The Organisation of American States (OAS), established in 1948, brings together the nations of North, Central and South America and the Caribbean, with the objectives of strengthening cooperation on democratic values and defending common interests. It is made up of 35 Member States.
The Inter-American system for the promotion and protection of Human Rights is part of the OAS structure and is composed of two bodies:
- The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), based in Washington, D.C., USA.
- The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, located in San José, Costa Rica
The Inter-American system for the promotion and protection of Human Rights therefore provides recourse to people in the Americas who have suffered violations of their rights by states which are members of the OAS. Under their obligation to protect individuals’ rights, member states of the OAS have a responsibility to ensure that third parties, such as transnational corporations, do not violate those rights and therefore can be held accountable if they fail to do so. The Inter-American Court identified this responsibility in the first case that was submitted to it by stating that “an illegal act which violates Human Rights and which is initially not directly imputable to a State (for example, because it is the act of a private person or because the person responsible has not been identified) can lead to international responsibility of the State, not because of the act itself, but because of the lack of due diligence to prevent the violation or to respond to it as required by the Convention” 1 .
As the following part will demonstrate, the Inter-American System of Human Rights is most probably the regional system that has so far shown the greatest potential to address corporate-related Human Rights violations, particularly in cases related to indigenous rights and the environment. It has developed innovative jurisprudence, notably in relation to the interpretation of concepts often referred to in the context of corporate activities, such as the notion of “due diligence”.
Furthermore in urgent cases, it is possible for victims to request precautionary (or provisional) measures before the Inter American Commission on Human Rights. Contrary to Court cases, this mechanism represents an innovative and fast way for victims, who need protection from serious and irreparable harm imminently, to obtain help. However, the Inter-American system is under-staffed and underresourced, which causes severe delays in the consideration of complaints.