6+1 Questions

6 June 2024, 0633 EDT

1. What is the name of the article and what are its coordinates?

Aníbal Pérez-Liñán and Angie García Atehortúa. 2024. “Oversight Hearings, Stakeholder Engagement, and Compliance in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.” International Organization.

2. What’s the argument?

Compliance with international law is hardly guaranteed. International bodies can secure greater compliance with their decisions by requesting regular reports from relevant states, bringing non-governmental organizations into the supervision process, and holding regular hearings to oversee the implementation of their directives, including the provision of reparations to victims of human rights violations.

We specifically study the Inter-American Court of Human Rights as an example of this approach, which we term “dialogic oversight.” Between 1989 and 2019, the Court ordered almost two thousand reparation measures for victims of human rights violations in Latin America and the Caribbean. States often complied with the “easy” measures, like paying monetary damages to victims. But they avoided tackling “difficult” measure, such as prosecuting military officers responsible for atrocities.

In 2007, the Court started to conduct hearings to oversee compliance. The brought together representatives of the state, the victims, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

For example, the Court declared in 2012 that Costa Rica’s ban of in-vitro fertilization violated the American Convention on Human Rights. Costa Rica took no action, so in 2015 the Court announced that it would hold a public hearing on the matter. This led the Costa Rican president to draft an executive decree authorizing in-vitro fertilization, and the government lifted the ban the following year.

3. Why should we care?

More and more international organizations are adopting elements of dialogic oversight. We find them, for example, in the so-called “constructive dialogue” adopted by the UN human rights treaty bodies. Each of nine core UN human rights treaties – on racial discrimination; civil and political rights; economic, social, and cultural rights; discrimination against women; torture; rights of the child; migrant workers; enforced disappearance; and persons with disabilities – relies on a committee of experts (or treaty body) to monitor its implementation. States submit periodic reports, and government delegations travel to Geneva every few years.

Domestic courts are also embracing dialogic oversight.  In the late 1990s, the Supreme Court of India began using commissions to monitor the implementation of its rulings. In Argentina, the Supreme Court combined legal teams, public hearings, and commissions to oversee the implementation of environmental rulings on the Riachuelo basin. In Colombia, the Constitutional Court employed similar strategies to protect the right to health.

Given this trend, we need to know if the approach actually works. Our study provides strong evidence that dialogic oversight contributes to compliance with human rights in Latin America.

4. Why will we find the article persuasive?

We collected novel data on 1,878 reparation measures ordered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and 197 supervision hearings conducted by the Court between 1989 and 2019. We analyze this data using a variety of statistical models, which is important because of a conventional problem in the study of treaty compliance: if states only join treaties that they are willing to honor, it is hard to know whether human right treaties shape state actions or whether signatory states would respect human rights in any case. Similarly, if the Court summons supervision hearings when it anticipates the possibility of compliance, it is hard to know whether oversight induces compliance or whether it just prompts actions that would take place in any case. Statistical models allow us to compare the difference in outcomes between similar cases in similar historical contexts, resulting when some of them experience hearings and others do not. The techniques we use give us some confidence that we are actually capturing the effects of the hearings themselves.

5. Why did you decide to write it in the first place?

In 2017, Aníbal attended a conference in which the presidents of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights discussed their concern with the limited implementation of human rights reparations in the Americas. He realized the importance of this problem and embarked on the creation of a public dataset to assess levels of compliance. Further conversations with the Supervision Unit of the Inter-American Court helped us realize that the Court relies on oversight hearings as the main strategy to promote compliance. However, the Court had no evidence of their effectiveness. In 2019, we initiated a systematic study of oversight hearings to provide an assessment of this strategy.

6. What would you most like to change about the piece, and why?

We would have liked to offer a more nuanced analysis of different hearings. The “treatment” evaluated in this article is whether or not the Court holds a supervision hearing. We assess the average effect of hearings on compliance, but not all hearings are the same. Most hearings are restricted to the parties in the case, but some of them are open to the public. Some hearings take place in the affected country, but most of them happen in the Court’s headquarters in Costa Rica. Some hearings involve multiple state agencies and others only involve representatives of the Foreign Affairs ministry. Earlier versions of the paper explored a nuanced analysis of different types of hearings, but too much detail made it difficult to articulate a clear theoretical contribution. We settled for simplicity and clarity, but some information was lost in the process.

7. How much difficulty did you have getting the piece accepted?

We wrote (and re-wrote) multiple versions of this paper before we felt ready to submit the manuscript for review. The challenge was to transform a factual question – what is the effect of supervision hearings on compliance? – into an interesting theoretical contribution. Early versions of the paper contrasted the model of positive “dialogue” between courts and states against the public confrontation that one would expect when states defy court orders, but our readers were not very convinced by this frame. We got lucky. Reviewers at International Organization pointed us toward the practice of constructive dialogue in the UN treaty bodies. Moreover, Sandra Botero published a book on collaborative oversight in late 2023. This gave us enough material to both explain the broader significance of our findings and to anchor our argument in an existing theoretical approach.