Since the explosion of the human rights movement in the early 1970s, civil-society organizations have played a key role in the inter-American human rights system (IAS). In the era of dictatorships, they provided the information necessary for the Inter-American Commission to be able to act in the face of uncooperative states. When democracy returned to the region, these organizations grew in number, and their role within the IAS likewise expanded. In particular, a set of organizations that focused on legal strategies and the activation of regional human rights protection mechanisms cropped up. These organizations have, at a more abstract and general level, contributed to the juridification of human rights struggles and ultimately to the creation of a legal field. They have also largely set the agenda of the IAS, although the agenda-setting power has been limited to a small number of organizations that constitute the system's “repeat players.” In a manner befitting their systemic importance, these organizations have tried to make sure the organs of the IAS run smoothly, and to defend them when they come under attack. This essay explores the different roles that human rights NGOs have played in the history of the IAS and suggests that the strategy of increasing juridification that they have pursued since the region's return to democracy might have reached its limits.
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