International regional law and access to justice in Latin America
Title: DIRAJus Programme – International regional law and access to justice in Latin America
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Country: Latin America
Lead executing agency: Organization of American States (General Secretariat and Inter-American Court of Human Rights)
Overall term: 2017 to 2020
Despite some improvements, Latin America presents an extremely high level of social inequality. The related restriction of civil and human rights is particularly relevant for the programme. Indeed and despite formal legal equality, the binding and protective effect of national law does not extend to all people alike in practice. Rather, national legislation and national law enforcement demonstrate a pronounced social imbalance. For example, the top 20 per cent of private households account for almost 80 per cent of all cases in the judiciary. Law and justice thus fail to perform their central task of enabling all people to assert their individual and collective rights equally. And they contradict the principles and standards of the inter-American (human) right of access to justice. These principles and standards define the individuals as subjects of the rights of freedom and equality. To date, the national legal systems have only very gradually begun to adopt this position as enshrined under international law. The inadequate implementation of the inter-American standards on the right to access to justice in the national context is currently preventing all people being able to assert their rights fairly and equally.
The national application of the inter-American standards on the right to access to justice promotes legal equity in selected member states of the Organization of American States (OAS).
The programme targets the 22 member states of OAS that have ratified the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR). Specific measures are being implemented in five priority countries: Colombia, Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico and Peru. The programme team provides support at international level to institutions such as the OAS Secretariat for Access to Rights and Equity and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in their efforts to make the inter-American standards simpler and quicker to access at national level. In addition, it provides advice to members of the judiciary at national level, such as supreme courts, judicial councils, academies for judges, bar associations and human rights organisations, to help them establish the inter-American standards on access to justice more effectively in their countries and thus achieve legal equality. To do so, the programme works in three priority areas:
(1) It initiates dialogue processes between the above-mentioned organisations and institutions in order to help change attitudes among all stakeholders: away from the national idea of individuals as objects of charity towards the international view of people as subjects of rights.
(2) It tests new legal techniques in cooperation with institutions such as academies for judges, universities and the relevant legal training institutions.
(3) It implements the new techniques at national level with its partners, thus gradually initiating change.
Programme activities focus on particularly vulnerable groups such as women, children, indigenous people and refugees.
The programme's work draws on the results of a previous project, which succeeded in creating an internationally and nationally coordinated inter-American framework of reference on the right to access to justice. Intensive dialogue has been initiated between representatives of different legal systems at international and national level.
The human rights standards on access to justice are available on the website of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in digital form and are consulted around 1,000 times a month. This is also a result of the training based on these standards for institutional actors at various levels of the ‘judicial chain’ by the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights (IIHR). Examples of practical application of the skills acquired by the judicial personnel who have undergone training include a judgement to the detriment of the indigenous group Pueblo Achuar del Pastaza being revoked. In Honduras, student protests led to unjustified custody being lifted.
In addition, the programme promoted proposals on judicial policy in Honduras and Peru that comply with the standards on the right to access to justice.
A report published in collaboration with the Justice Studies Center of the Americas (JSCA) in the form of a baseline study on the quality of justice along human rights standards (Latin America justice barometer) was discussed with institutions from Europe. Owing to these activities, the international community has made a key contribution to tightening up the indicators for Sustainable Development Goal 16 on promoting peace and justice as part of the Sustainable Development Goals under the 2030 Agenda.