Submission to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on the Human Rights of Corporations and other Legal Entities

The defence of human rights using legal tools covers the rights of all human beings. But does it also include the rights of legal entities, ranging from corporations to associations of peasants and indigenous communities? A recent request for an Advisory Opinion made by Panama to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights tries to answer some of these questions. Dr Lucas Lixinski, Project Director at the AHRCentre and an expert on the Inter-American system, put forth a submission to the Inter-American Court on this question, aided by Mr Sumer Dayal and Ms Ashna Taneja.

Lixinski once was a judicial associate at the Inter-American Court, and has since researched and taught extensively about this system. About the importance of this question, he said “the big problem with this question in the Americas is that the American Convention on Human Rights very specifically defines ‘person’ as being only natural persons, of flesh and blood. The challenge therefore was to see whether there were avenues in which collectivities of natural persons, constituted as legal entities, also have rights under the Convention.”

Dayal and Taneja are UNSW Law students who have recently won the Nelson Mandela World Human Rights Moot Court Competition. Lixinski had helped them in their preparation, and was aware that much of their research had addressed precisely that question. “They [Dayal and Taneja] had done such extensive and excellent research on the topic, it was an easy choice to invite them to write this submission with me. In fact, it was only because I knew they had done so much work already on the topic that I thought we might be able to make a submission to the Inter-American Court,” said Lixinski.


Their submission to the Inter-American Court argues that, even though the language of the American Convention does not allow legal entities to be direct victims of a human rights violation in the Inter-American system, an interpretation of that instrument in light of the evolution of human rights, and one that favours human rights (the pro homine approach) requires that some accommodation be made. And the practice of the Inter-American Court had already created such means. For instance, even though an association cannot be directly the victim, its members can claim to have had their rights directly affected by harm done to the association.



Credit: Juan Manuel Herrera/OAS