Inter-american Commission on Human Rights

Inter-american Commission on Human Rights

United States Statement at the Inter-american Commission on Human Rights in 2011

United States views on international law (based on the document “Digest of U.S. Practice in International Law”): On October 25, 2011, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior Jodi Gillette, spoke at a hearing at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on the topic of violence against Native women in the United States. Deputy Assistant Secretary Gillette’s statement is excerpted below and also available at (internet link)


As the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior, I am pleased to share the implementation strategies we’ve recently put into place, which are designed to protect and safeguard Native women from violent crime. In recognizing the severity of the problem, the Department of the Interior has placed a high priority on combating violence against women in tribal communities. While the United States has far to go in this arena, the U.S. Department has embarked upon several efforts to address the issue.

The Department fully supported the Tribal Law and Order Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama on July 29, 2010. In the 15 months since the Act became law, the Department has made significant strides in implementing the Act; most notable are the efforts to address some of the jurisdictional concerns, which have undermined efforts to ensure the safety of Native women in tribal communities. While the Tribal Law and Order Act addressed some of the restrictions facing tribal governments in protecting Native women, we recognize that other barriers must be addressed. In that regard, the Department of the Interior unequivocally echoes the Department of Justice’s support of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and the proposed amendments…

Our goal is to move towards a comprehensive system designed to eliminate this devastating problem. We have taken important steps to create programs, policies, protocols, and especially trainings which are intended to bring about improved responses to domestic violence. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is focusing on the following three areas of trainings …1) BIA Law Enforcement; 2) Victim Witness Advocacy Program and 3) Tribal Courts.


In the areas of agency collaboration and tribal consultation, pursuant to the Tribal Law and Order Act, the Department of the Interior has entered into a multi-agency agreement to address Alcohol and Substance Abuse and Prevention in Indian Country. … As each of the U.S. initiatives has benefited from meaningful engagement with tribes, we will continue to work with tribes through formal consultations and extensive planning sessions.

In conclusion, the Department is strongly committed to improving safety in Indian Country. We are also morally obligated to address this issue, because for too long, Native women have been disproportionately victimized by domestic violence. We appreciate the Commission’s focus on the safety of Native women and take courage with the strong leadership by the U.S. President on this issue. … It is up to all of us to act quickly and decisively because Native women deserve to be safe in their respective communities. Thank you again for the opportunity to address this Commission.

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Information

The Inter-American system operates with a Commission composed of seven members, each elected in their individual capacity as an independent expert on human rights by the membership of the Organization of American States (OAS). Their terms are for four years, and they may be re-elected once. The Commission, whose seat is in Washington, DC, is empowered not only to hear individual complaints but also to report, as it wishes, on general human rights situations in member states. [Article 41(c), American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, adopted May 2, 1948, by the Ninth International Conference of American States, Bogota, Columbia, reprinted in Basic Documents Pertaining to Human Rights in the Inter-American System, OEA/ser. L/V/II.82, doc. 6 rev. 1 (1992) at 40] It may also independently exercise the power to conduct on-site observations in particular countries, with that government’s consent. [Article 18(g), American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, adopted May 2, 1948, by the Ninth International Conference of American States, Bogota, Columbia, reprinted in Basic Documents Pertaining to Human Rights in the Inter-American System, OEA/ser. L/V/II.82, doc. 6 rev. 1 (1992) at 98].

One of the Commission’s most important powers is using its discretion to refer contentious cases to the Court, which meets in San Jose, Costa Rica. The Court, which began its operations only in 1979, is also composed of seven individuals chosen in their private capacity as experts in the field of human rights. The Court has powers to issue decisions of both an advisory nature as well as in contentious cases. The Court, whose jurisdiction must be agreed to by participating states, has heard and decided only a few contentious cases. As of January, 1994, sixteen of the thirty-five member states of the OAS had agreed to the Court’s jurisdiction. [Jean-Bernard Marie, International Instruments Relating to Human Rights, 15 Hum. Rts. L.J. 51, 57 (1994)] The principal sources of law for both the Commission and the Court are the Declaration and the Convention, mentioned above, and their prior decisions.

The regional systems of Europe and Africa each operate with a Commission system roughly analogous to the one used in the Americas. Although the African system, whose Commission became operational only in 1987, provides a means for consideration of individual complaints, it is considerably more inaccessible than its European and American predecessors, with no decisions reported as of the end of 1991. [ See generally Cees Flinterman & Evelyn Ankumah, The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, in Guide to International Human Rights Practice 158, 163-65, 167 (Hurst Hannum ed., 2d ed. 1992) (noting that The African Commission published its first report in The Afr. Rev. Hum. Rts. (Oct. 1991). Id., at 262)] Of the three regional systems, the European system has been operating the longest; its Commission has accepted over 16,000 individual complaints since shortly after the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms entered into force in 1953. [ Kevin Boyle, Europe: The Council of Europe, the CSCE, and the European Community, in Guide to International Human Rights Practice 133, 135 (Hurst Hannum ed., 2d ed. 1992)].

The indexing and accessibility of the European system’s case law is of both scholarly and practical interest to the litigator in the Inter-American system because over 300 cases have been referred to the European Court of Human Rights. The jurisprudence of the European human rights system is more widely available than that of the Inter-American system, but treatises analyzing European jurisprudence on human rights are difficult to find. The best analytical source I have found for both process and substance is P. van Dijk and G.J.H. van Hoof, Theory and Practice of the European Convention on Human Rights (2d ed. 1990). This treatise provides a good contextual treatment of the legal issues which have arisen under the European Convention. Much of the practice of the European system will be affected by the recent adoption of Protocol 11 to the European Convention, which creates a single European Court of Human Rights to replace the existing Commission and Court. An excellent analysis of the changes, which await full ratification, as well as their text, can be found in Andrew Drzemczewski & Jens Meyer-Ladewig, Principal Characteristics of the New ECHR Control Mechanism, As Established by Protocol No. 11, Signed on 11 May 1994, 15 Hum. Rts. L.J. 81 (1994).

A more general treatment of human rights law, covering the substantive jurisprudence of all of the major human rights bodies including the European and Inter-American Commissions, can be found in Paul Sieghart, The International Law of Human Rights (1983), which is now out of date but is still a valuable resource for litigators.

The Commission’s official publications are its annual reports, which provide the most current and accurate compilation of decisions, and specific, separately-published country reports. The Commission publishes the annual reports in both English (green) and Spanish (blue) soft-cover volumes about six months into the year, following the year on which they report. The reports suffer, however, from two glaring shortcomings: First, there is no comprehensive, cumulative index to the decisions anywhere in the official reports, and second, the reports themselves tend to bury the individual decisions by their placement within the document itself. Until recently, for example, the reports contained no table of contents to the decisions at the beginning of the section in which they were published. Thus, searching for a decision required the researcher to leaf through every page of the section to find the relevant decisions and its internal references to topics of interest.

Other means by which the Commission’s case decisions and procedures can be systematically researched are treatises, [See generally Scott Davidson, The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (1992) (providing the best, most recent treatise on the Court in my view, given that there is no comprehensive treatise on the decisions of the Commission)] casebooks, [ See Thomas Buergenthal et al., Protecting Human Rights in the Americas: Selected Problems (3d ed. 1990) (dedicated exclusively to the Inter-American human rights system, and published for use at the International Institute of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France); see also Frank Newman & David Weissbrodt, International Human Rights: Law, Policy and Process (1990), and Richard B. Lillich, International Human Rights: Problems of Law, Policy and Practice (2d ed. 1991) (providing extensive treatment of the Inter-American system in a topical problem context)] and articles. [See Robert E. Norris, Bringing Human Rights Petitions Before the Inter-American Commission, 20 Santa Clara L. Rev. 733 (1980) (still the leading article on practice and procedure in the Commission, though somewhat dated); see also William M. Walker, A Litigator’s Look at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 2 ACLU Int’l Civil Liberties Report 38 (1993) (offering a more recent yet less thorough treatment of the practice and procedure in the Commission); Juan E. Mendez & Jose Migual Vivanco, Disappearances and the Inter-American Court: Reflections on a Litigation Experience, 13 Hamline L. Rev. 507 (1990) (providing an excellent summary of a litigation experience in the Court)] Such sources discuss the jurisprudence of and litigation before the Commission. The Commission itself provides a narrative annotated index of its early jurisprudence. [See Inter-Am. C.H.R., Ten Years of Activities, 1971-1981 315 (1982). This excellent and comprehensive annotated index to the first ten years of the Commission’s jurisprudence is entitled “Doctrine of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.”]

In addition, legal bibliographies on human rights research offer helpful access to these and other materials.
See Morris L. Cohen et al., How to Find the Law (9th ed. 1989). From this source, clinic students are assigned to read the chapters on International Law and Foreign and Comparative Law. See also the comprehensive and current volume published by Harvard Law School, Jack Tobin & Jennifer Green, Guide to Human Rights Research (1994), as well as Steven C. Perkins, Guide to Researching International Human Rights Law, 24 Case W. Res. J. Int’l L. 379 (1992); J.A. Andrews and W.D. Hines, Keyguide to Information Sources on the International Protection of Human Rights (1987) and Edward Stanek, A Bibliography of Periodicals and Other Serials on Human Rights (1991); Diana Vincent-Daviss, Human Rights Law: A Research Guide to the Literature-Part I: International Law and the United Nations. 14 N.Y.U. J. Int’l L. & Pol. 209 (1981), and Diana Vincent-Daviss, Human Rights Law: A Research Guide to the Literature-Part II; International Protection of Refugees and Humanitarian Law. 14 N.Y.U. J. Int’l L. & Pol. 487 (1982) (contributing more out-dated but still comprehensive bibliographic materials); and John W. Williams, Guide to International Legal Research vols. 1 & 2, 20 Geo. Wash. J. Int’l L. & Econ. (1986) (offering the best general guide to information in international law).

Author: based on Richard J. Wilson writings.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights


The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is the standarized name of one of the International Courts and Tribunals (see the entries in this legal Encyclopedia about court rules and procedural law for more information on some aspects of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in international law).

U.S. Statement at the Inter-american Commission on Human Rights

In relation to the international law practice and U.S. Statement at the Inter-american Commission on Human Rights in this world legal Encyclopedia, please see the following section:

International Human Rights

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Indigenous Issues

. Note: there is detailed information and resources, in relation with these topics during the year 2011, covered by the entry, in this law Encyclopedia, about U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples


See Also

  • International Human Rights
  • Indigenous Issues