Supporting or Thwarting the Revolution? The Inter-American Human Rights System and Criminal Procedure Reform in Latin America

Richard J. Wilson, American University Washington College of Law


Latin America is said to be undergoing a revolution in criminal procedure, a radical movement from the historical inquisitorial system of the region towards a more accusatorial system with common law or "American" characteristics. This article explores the extent to which the Inter-American system for the protection of human rights, through the jurisprudence of its Commission and Court, has contributed to that revolution or held it in check. The normative content of the international instruments of the system reflect no particular procedural tradition, and do not speak at all to some of the most contested issues in procedural debates, such as victims' rights or explicit prohibitions on police misconduct. The application of those norms in the cases and reports of the Commission and Court demonstrate that human rights plays a dual role, both holding states back from over-aggressive law enforcement and pushing it forward when systems creak with age or outmoded ideas.