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The Crucial Role of Human Rights NGOs in the Inter-American System

  • Ximena Soley (a1)

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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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Copyright

This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

References

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1 Inter-Am. Comm'n on Human Rights, Report on the Work Accomplished during its First Session (October 3 to 28, 1960), OEA/Ser.L/V/II.I Doc. 32, at 15 (Mar. 14, 1961).

3 Samuel Moyn, The Return of the Prodigal: The 1970s as a Turning Point in Human Rights History, in The Breakthrough: Human Rights in the 1970s (Jan Eckel & Samuel Moyn eds., 2014); Margaret E. Keck & Kathryn Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics (1998).

4 Durward V. Sandifer, The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in the Dominican Republic - June 1965 to June 1966, in The Dominican Republic Crisis 1965: Background Paper and Proceedings of the Ninth Hammarskjöld Forum (John Carey ed. 1967).

5 Charles Tilly & Sidney Tarrow, Contentious Politics (2015).

6 Cleary, supra note 2, at 62.

8 Pierre Bourdieu, The Force of Law: Toward a Sociology of the Juridical Field, 38 Hastings L.J. 805 (1987).

10 See Felipe Gónzalez, The Experience of the Inter-American Human Rights System, 40 Victoria Univ. Wellington L. Rev. 103 (2009) (stressing the role that NGOs play in litigation before the IAS); James L. Cavallaro & Stephanie Erin Brewer, The Virtue of Following: The Role of Inter-American Litigation in Campaigns for Social Justice, 5 Sur Int'l J. Human Rights 85 (2008).

11 Antoine Vauchez, Communities of International Litigators, in The Oxford Handbook of International Adjudication (Karen J. Alter et al. eds., 2013).

12 The existence of the Inter-American Defense Fund is a welcome development but an insufficient one to democratize access.

13 Rene Urueña, Evangelicals at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, 113 AJIL Unbound 360 (2019).

14 Ximena Soley & Silvia Steininger, Parting Ways or Lashing Back? Withdrawals, Backlash and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, 14 Int'l J.L. Context 237 (2018).

16 This sometimes happens after democratic consolidation. See Wayne Sandholtz et al., Backlash and International Human Rights Courts, in Contracting Human Rights: Crisis, Accountability, and Opportunity 161 (Alison Brysk & Michael Stohl eds., 2018).

17 Poblete Vilches and Others v. Chile, Merits, Reparations and Costs, Judgment, Inter-Am. Ct. H.R. (ser. C) No. 349. (Mar. 8, 2018).

18 Urueña, supra note 13.

19 Jorge Contesse, Resisting the Inter-American Human Rights System, 44 Yale J. Int'l L. 179 (2019).

The Crucial Role of Human Rights NGOs in the Inter-American System

  • Ximena Soley (a1)

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