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Human Rights: Inter-American Human Rights System

Organization and Key Documents

The Inter-American regional human rights system is comprised of the charter-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the treaty-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights.  Grounded first in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, which was adopted in May 1948, the system's linchpin is the the American Convention on Human Rights. It should be noted that, while the U.S. signed the Convention in 1977, it has not ratified it, and so is not a party to it.  There are also two key supplementary agreements: the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ("Protocol of San Salvador") and the Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is authorized to receive individual complaints charging violations of both the American Declaration and the American Convention. A collection of the commission's decisions, excerpted from the annual report, is now available on the Commission's website. The Commission also carries out country studies and situation reports. An example of the former is the 2007 report, Access to Justice and Social Inclusion: The Road Towards Strengthening Democracy in Bolivia. An example of the latter is the 2006 Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas. In addition, the Commission has created special "rapporteurships". An example is the Rapporteur for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights is a true judicial body, comparable to its European counterpart, although it does not have the same caseload. The Court publishes its decisions in two main series: Series A- Advisory Opinions and Series C- Decisions and Judgments. The Court also publishes decisions in two series that do not have letters: Provisional Measures and Monitoring of Compliance with Judgments. It should be noted that the Court's decisions sometimes not published in English.  A comprehensive collection of the Court's judicial production is available on the Court's website.  The court also publishes its Annual Report of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights