Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Huilca Tecse v. Peru, 3 March 2005

Inter-American Court of Human rights
Freedom of association
Role of International Law:
Reference to international law to strengthen a decision based on inter-American law
Type of instruments used:

ILO Convention  and other treaties;1 Work of international supervisory bodies;2 International case law3

Freedom of Association/ Trades unions freedom/ Right to life/ Right and freedom of a given group to associate freely, without fear or intimidation/ State obligation to allow trade unions, federations and confederations to operate freely/ International state responsibility/ Reference to international law to strengthen a decision based on inter-American law

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights brought a legal action before the Inter-American court against the State of Peru for the extra-judicial execution of a major Peruvian trade union leader, Mr Pedro Huilca Tecse, who at the time of the events was acting as Secretary General of the Peruvian General Workers’ Confederation. The Commission indicated that this execution was presumably carried out by members of the Grupo Colina, a hit squad connected with the Peruvian Army Intelligence Service. The legal action also referred to the alleged lack of a full, impartial and effective investigation of the events.

In its response to the action, the State accepted the claims of the plaintiff and also the details of the civil redress and costs. The Court established that there were sufficient evidence to conclude that the extrajudicial execution of Mr Pedro Huilca Tecse was politically motivated, arising out of a covert military intelligence operation tolerated by various national authorities and institutions. The Court concluded that the right to life and freedom of association enshrined in the American Convention on Human Rights had been violated. With regard to the latter, it established that the content of the right to freedom of association had been violated with regard to trade union freedom because the assassination was motivated by the fact that the victim was an opposition trade union leader. It added that not only had the freedom of association of one individual been restricted but also that of the Peruvian trade union movement due to the intimidating effect of the execution of Mr. Pedro Huilca Tecse. To strengthen its decision, the Court referred to the regional and international standards and the pronouncements of the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association: 

“The Court recalls the contents of the Protocol of San Salvador of November 17, 1977, and of ILO Convention No. 87 concerning freedom of association ad protection of the right to organize of June 17, 1948, which, in their Articles 8(1)(a) and 11, respectively, includes the obligation of the State to allow trade unions, federations and confederations to function freely. Peru ratified ILO Convention No. 87 on March 2, 1960.

The ILO Committee on Freedom of Association has stated that: “Freedom of association can only exercised in a situation in which fundamental human rights are fully guaranteed and respected, particularly those related to the life and safety of the individual.”

The European Court of Human Rights has stated that the effective exercise of freedom of association cannot: “be reduced to a mere obligation on the part of the State not to interfere; a merely negative concept would not be compatible with the object and purpose of Article 11 [of the European Convention, which] on some occasions requires the adoption of positive measures, even in the sphere of relations between individuals, should the case merit it.”


The State must ensure that people can freely exercise their freedom of association without fear of being subjected to some kind of violence; otherwise, the ability of groups to organize themselves to protect their interests could be limited.”4

On the basis of the American Convention of Human Rights, and with reference to ILO Convention No. 87 and the pronouncements of the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association and of the European Court of Human Rights, the Court considered that the Peruvian State held international responsibility for violating the right to life and freedom of association, and established the means of redress to the victims.

1 ILO Convention on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise, 1948 (No. 87)(ratified by Peru on 02.03.1960); American Convention on Human Rights “Pact of San José, Costa Rica”, 1969 (ratified by Peru 08.05.1978); Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (“San Salvador Protocol”), 1988 (ratified by Peru on 28.10.1992).

2 ILO Committee on Freedom of Association.

3 European Court of Human Rights.

4 Paragraphs 74 to 77 of the decision.

Full text of the decision