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Center Hosts Conference

"Inter-American Human Rights System: Defending Human Rights, 1959-1994" is the title of the conference to be hosted by the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, together with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, on Tuesday, April 5, 1994. The conference, part the Washington College of Law's ongoing examination of human rights in the Americas, will commemorate the 35th anniversary of the Commission. The conference will also function as a regional meeting of the American Society of International Law.

The purpose of this conference is to provide a forum for periodic and systematic dialogue on the protection of human rights in this hemisphere. The conference will convene jurists, diplomats and human rights activists from nongovernmental organizations to analyze human rights violations in the Americas and the institutional response to such violations. Each of the organs of the system will be surveyed: the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the General Assembly and the Permanent Council. The final panel, "Looking Ahead: Development Institutions and Human Rights," will examine the relevance of human rights concerns in development decisions.

Reservations are required and seating is limited. Reservations can be made by calling (202) 885-3679, or by faxing (202) 885-3601, no later than Friday, April 1, 1994. Advanced registration is $20.00 while lunch is an additional $5.00. Registration on the day of the conference is $25.00. The conference will be held in the sixth floor Butler Board Room, Bender Arena on the campus of The American University. For more information, call (202) 885-2719.

WCL's Dean Grossman Elected to Human Rights Commission

The role of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is evolving, according to Claudio Grossman, acting dean of the Washington College of Law. Grossman was recently elected to the Commission, an organ of the Organization of American States (OAS).

Grossman says that the Commission played the role of a "fire fighter" in the 1970s. "There were many gross violations of human rights; arbitrary detentions, killings, and disappearances." The vast majority of member states of the OAS now have elected governments. While elected governments are not necessarily wholly democratic, their problems are generally different than those often associated with dictatorships, explains Grossman. For example, one issue is whether legislation adopted by the member states satisfies their obligations under the American Convention of Human Rights.

The Commission has jurisdiction over all OAS member states to receive individual complaints under either the American Convention, or, in the case of states, like the United States that have not ratified the Convention, the earlier American Declaration on Human Rights. The Commission also reports on the conditions of human rights in specific countries and can submit cases to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights if the state has accepted the Court's jurisdiction. Additionally, the Commission is responsible for reviewing annual reports from member states.

Grossman says the Commission is trying to expand its role by strengthening the body of precedent relied on in cases brought before it and by developing more accurate records of jurisprudence. Suggestions under consideration include the compilation of case reports similar to the Human Rights Year Books used in the European Human Rights System, and the possibility of bringing the decisions on line in a network. This past session Grossman proposed that the Commission devote more time to women's issues. Grossman and the current Commission's chairman, Yale professor Michael Reisman, were named co-rapporteurs on the issue of whether current legislation in OAS member states satisfies the requirements on the treatment of women under the American Convention and the American Declaration. They will also jointly investigate whether the prison systems of member states meet the minimum human rights standards embodied in these documents.

Grossman joins the Commission with nearly 20 years' experience as a human rights advocate. He has participated in various on-site fact finding missions throughout the world. Grossman has also acted as a legal advisor to the Commission in compulsory proceedings before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on the issues of disappearances in Honduras and human rights abuses against indigenous people in Surinam.

©Copyright 1994 The Human Rights Brief

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