The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the Face of Terrorism

Challenges and Lessons Learned
Reference work entry
Part of the International Human Rights book series (IHR)


How have Inter-American human rights bodies dealt with terrorism and how has it shaped their case law? The Inter-American system of human rights has been a pioneer in this field, paving the way toward assessing and establishing the limits of States’ behavior in the fight against terrorism. The American continent is not foreign to terrorism, even before the attacks on the Twin Towers and the 11 September events gave it global resonance. This chapter will assess the approach adopted by the Inter-American bodies and the complexities in developing such a response. The reactions of both the Inter-American Commission and the Court to counterterrorist measures and human rights abuses have generated a rich and well-developed body of case law. As with many other topics, the Inter-American Court has played a leading role and, over time, has transformed the American Convention through interpretation, making it a well-adapted mechanism in the fight against human rights abuses. States are confronted with a complex dilemma, as they have to decide whether to declare a state of emergency and exception or deal with terrorism in the context of the normal working of the institutions of the democratic State. In the first case, if the State recognizes a threat that may endanger the life of the nation, the state of emergency allows it to adopt measures restricting human rights in the fight against terrorism under international supervision. In the second case, the State does not specify that there is an extraordinarily grave danger, and counterterrorist measures will therefore have to satisfy the tests of proportionality and necessity when limiting individual human rights. Dealing with “gray areas,” which are situations in between exception and normality and which call for adopting restrictive measures which affect everyday life, has triggered a wide range of case law. Most cases happen in a context in which there is not an open conflict but, rather, concern a situation of internal strife. Instances of State terrorism are also at the basis of some of the most powerful rulings issues.


Inter-American Court of Human Rights American Convention of Human Rights Counterterrorism Extrajudicial executions State terrorism Amnesties 


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European Court of Human Rights Judgments

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Council of EuropeStrasbourgFrance

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