As politics have changed in the Americas, so has the role of the Inter-American system. Many of the challenges facing democracy and human rights today stem from patterns of inequality and unequal access. The growing number of such cases before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Commission) and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (Court) has helped to blaze a new trail of jurisprudence for the hemisphere.
Latin America’s political landscape is far more complex than it was when the system was established 50 years ago. At that time, the biggest challenge was confronting the massive, systematic human rights violations occurring in authoritarian states, or as part of internal conflicts. During the post-dictatorial transitions in the 1980s and the early 1990s, the system expanded its mandate, outlining core principles regarding the right to justice, truth and reparations. It set the limits for amnesty laws and established the foundation for the strict protection of freedom of speech. It invalidated military courts and protected habeas corpus, procedural guarantees and the democratic political system, among other measures.
The challenge now is to consolidate democracy in the region. While many countries have taken important steps, such as strengthening electoral systems, protecting freedom of the press, and abandoning political violence, the growing political and economic marginalization of vast sectors of the population has imposed structural limitations on the exercise of social, political and civil rights.
This is a particularly important area that needs to be addressed by the contemporary Inter-American system, since existing international mechanisms have been—at best—subsidiary. Ultimately, only the state can provide the necessary guarantees…