International regional law and access to justice
Title: International regional law and access to justice in Latin America
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Country: Colombia, Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico
Lead executing agency: Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)
Overall term: 2020 to 2023
A total of 182 million people in Latin America – primarily young people, indigenous people, African Americans, migrants, and single parents – live in poverty. On top of the constraints this places on their economic, social and cultural participation, they also experience social exclusion and state discrimination, with the result that it is difficult for them to obtain access to the labour market and to social services.
These constraints trespass upon their human right to an adequate standard of living (Article 26 of the American Convention on Human Rights, ACHR) as well as upon other individual and collective rights, including economic, social, and cultural rights guaranteed by international law as well. It is the task of the legal institutions to secure effective protection of these rights. At national level, those responsible include the institution of ombudsman and courts. At continental level, responsibility lies with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Up to now, national measures have been insufficient to help people achieve their rights. National courts are not yet in a position to pass judgements on the economic, social, and cultural rights as interpreted by the Inter-American System of Human Rights. This is partly because state facilities consider social services as charitable measures and only grant them in isolated cases. People are not treated as the holders of their rights, as the Inter-American System of Human Rights demands, but as petitioners.
Knowledge of their own rights is therefore extremely important for individuals or social groups put at a disadvantage. Also the fair application of the law and the opportunity to claim rights through legal proceedings and enforce any verdicts won are included. Up to now, international and national legal institutions have not provided vulnerable groups with sufficient opportunities to effectively enforce their economic, social and cultural rights.
International and national legal institutions increase the opportunities for vulnerable groups to enforce their economic, social and cultural rights.
To contribute towards the peaceful settlement of disputes, participation of vulnerable groups and sustainable development, the judicial institutions need to meet with the Inter-American human rights standards. In addition, civil society activists familiar with the law need to continuously demand these standards. The project will work towards improving the compliance with Inter-American human rights standards, with the aim of reducing social inequality in terms of access to justice and thus reducing the vulnerability of individuals and social groups with regard to their human rights.
Considering that, the project helps to develop the necessary skills of judges and civil society legal advisors, basing its activities on their knowledge and needs. The activities are designed to enable judicial actors to meet with the Inter-American standards for economic, social and cultural rights.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights will update the digitised collection of case law that is available on its website and thereby ensure its continued relevance. Within the pilot countries, judicial actors can exchange experiences on strategic litigation and enforcement procedures based on practical examples. Thus intending to enhance the ability to act of civil society organisations, law clinics – which enable students to gain practical experience through charitable work – and the institution of ombudsman.
Further, the project supports social awareness of economic, social and cultural rights publishing studies on the outcomes of relevant litigations.
In the previous project, the project team succeeded in creating an internationally and nationally coordinated Inter-American reference framework for equal access to justice. An intensive dialogue has emerged between judicial actors from the international and national level.
The human rights standards regarding access to justice and relevant human rights relating to economic, social and cultural rights are available digitally on the website of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Judicial actors trained by the project team have been able to apply their new knowledge. In Mexico and Peru, for example, this has put them in a better position to enforce the rights of indigenous people to have their ancestral land titled. Moreover, victims of sexual violence in Colombia have been given the right to file a lawsuit as a proper party, while unjustified custody has been prevented for protesting students in Honduras.
Together with the Justice Studies Center of the Americas (JSCA), the project published a report on the human rights-oriented quality of justice. This has contributed to the refinement of the indicators for Goal 16 – Peace, justice and strong institutions – in the Sustainable Development Goals of the Development Agenda 2030.
A permanent forum for exchange of specialized knowledge and ideas between the three regional human rights courts from Latin America, Europe and Africa has been initiated and constituted by the Declaration of San José.