Regional human rights commissions are challenged in holding individuals accountable for human rights violations but have the potential to be transformative to international law. Accountability is not merely trying and punishing the person; rather accountability is a complicated process that presents the main challenges facing a regional human rights commission. These paramount problems are local interests and their influence, the proliferation of impunity, the capacity to deliver accountability, the sovereignty of the state, and the embeddedness of sovereignty within the processes and bodies of the United Nations (UN). However, these problems are not exclusive to regional human rights commissions, and the unique position and sensitivity a regional organization can provide highlights a potentially transformative process for international law.
Holding an individual accountable for human rights violations is not merely staging a trial and rendering a punishment. The person’s trial and punishment are certainly warranted; accountability for the actual abuse regardless of the person, however, is a complex process that involves every facet of international law. Juan Mendez and Javier Mareizucurrena (1999) refer to this as “affirmative obligations on the state” (p. 88). In summary of Mendez and Mareizucurrena (1999), these obligations are a duty to investigate, prosecute, punish those found guilty, and to provide truth to the victims and public. In continuing their summary, there is the requirement to provide certain measures of reparations to the victims and their families and to relieve and remove those who participated in the violations (p. 88). These obligations are crucial yet incredibly challenging to ensuring accountability for human rights abuses. This essay holds the argument that accountability for the alleged individual and the abuse committed are two unique things but that they cannot be separated because victims of abuse are seeking accountability for human rights violations.