In its half century of existence the
Inter-American Commission has dramatically
expanded human rights law.
Now new thematic and organizational
challenges will determine whether
it can build on that hard-won authority. BY SANTIAGO CANTON 1980 2008
1979: LA NACIÓN; 2008: MARCELO MONTESINO. PHOTOS COURTESY OF OAS.
ON AUGUST 18, 1959, THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION
on Human Rights (Commission) was created in a meeting of ministers of foreign
affairs held in Santiago, Chile. Over the course of the next five decades, it evolved
into a crucial tool against injustice—exceeding the imagination of its founders
and making it a force in the hemisphere and an example in the world.
Since its founding, the Commission has not only helped to raise the bar against
human rights violators but also focused international attention on abuses committed by repressive regimes, helping to facilitate the region’s transition to democracy.
With the adoption of the 1969 American Convention on Human Rights (Convention),
also known as the Pact of San José, Costa Rica, its mission expanded to include normative instruments relating to the death penalty, torture, forced disappearances,
violence against women, violations of economic, social and cultural rights, and discrimination against people with disabilities. And in 1979, with the establishment of
the Inter -American Court of Human Rights (Court), its mandate was strengthened
Center: Picture taken
during an Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights
site visit to Nicaragua in
October 1980, outside the jail
El Chipote, in Managua. From
left to right: Commission
Assistant Executive Secretary
David Padilla; Minister of the
Interior of Nicaragua Tomás
Borge; Commissioner Marco
Gerardo Monroy Cabra; and
the Commission’s Chairman,
Tom J. Farer.
Above: The Commission with
its current composition, in
front of the OAS, March 2008.