Professor Shelton Elected Chair of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Attend Commission hearings in-person just two blocks from campus and watch Professor Dinah L. Shelton and her colleagues in action March 25-29 at the Organization of American States.

Commissioner Shelton, third from right, presides at a hearing on the state of human rights in Haiti in October, 2010.

March 25, 2011 -- The George Washington University Law School is pleased to announce the election of Dinah L. Shelton, the Manatt/Ahn Professor of International Law, to the position of chair of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).  Professor Shelton has been serving as a commissioner of the IACHR since January 1, 2010.

"This is an important responsibility and one that reflects highly on Dinah and her previous service to the Commission," said Interim Dean Gregory Maggs.

Associate Dean for International and Comparative Law Susan Karamanian echoed that sentiment, "The abundant energy and intense focus that Dinah gives to any legal problem, coupled with her mastery of the relevant international legal principles, will make her a formidable leader of the Commission."

You can watch Commissioner Shelton in-person as she and her colleagues address human rights cases before the IACHR on Friday, March 25; Monday, March 28, and Tuesday, March 29.  Issues on the docket range from gender equality to environmental sustainability to indigenous rights.  Visit this link for the complete calendar of cases that will be heard during the IACHR's 141st Period of Sessions.

For more information on the IACHR and Commissioner Shelton's work, read this article from the Winter, 2011 GW Law School Magazine:

Professor Shelton Exposes Class to Human Rights Law

Human Rights Law Society students attended the October, 2010 hearings held at the OAS just two blocks from campus; Professor Shelton and one of her students, Seyed Mohammad Mehdi Hosseini (LLM '11), speak during a session break.

Last semester, Manatt/Ahn Professor of International Law Dinah L. Shelton found herself needing to amend her International Law of Human Rights class schedule to accommodate a few weeks she would be away.

The class hours were made up, but the schedule change created a very unique opportunity for her students to see human rights law in action just steps from the Law School. Professor Shelton also serves on a distinguished international tribunal created to promote and defend human rights in the Americas: the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

Many of Professor Shelton's students as well as other GW Law students interested in human rights were able to attend the October hearings, held at the OAS just two blocks away from the GW campus. It was the IACHR's third session of the year.

"I think it is a matchless opportunity to see Professor Shelton as one of the IACHR commissioners," says Seyed Mohammad Mehdi Hosseini, LLM '11, a student from Iran who is in Professor Shelton's human rights class.

"It shows we are learning human rights in a very practical manner and it helps us to discern how theories are being applied in various human rights systems like the IACHR," Hosseini says. "This is why GW Law School is something different."

The IACHR was created in 1959 by the members of the Organization of American States and is distinguished from other multilateral organizations' human rights entities by its political autonomy. Its seven commission members are elected in their own right, not as representatives of governments. IACHR autonomy is further enhanced by its prerogative to initiate human rights investigations and the tribunal also publishes special reports, which have been effective in challenging abuses in specific countries, and conducts hearings on cases it has found admissible. Human rights in the inter-American system are based on the 1948 American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the 1969 American Convention on Human Rights.

"This year, our sessions included testimony about extra-judicial killings in Jamaica, disappearances in Guatemala, the impact of extractive industries in several countries, and the situation of human rights in Haiti following its disastrous earthquake," Professor Shelton says. "In almost every instance, governments sent high-level delegations to the hearings."

"My first year serving on the Inter-American Human Rights Commission has been more adventuresome than anticipated," says Commissioner Shelton.

In addition to the hearings in Washington, as a commissioner, Professor Shelton's duties include on-site missions and this fall she visited Paraguay and Panama to look into matters involving their indigenous peoples.

"The first mission included a seven-mile hike and a four-hour donkey ride into the Chaco, to reach Paraguay's Kelynmagategma community," Professor Shelton says. "In Panama, we had to run the rapids of the Changinola River in a dugout canoe to meet with some of the Ngobe communities affected by the construction of a hydroelectric project being built by a company in Virginia. Next up? Suriname, Ecuadoran Amazonia, or perhaps the Rapa Nui of Easter Island."

Professor Shelton took photos on her fact-finding missions that she later shared with her class as she told them more about the work and what she saw and learned. The GW Native American Law Student Association plans to host Professor Shelton for a discussion and viewing of the photos this semester.

- by Claire Duggan (B.A. '98, J.D. '12)