Final Report of the Independent Panel for the Election of Commissioners to the IACHR

June 15, 2017

In recent years, calls for reforms to selection procedures have grown louder for international bodies, particularly those charged with the monitoring, interpretation, and application of international human rights and international humanitarian law. These initiatives aim to ensure that members selected for these bodies meet the qualifications requirements established by the relevant instruments; make selection procedures more open and transparent; take into account the overall makeup of these bodies, especially the diversity of their membership on a number of different parameters; and enhance the legitimacy of these institutions. In response to these calls, States have reformed selection procedures in meaningful ways for a number of international bodies, including for example, the European Court of Human Rights and the International Criminal Court.

Concerns about the visibility of elections, selection criteria and selection procedures for the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (the Court) and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (the Commission) motivated the Open Society Justice Initiative and interested partners to convene and support an Independent Panel for the Election of Inter-American Commissioners and Judges in 2015, composed of leading jurists with expertise in the Inter-American System. Their mandate was to review selection procedures, offer a broad assessment of nominated candidates’ qualifications and make recommendations for how to improve future elections. The 2015 Panel delineated the criteria by which they assessed candidates for the Court and Commission, assessed individual candidates using these criteria, and made recommendations to states for how to improve selection procedures at the national and regional levels. In their review of candidates, the 2015 Panel considered written materials submitted by the candidates in the form of Curriculum Vitae, biographical summaries, personal data, and responses to a specially designed questionnaire distributed to candidates. Where available, the Panel looked to judicial decisions, academic papers, panel presentations, candidate blog posts and other public information that did not require independent verification. Although the 2015 Panel received suggestions from civil society groups in the region on recommendations for the future, it chose not to receive information on specific candidates. 

The 2015 Report set new standards in transparency and visibility for elections in the Inter-American System, and it was endorsed by over 80 regional non-governmental groups, universities and legal clinics throughout the region. The 2015 Report helped to mobilize the OAS General Assembly to instruct its Permanent Council, via resolution AG/RES.2887 (XL VI-O/16), to invite all candidates nominated to either the Commission or the Court to present publicly to the Council their vision, proposals and initiatives, if elected. In addition, it encouraged states “to nominate and elect persons that would ensure a membership that provides balance in terms of gender, representation of the different regions, population groups, and legal systems of the Hemisphere, while guaranteeing the requirements of independence, impartiality, and recognized competence in the field of human rights.”

The Permanent Council held its open session with all of the Commission candidates on 5 May 2017. In addition, all candidates participated in a public forum hosted by civil society at the Inter-American Dialogue on the same day, and several responded in writing to additional questions submitted in writing by civil society. In line with the OAS Resolution, states nominated three men and three women to serve as Commissioners. The 2015 Report also made a number of additional recommendations to states, including the use of open, transparent and participatory national nomination procedures, and the establishment of an Advisory Committee to evaluate the suitability of candidates for the Court and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. States have yet to take action on these recommendations.

In preparation for the upcoming 21 June 2017 election of three (3) new Commissioners by the OAS General Assembly, the Center for International Justice and Law (CEJIL), the Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF), and Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) decided jointly to convene this Independent Panel for the 2017 Election of Commissioners to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (2017 Panel). The objectives of the 2017 Panel, as established by the convening organizations, are to: “a. Assess broadly the qualifications of all IACHR candidates presented by OAS member states. b. Highlight the process by which these candidates were identified or nominated at the national level, and identify key recommendations and/or areas for improvement. c. Invite civil society and media attention to the selection process, so as to encourage greater accountability on the part of nominating states.”

Following this Introduction, the 2017 Panel Report includes parts II) Criteria for Evaluation of Candidates and Methodology, III) Candidate Assessments, IV) Recommendations, and V) Annexes. The 2017 Panel hopes that its assessment of the 2017 Commission candidates is useful to OAS Member States in their evaluation of each individual candidate’s compliance with the relevant normative criteria and principles, as well as provides guidance to States for future nominations to both the Commission and the Court. In addition, based on the responses it received from the vast majority of candidates to its questionnaire and their 5 May 2017 statements at the civil society candidate forum, the Panel hopes that States will consider seriously steps to make national nomination procedures more transparent, participatory and merit based, as well as to institutionalize an independent assessment of candidates at the regional level. 

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