The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which has long faced a significant backlog in its resolution of individual complaints, has announced developments in the implementation of its Special Procedural Backlog Reduction Program, approved in its Strategic Plan 2017-2021. [IACHR Press Release: Stages] According the IACHR’s press release on its 2019 conclusions, to date, the IACHR has achieved record results in terms of the number of petitions it reviews, decisions it adopts, and friendly settlements it approves. [IACHR Press Release: Stages] It also expects to notify States and petitioners of a record number of decisions to open petitions for processing in 2019. [IACHR Press Release: Stages] The IACHR attributes the increases to the addition of 21 individuals to its case system team in the last two years, largely thanks to the regular fund budget increase from the Organization of American States. [IACHR Press Release: Stages]
The IACHR has also made logistical and procedural changes in its handling of petitions. Most recently, the IACHR adopted Resolution 1/19 limiting the opportunities for petitioners to request review of a decision by the IACHR to reject a petition at the initial review stage. [IACHR Press Release: Initial Review] It also continues to implement Resolution 1/16, allowing the IACHR to consider the admissibility and merits of certain petitions together (rather than in separate stages and reports). Other efforts include increased facilitation of friendly settlements, using template reports for similar cases, and archiving petitions after three years of inactivity (rather than five). [IACHR Press Release: Stages]
Special Procedural Backlog Reduction Program – Overview
The IACHR began implementing measures to address its procedural background in 2016, following the adoption of the Strategic Plan 2017-2021, in which the IACHR identified “[s]trengthening the system of petitions, cases, friendly settlements, and precautionary measures” as one of its strategic objectives. [IACHR Press Release: Backlog; IACHR Press Release: Stages] To implement the Special Procedural Backlog Reduction Program, IACHR Executive Secretary, Paulo Abrão, has evaluated and modified the manner in which the IACHR conducts its work to make it more efficient, evaluated and changed the management of human resources and technological tools accordingly, and implemented pilot management models to identify which are the most effective. [IACHR Press Release: Stages; IACHR Press Release: Program]
The first stage of the program focused on increasing the IACHR’s capacity, both in terms of staff and resources, to address the backlog, and in creating specific units and a working group to better manage pending and incoming petitions. [IACHR Press Release: Stages] Specifically, the IACHR created a Precautionary Measures Section and the Processing Unit to better address the backlog.
The second stage focused on: (1) assessing the assignment of IACHR professionals at the admissibility and merits sections; (2) creating a working group charged with identifying and overcoming the backlog at the initial assessment stage of petitions; (3) implementing an “archiving policy” that now limits parties’ inactivity period to three years rather than five; (4) reducing the number of parties’ observations required during the admissibility and merits stages; (5) establishing a “decision-making plan” at the admissibility stage that’s based and relies on similar reports; (6) aggregating similar cases; (7) continuing the deactivation policy in which petitions are “deactivated” when parties fail to respond to information requests; (8) continuing per saltum analysis (the policy of advance or anticipated study in cases in which the decision may remedy structural deficiencies impacting the enjoyment of human rights); and (9) updating technological management processes to ensure transparency and effectiveness. [IACHR Press Release: Stages]
Both of these stages will continue to be implemented under the direction of the newly appointed Assistant Executive Secretary for Petitions and Cases, Marisol Blanchard Vera. [IACHR Press Release: Stages] The IACHR will continue to review and assess the measures that have been announced and implemented every six months. [IACHR Press Release: Stages]
IACHR’s Progress & Conclusions Following First Two Stages
In September 2018, the IACHR created a special group to assess 8,295 pending petitions at the initial stage of proceedings as part of the Special Procedural Backlog Reduction Program. [IACHR Press Release: Stages] Since the group began its work, it has reviewed 78 percent of the 8,295 petitions. [IACHR Press Release: Stages] A little over 2,700 of those 8,295 petitions were requests to review the initial review decision dismissing the petition. [IACHR Press Release: Stages] In an effort to not repeat review, and to regulate and clarify the initial review process, the IACHR passed a resolution during its 173rd Period of Sessions, which took place in October 2019, detailing under what circumstances a petitioner may request that the IACHR repeat the initial review process. [IACHR Press Release: Stages]
Additionally, to streamline its petition review, the IACHR has begun grouping petitions on similar matters or from similar legal systems. [IACHR Press Release: Stages] For example, in 2019, the IACHR created a Common Law Group that is responsible for prioritizing cases regarding Member States with a common law system (English-speaking States). [IACHR Press Release: Stages] There has also been an effort to gradually implement Resolution 1/16 on Article 36(3) of the IACHR Rules of Procedures, which was adopted as a measure to reduce the procedural backlog and allows the IACHR to defer the admissibility analysis of a case until the merits stage in certain circumstances, for example, when admissibility considerations are inextricably linked to the merits. [IACHR Press Release: Stages] In 2019, the IACHR deferred analysis on admissibility in 12 cases, a decrease from a total of 326 in 2018. [IACHR Press Release: Stages]
With respect to its archiving policy, which allows the IACHR to archive cases that have been inactive for three years or cases in which the petitioner fails to submit the required observations on the merits, the IACHR has decided to archive 29 decisions this year after notifying the relevant parties. [IACHR Press Release: Stages]
Finally, the IACHR has also engaged in promotion activities and working visits to expand the use of the friendly settlement procedure, an option available to States and petitioners once the Commission has begun processing a petition. As part of its strategy to reduce the backlog, the IACHR has launched a pilot project specifically designed to strengthen friendly settlement activities, which the IACHR considers play a “key role in tackling procedural backlog.” [IACHR Press Release: Stages] Commissioner Joel Hernández has stated that “[the Commission] need[s] to promote greater use of the friendly settlement mechanism. Effective justice is swift and capable of generating appropriate legal responses that are tailored to each specific case in the light of current standards. In connection with this, we are inviting the public to contribute to the Friendly Settlement Pilot Plan.” [IACHR Press Release: Stages] In 2019, the IACHR exceeded its record of friendly settlements approved in one year by approving 14 agreements, of which eight have been fully complied with. [IACHR Press Release: Stages]
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