Upholding Human Rights

Americas (English Edition), January-February 2012 | Go to article overview

Upholding Human Rights


In the 1960s, at a time when many countries in the Americas were plagued with dictators, torture, and disappearances, the international community founded the InterAmerican Court of Human Rights as ah effort to re-establish justice. The Court was created by the American Convention on Human Rights, an international treaty also known as the Pact of San Jose, in reference to the Costa Rican city in which it was signed in 1969.

The Convention did not enter into force until 1978, however, and that only happened thanks to efforts made by US President Jimmy Carter. Ironically, the United States is one of the few countries in the hemisphere that has yet to become a signator of the Convention.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights rules on cases in which a state is accused of violating a right or a freedom protected by the American Convention on Human Rights, as long as the states party in the case recognize the jurisdictional authority of the Court.

Persons, groups, and other non-state entities cannot present cases before the Court, but they can appeal to the InterAmerican Commission of Human Rights which can act as their representative. Neither the Inter-American Commission nor the Court can substitute for national tribunals, however. Before presenting a case to the Commission, petitioners must have exhausted all available and effective national remedies.

The Court is composed of seven judges, all citizens of OA8 member states, who are elected as individuals to serve a six-year term. They are chosen from among the most recognized jurists in the field of human rights, and they must meet all of the requirements for functioning at the highest judicial level according to the laws of their countries or of the state that is nominating them as candidates.

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In 1987, the Court issued its first judgment in the case of Velasquez Rodriguez v. Honduras. In this first ruling, the Court determined that agents of the accused government had indeed participated in the disappearance of Manfredo Velasquez Rodriguez. The ruling was historic, and the case ser the precedents for pre-trial procedures that would be applied in future cases as well as the type and nature of evidence required to prevail in human rights cases. …

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