On June 5, 2018, the Organization of American States (OAS) elected three judges to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), consisting of Judge Humberto Sierra Porto (Colombia), Eduardo Ferrer Mac-Gregor (Mexico), and Ricardo Pérez Manrique (Uruguay). [OAS Press Release] Judges Sierra Porto and Ferrer Mac-Gregor were re-elected after serving one full term on the IACtHR, while Judge-elect Pérez Manrique was elected to fill the seat of Judge Caldas, who resigned after accusations of domestic violence and whose term was set to expire this January. [OAS Press Release; IJRC: Resigns] See IJRC, Inter-American Court of Human Rights: 2018 Elections. The three elected judges were endorsed as qualified jurists in the 2018 report by the Independent Panel for the Election of Inter-American Human Rights Judges, a part of the Initiative on Transparency and Election Monitoring housed at American University’s Washington College of Law. See Carlos Ayala, et al., Informe Final del Panel Independiente Para la Elección de Jueces y Juezas Para La Corte Interamericana De Derechos Humanos (2018), 15, 25, 30-31 [in Spanish only]. The Independent Panel and Initiative on Transparency and Election Monitoring aims to promote civil society’s efforts to improve the election process of judges and commissioners in the Inter-American system. See Washington College of Law, Using Transparency to Strengthen the Inter-American Human Rights System. Civil society organizations welcomed the publication of the report and endorsed the report’s call for transparency in elections of human rights bodies. [OSJI Press Release; DPLF Press Release]
Judge-elect Ricardo Pérez Manrique, of Uruguay, was elected for the first time to the IACtHR. He is a judge and professor in Uruguay, and has previously served on Uruguay’s Supreme Court of Justice. See IJRC, Inter-American Court of Human Rights: 2018 Elections. He has focused part of his career on children’s rights and freedom of expression, training members of the judiciary on both subject matters, and has taught and written on adolescent criminal law and human rights. See id.
Judge Humberto Sierra Porto, of Colombia, was re-elected to the IACtHR, which he has served on since 2013. See id. He has previously served as president of the IACtHR in 2014 and 2015, as well as a judge on Colombia’s Constitutional Court. See id. Sierra Porto has held positions in Colombia’s legislative and judicial branches, and has taught and written on constitutional and public law. See id.
Judge Eduardo Ferrer Mac-Gregor, of Mexico, was re-elected to the IACtHR. Ferrer Mac-Gregor currently serves as the President of the IACtHR. See id. He has served on Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice and was involved in drafting the Code of Judicial Ethics of the Federal Judiciary and the Ibero-American Code of Judicial Ethics. See id.
The Independent Panel
While the Independent Panel for the Election of Inter-American Human Rights Judges endorsed the nominees who were elected to hold positions on the Court, the panel expressed reservations about the fourth nominee. The panel reviewed the curriculums vitae of the candidates, their biographical summaries, personal data, judicial decisions, academic documents, presentations, and their responses to a questionnaire to determine if the nominees were qualified for recommendation by the panel. See Independent Panel for the Election of Inter-American Commissioners and Judges, Informe Final del Panel Independiente Para la Elección de Jueces y Juezas Para La Corte Interamericana De Derechos Humanos, at 4-5. The panel also conducted interviews with the candidates. See id. at 6. The panel concluded that the fourth nominee, Nardi Elizabeth Suxo Iturry, a Bolivian human rights attorney, may have conflicts of interest due to her ties with the executive branch of the government, and lacks judicial experience and knowledge of the Inter-American human rights system. See id. at 21.
The panel also analyzed deficiencies in the Inter-American Court election process and made recommendations to both the Organization of American States and to States parties. The panel considered that the OAS has not established minimum requirements for selecting candidates to the IACtHR and recommended that the OAS establish a diverse committee to ensure that nominees are qualified for the role and to publish a report on the nominees. More diverse candidates in the areas of gender identity and sexual orientation, and advance notice of the candidates nominated, were also recommendations the panel put forth. See id. at 32, 46-48.
To States, the panel recommended that they ensure the national selection body is composed of individuals who are independent, impartial, and knowledgeable about the IACtHR; delineate the criteria for candidacy and the nomination process; include civil society in the process; and put forward at least two candidates, with one being a woman, among other recommendations. See id. at 43-46.
The most recent Independent Panel for the Election of Inter-American Human Rights Judges is the third such panel, and serves as part of an effort to increase transparency and visibility in the election process of Inter-American Court judges and commissioners on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. See Washington College of Law, Using Transparency to Strengthen the Inter-American Human Rights System. The Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at American University’s Washington College of Law served as the Secretariat of the panel this year, and the Open Society Justice Initiative, the Due Process of Law Foundation, and the Center for Justice and International Law have collectively convened the panel of experts since 2015. See id. The current panel is composed of four members: Carlos Ayala, the vice president of the International Commission of Jurists; Ximena Medellín, an associate professor at Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas, A.C.; Juan E. Méndez, Professor of Human Rights Law in Residence, American University Washington College of Law; and Naomi Roht-Arriaza, Distinguished Professor of Law, UC Hastings College of the Law. See id.
Statutory Regulations on IACtHR Elections
The IACtHR consists of seven elected judges who are nationals of Member States of the OAS. See Statute of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (adopted October 1979, entered into force 1 January 1980), OEA/Ser.L/V/1.4, art. 4(1). None of the judges may be nationals of the same State. See id. at art. 4(2). Candidates are nominated and elected by the States parties to the American Convention on Human Rights at the OAS General Assembly. See id. at art. 7(1)-(2). Judges’ terms last six years, and a judge may only be re-elected once. See id. at art. 5(1). If a judge is elected to fill a vacancy of a judge whose term has not yet expired, the elected judge will complete that term. See id. The term of office is from January 1 of the year following the election through December 31 of the year in which the term expires, so the recently elected judges will serve from January 1, 2019 through December 31, 2024. See id. at art. 5(2).
The election procedure begins six months prior to the expiration of the end of the sitting judges’ terms. At that time, the Secretary General of the OAS sends a written request to each State party to the American Convention to nominate candidates within the next 90 days. See id. at art. 8(1). After, the Secretary General will write a list of the nominated candidates and forward it to the States parties at least 30 days before the next session of the OAS General Assembly. See id. at art. 8(2). The OAS General Assembly votes by secret ballot. See id. at art. 9(1). Judges must be elected by an absolute majority of the States parties to the American Convention, and the candidates who receive the largest numbers of votes and an absolute majority are elected. See id. at art. 9. If several ballots are necessary, the candidates who receive the smallest number of votes are eliminated in the manner determined by the States parties. See id. at art. 9(2).
For more information on the Inter-American system, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, or the Inter-American Court, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub. For more stories on elections of commissioners and judges in the Inter-American human rights system and the Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, see the IJRC newsroom.