Regional Human Rights Mechanisms

AuthorMark Freeman, Gibran Van Ert
1 While the African system has not been especially effective to date, this may be
less a question of defects in design than the absence of political will on the part
of African states.
2 Article 4 of the Amended Declaration and Treaty of SADC 1992 requires mem-
ber states to act in accordance with “human rights, democracy, and the rule of
law.” Breaches of the Treaty are justiciable before the SADC Tribunal, which is
contemplated in the Treaty but not yet established. Similarly, the Treaty of Lagos
1975 establishing ECOWAS is based on various relevant principles including
“recognition, promotion and protection of human and people’s rights in accor-
dance with the provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’
Rights.” Breaches of the Treaty are justiciable before the Community Court of
Justice, which was established in 1991.
This chapter will review the Inter-American, European, and African
multilateral mechanisms for the promotion and protection of human
rights. Of these, the Inter-American and European mechanisms are the
oldest and by any measure the most developed, particularly the latter.1
Each regional system is also composed of institutions that pursue eco-
nomic development, social development, and the maintenance of peace
and security. The focus of this chapter, however, is human rights mech-
Not discussed in this chapter are various other regional multilater-
al mechanisms with peripheral human rights elements, such as the
South African Development Community (SADC) and the Economic
Community of West African States (ECOWAS).2Also not discussed
chapter 15
here is the emerging human rights system of the League of Arab States.
It has a permanent Permanent Arab Commission on Human Rights,
which is similar in mandate to the UN Commission on Human Rights,
and a specialized agency on labour rights, the Arab Labour Organiza-
tion.3In addition, the Arab Charter on Human Rights 1994 — which
has yet to be ratified by a single member of the League — contains a
proposed mechanism for enforcement of human rights. Article 40
authorizes states parties to the Charter to elect a Committee of Experts
on Human Rights. The Committee would supervise a state reporting
system akin to that under the ICCPR. As for Asia, to date there is no
multilateral human rights system for the region.4
A. The Inter-American System
The OAS is the oldest of all regional organizations. All thirty-five inde-
pendent states in the Western hemisphere — almost all of them demo-
cratically governed — are OAS members.5Canada became a Permanent
Observer to the OAS in 1972, and has been a full member since 1990.
Shortly after becoming a member, Canada took a lead role on various
human rights issues within the OAS.6
The OAS consists of two main bodies: the General Assembly and
Permanent Council. The Assembly meets annually in a regularly sched-
uled session, but also on an ad hoc basis as necessary. It is responsible for
setting most OAS policy and is roughly equivalent to the UN General
Assembly. The Council is the chief decision-making branch of the organ-
ization, especially when the General Assembly is not in session. It is the
OAS equivalent to the UN Security Council.7Both the OAS General
Assembly and Permanent Council have authority to deal with human
Regional Human Rights Mechanisms 425
3 See generally A. Robertson (revised by J. Merrills), Human Rights in the World,
3d ed. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1992) at 198–200. To date,
the Commission has focused overwhelmingly on the situation of Palestinians
living in the occupied territories.
4 But see the discussion of ASEAN in Chapter Sixteen.
5 Cuba is a member of the OAS as well, but its government has been excluded
from participation since 1962.
6 For example, Canada was active in establishing the Unit for the Promotion of
Democracy, currently headed by Canadian Elizabeth Spehar. The Unit is the
main body within the OAS General Secretariat focused on democratic consolida-
tion in OAS member states.
7 Canada has twice been Chair of the OAS Permanent Council. Most recently
Canada was the chair from 1 October to 31 December 2000.

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