Inter-American Mechanisms

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is an organ of the Organization of American States, created to promote the observance and defence of human rights and to serve as consultative organ of the Organization. It examines allegations of violations of the Charter of the OAS and violations of the American Convention on Human Rights.

Individuals and organisations may petition the Commission to examine complaints regarding the violation of rights under the Charter and American Convention on Human Rights. A form for petitioning the Commission is available on the Commission's website.(1)

ADMISSIBILITY: Article 44 of the Convention allows the Commission to receive petitions on behalf of individuals, charging a State for violating any of the rights enumerated in the Convention . The petitions may be filed by the victim himself or by a non-governmental organisation or another body on their behalf. Thus not only victims of a violation have the right to file private petitions. The prerequisites for admissibility are similar to those of other international organs dealing with human right violations:
  • The petitioner must have exhausted domestic remedies in accordance with general principles of international law.
  • The petition should be submitted within a period of 6 months from the date of which the victim of the alleged violation was notified of the final domestic judgment in his case.

The latter requirement, however, does not prevent the admissibility of a petition if it can be shown that domestic remedies do not provide for adequate due process, effective access to those remedies was denied, or there has been undue delay in the decision on those remedies. The Commission rules of procedure provide that, the respondent government has the burden of demonstrating the non-exhaustion of domestic remedies by the victim.

PRECAUTIONARY/PROVISIONAL MEASURES: The Commission may request that a state take "precautionary measures" to avoid serious and irreparable harm if it receives a complaint that a serious violation of human rights is about to take place. The Commission may also request that the Court order "provisional measures" in urgent cases which involve danger to persons, even where a case has not yet been submitted to the Court.

EXAMINATION OF THE MERITS: The information about the petition is sent to the State concerned and the State is requested to send its comments on the petition. If a response is received from the State, the author of the petition is asked to comment on the State's response. The Commission may carry out its own investigations, conduct on-site visits or hold a hearing on the case in which both parties, the author of the petition and the State concerned, would be asked to present their arguments. The Commission may also offer to assist the parties in negotiating a friendly settlement.

TYPES OF DECISION: The Commission will prepare a report on the case, which may include recommendations to the State concerned. The Commission may also present the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.


The Inter-American Court of Human Rights is an autonomous judicial institution whose purpose is the application and interpretation of the American Convention on Human Rights. (2)

The Court has adjudicatory and advisory jurisdiction. As regards its adjudicatory jurisdiction, only the Commission and the States Parties to the Convention are empowered to submit cases concerning the interpretation and application of the Convention. However, the procedures before the Commission called for under Articles 48-50 of the Convention must have been previously exhausted.

In addition, in order that a case against a State Party to be brought before the Court, the State Party must recognise the jurisdiction of the Court. This may be done by a declaration accepting the Court's jurisdiction in all cases or on the basis of reciprocity for a limited time or for a particular case.

As regards the advisory function of the Court, Article 64 of the Convention provides that any member state of the Organization may consult the Court on the interpretation of the Convention or of other treaties on the protection of human rights in the American states. This right of consultation also extends to the organs listed in Chapter X of the OAS Charter, within their sphere of action. The Court may also, at the request of any member state of the Organization, issue an opinion on the compatibility of any of its domestic laws with the aforementioned international instruments.

The States Parties to the Convention elected the first seven judges of the Court at its seventh special session of the OAS General Assembly (May 1979). The Court was officially installed in San José, Costa Rica, where it has its seat, on 3 September 1979.


  1. In addition to responding to individual petitions, the Commission monitors the human rights situation in member states and publishes special reports, carries out on-site visits to countries, establishes dialogue with member states and recommends to them the adoption of measures that would contribute to human rights protection. It can also request advisory opinions from the Inter-American Court regarding questions of interpretation of the American Convention.
  2. Article 1, Statute of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, O.A.S. Res. 448 (IX-0/79), O.A.S. Off. Rec. OEA/Ser.P/IX.0.2/80, Vol. 1 at 98

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