Visiting the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

Impact is running a series of posts on student reflections from their Spring Break Service Trips and experiential work last month. Find the first post here, and the second post here. These posts were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but we think the messages are too important to go unshared. Today’s post is from Marija Tesla, who writes about her experience as part of BC Law’s International Human Rights Practicum visit to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Stay safe everyone, and please reach out to us at if we can do anything to help, or if you would like us to consider publishing a guest post on your own experiences during the outbreak.

When Professor Daniela Urosa chose me to be a part of the inaugural International Human Rights Practicum, to say that I was elated would be an understatement. It was a dream come true for me! She told me that it was a dream come true for her as well. Having guided instruction from her in our weekly meetings and in her seminar is the best part of my law school experience thus far. I am truly grateful to her and to Boston College Law School for making this clinic a reality. I know that it involved many years of hard work on the part of many, including Professor Judith McMorrow and Professor Daniel Kanstroom. 

My partner in the clinic is Nadia Bouquet, who is an LL.M. student from Paris, France, studying at Université Paris Nanterre. We are working on writing an amicus brief to submit to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) which relates to a case that is going to be heard by the Court in San José, Costa Rica later this year. There are six of us in the clinic, and we work in pairs of two on one amicus brief, each amicus relating to a different case and a different set of issues. Four of us are J.D. candidates and two are LL.M. candidates, which makes the conversations and the work that much richer. Most of us are also transnational thinkers, speaking multiple languages and having lived in different parts of the globe. We recognize the importance of IACtHR, which is an amalgamation of both the civil and common law, while also being its own unique regional system. It is why it is great to have students with such diverse backgrounds and different lived experiences who also come from both of the legal systems in the clinic, and who appreciate both the importance and complexity of international law and regional systems. 

Courtroom of the IACtHR

In the courtroom of the IACtHR. From left to right: Nadia Bouquet, Julia Novak, Liadan Ni Nunain, Marija Tesla, Professor Daniela Urosa.

The Organization of American States (OAS) adopted the American Convention on Human Rights, which entered into force on July 18, 1978. The American Convention in turn established the IACtHR on May 22, 1979 to enforce and interpret the provisions of the American Convention. While the OAS has 35 member states, of which the United States is a member, the American Convention was ratified by 25 states, and 20 states accepted the jurisdiction of the IACtHR. Under its adjudicatory function, IACtHR hears and rules on specific cases of human rights violations that are referred to it by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and under the advisory function it issues opinions on matters of legal interpretation brought to it by OAS or the 20 member states. These states have opted to accept the Court’s contentious jurisdiction in accordance with Article 62 of the American Convention. The fascinating thing about the IACtHR is not just how progressive it is, but also that it is not merely a body which enforces international law. Its jurisprudence actually becomes a part of the constitutional frameworks of the 20 states which have accepted its jurisdiction, rendering no gap between domestic law of the states and international law. 

Students at Poás Volcano

At the Poás Volcano. From left to right: Nadia Bouquet, Julia Novak, Marija Tesla, Liadan Ni Nunain.

It was a true honor to travel to San José, Costa Rica during our spring break and to meet with various staff of the IACtHR while learning more about this regional system. There is nothing quite like actually having the opportunity to be in the courtroom where the seven judges who serve at any given time hear the cases before them. It was such a unique experience to see the portraits of the former judges who were presidents of the Court, and it was chilling to take a photo of Professor Urosa with her former professor and constitutional law scholar in Venezuela who was once the President of IACtHR, Pedro Nikken. While the Court was not in session and the judges not present, hearing from the attorneys and staff who work at the Court was a great privilege, as was getting to review the files of the oldest case ever heard by IACtHR, Valásquez-Rodríguez v. Honduras, which was heard on July 29, 1988. 

Marija with a toucan

Marija with a toucan, a bird native to Costa Rica. “Just hanging out with Bob, the alpha female toucan. You toucan if you visit Costa Rica!”

The two most important things I believe a person can do in the world is to fight for the eradication of poverty and the preservation and advancement of human rights and dignity. It was an honor to visit the IACtHR and pay homage to the work it has done and continues to do in the fight for the dignity of the most vulnerable by giving them a platform to tell their own stories and through the legitimacy of the Court, not just amplify the voices of the victims by turning them to victors, but also provide them and their families with restitutio in integrum, a Latin phrase meaning “returning everything to the state as it was before.” There are five types of restitution that the IACtHR provides: 1) investigation, prosecution and punishment; 2) compensation; 3) rehabilitation; 4) satisfaction; 5) guarantees of non-repetition. The concept of restitution in the administration of justice is unique to this regional system and is “the jewel crown of the IACtHR because of the impact in has on states,” said attorney Marta Cabrera Martín in her presentation to us during our visit. I have to agree. 

Students at the entrance of the IACtHR

At the entrance of the IACtHR. From left to right: Professor Daniela Urosa, Milena Cuadra, Nadia Bouquet, Marija Tesla, Julia Novak, Liadan Ni Nunain, Professor Daniel Kanstroom.

While Costa Rica is different and unique, it connected me to the larger Central and South America. Costa Rica is often called the Switzerland of Latin America and is one of the few sovereign states in the world without a military. While it is still a developing country, it has been a democratic state since 1949 and has a very diversified economy. It meant so much to actually visit some of the places and things it is known for, such as a coffee plantation, and to simply talk to people and eat in restaurants that serve the traditional breakfast of rice and beans and scrambled eggs with coffee.

Looking through IACtHR case files

Looking through IACtHR case files. From left to right: Marija Tesla, Professor Daniela Urosa, Nadia Bouquet, Liadan Ni Nunain, Julia Novak.

In addition to the enriching and inspirational visit of the IACtHR in Costa Rica, we hiked and visited the Poás Volcano, chased La Paz, Magia Blanca, Templo and Encantada waterfalls. We hiked and visited Monteverde and saw the incredibly rare, quetzal bird. All of us had an opportunity to swim in the Pacific Ocean at the Manuel Antonio beach and to have witnessed the white monkeys as they attempted to steal our belongings and open our bags. We observed squirrel monkeys as they jumped branch to branch and both the two-toed and three-toed sloths as they dangled and slowly moved on the trees of the Manuel Antonio National Park. All of this in addition to witnessing a Costa Rican sunset, eating the Costa Rican Churchill, dancing at the Restaurante Mirador Tiquicia with its breathtaking views of the flickering lights of San José and completed our trip by experiencing our first Costa Rican earthquake. It was perfect. 

Now we are ready to return to work and to finish writing our amicus briefs. 

Marija Tesla is a joint degree candidate, BC Law (JD) and Fletcher (MALD), class of ’22 .

2 thoughts on “Visiting the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

  1. Pingback: BC Law Brief Influences International Tribunal’s Decision | Boston College Law School Magazine

  2. Pingback: Making an Impact: Working in the International Human Rights Practicum | BC Law: Impact

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