled with how to ensure that a tragedy like the Second World War would not be repeated.

The search for adequate responses to World War II led to the creation in 1945 of the United Nations, whose founding charter resolves "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained."

That historic moment of searching was the context in which the first systems were created to protect human rights in the international arena, based on the recognition of the dignity of all human beings. This process, in which the Latin American region played an active leadership role, led to the adoption of several regional and international human rights instruments.

The American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, approved in May 1948 in Bogota, was the first of its kind in the world. It was developed through a process marked by a profound commitment to democracy and the recognition that human rights--civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights--are essential to the dignity of all human beings. The OAS Charter is also imbued with that same spirit of democracy and human rights that places human beings at the center of all the common tasks and joint commitments of the countries of the hemisphere.

Over the last 50 years, the IACHR has worked in many ways to defend and protect the human rights of the people of the Americas. During its first two decades, a time of democratic instability and dictatorships in much of Latin America, the IACHR conducted visits to various countries and prepared reports denouncing serious human rights violations. Today, at a time when democracy has prevailed, the Commission's visits continue to be an essential tool for protecting and promoting human rights. IACHR reports offer governments valuable input for designing their human rights agendas. They also give civil society the information it needs to continue cooperating with governments on human rights matters or to denounce violations when they occur. …