The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has referred four cases over the last two months to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) involving Mexico, Chile, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. Two of the cases, against Mexico and Nicaragua, involve sexual violence against women and girls. The case against Chile concerns the need to obtain informed consent prior to medical proceedings and the failure of public hospitals to provide adequate medical care. The most recent referral is a case against Guatemala in which 11 indigenous people were massacred. The IACHR referred these cases to the Court because the States involved did not comply with the recommendations issued in the IACHR’s merits report. Additionally, referral of a case offers the Court an opportunity to develop its jurisprudence regarding the particular standards and rights applicable in each case.
Mariana Selvas Gomez and Others v. Mexico
The IACHR referred Mariana Selvas Gomez and Others to the jurisdiction of the Court on September 17, 2016. [IACHR Press Release: Mexico] The case involves the sexual and physical abuse of 11 women while they were arbitrarily detained in May 2006 after participating in protests in the municipalities of Texcoco and Slavador Atenco. [IACHR Press Release: Mexico] The petitioners alleged incidents of sexual violence, claiming it constitutes a form of discrimination, and various other forms of physical, verbal, and psychological abuse. See IACHR, Admissibility Report No. 158/11, Petition 512-08, Mariana Selvas Gomez and others (Mexico), 2 November 2011, paras. 8-11. After reviewing the case on the merits, the IACHR concluded that some of the women had been raped and the others had endured severe acts of sexual, physical, and psychological violence amounting to torture. [IACHR Press Release: Mexico] The IACHR additionally found that Mexico did not act with due diligence in investigating these actions and found that the State also violated the women’s family members’ physical and moral integrity.
The Mexican State admitted responsibility over some of the human rights violations; however it failed to comply with the recommendations that the Inter-American Commission issued. The IACHR’s recommendations included conducting investigations with due diligence; punishing the material perpetrators and those within the chain of command; investigating possible cases of concealment; and taking administrative, disciplinary, or criminal action against state agents or employees responsible for denying the victims’ justice. [IACHR Press Release: Mexico]
The IACHR determined that it is necessary for the Court to review this case given that the Mexico has failed to make any significant progress on these recommendations. The State has not convicted the perpetrators of the violence and has not made additional progress in investigating the incidents. [IACHR Press Release: Mexico]
Vinicio Antonio Poblete Vilches v. Chile
The events that gave rise to Vinicio Antonio Poblete Vilches occurred between January 17 and February 7 2001, after Vinicio Antonio Poblete was admitted to a public hospital in Chile. [IACHR Press Release: Chile] The case involves the State’s alleged failure to obtain Poblete’s informed consent before conducting a medical procedure on him, to provide the intensive care that he needed after the procedure, and to conduct a diligent investigation of the events after Poblete died. According to the admissibility report, the petitioners alleged that the physicians treating Poblete were responsible for his death and that the State did not conduct a proper investigation as to the cause of death, failing to provide Poblete’s family members with a clear explanation of the cause of his death. See IACHR, Admissibility Report No. 13/09, Petition 339-02, Vinicio Antonio Poblete Vilches (Chile), 19 March 2009, paras. 2, 17-19.
After reviewing the case on the merits, the Inter-American Commission found several violations of the American Convention on Human Rights and made recommendations for how Chile could repair the harm and prevent similar abuses in the future. It later submitted the case to the jurisdiction of the Court on August 26, 2016 when the State did not comply with those recommendations. First, the IACHR recommended that the State carry out an investigation and issue penalties for those responsible, and implement administrative and budgetary measures to guarantee informed consent is always acquired and proper medical attention is provided in public hospitals, specifically the Sótero del Rio Hospital where Poblete died. [IACHR Press Release: Chile]
In examining this case, the Court, according to the Commission, will be able to develop its jurisprudence on informed consent when making decisions regarding one’s health and on State responsibility for inadequate health care in public hospitals. [IACHR Press Release: Chile]
V.R.P and V.P.C v. Nicaragua
The case of V.R.P and V.P.C, submitted to the Court’s jurisdiction on August 25, 2016, involves allegations of sexual assault against a nine-year-old girl. [IACHR Press Release: Nicaragua] The petitioners alleged that the girl’s father was responsible for the sexual assault and that the State, in conducting proceedings without a gender sensitive approach and protections for the victim, violated the girl’s right to “physical, psychological, and sexual integrity.” See IACHR, Admissibility Report No. 3/09, Petition 4408-02, V.R.P and V.P.C (Nicaragua), 11 February 2009, paras. 9-10, 14. After its investigation on the merits, the IACHR found that the State was in fact responsible for failure to guarantee the child’s personal integrity and dignity, to uphold the rights to private life and non-discrimination, and to investigate the matter with due diligence and with a gender-sensitive approach. [IACHR Press Release: Nicaragua]
The IACHR made several recommendations to Nicaragua on investigating the case further and improving the standards of investigations involving sexual violence against women and girls. The Inter-American Commission recommended a domestic investigation into the criminal procedures, specifically the acquittal, and that the State impose sanctions on the person responsible for the sexual assault. Although the aggressor was acquitted, the IACHR found that a domestic investigation into the matter would not violate ne bis in idem – the guarantee that no legal action can be instituted twice for the same crime – because the State did not comply with due process guarantees during the criminal proceedings against him, thus violating its international obligations failed to follow international standards in the first instance. [IACHR Press Release: Nicaragua]
Additional recommendations included developing investigation protocols to adequately address sexual assault and sexual violence cases against women, executing effective criminal investigations to avoid impunity in sexual assault cases, and guaranteeing appropriate sanctions and reparations. More generally, the IACHR recommended adopting public policies and programs to combat violence against women and to eradicate discriminatory socio-cultural patterns that prevent access to justice. [IACHR Press Release: Nicaragua]
Maurilia Coc Max and others (Xaman Masacre) v. Guatemala
On September 21, 2016, over 20 years after the event in question took place, the IACHR referred Maurilia Coc Max and Others (Xaman Masacre) to the jurisdiction of the Court. The case concerns a massacre by Guatemala’s armed forces on October 5, 1995 in Xaman, Guatemala against 11 persons belonging to the Q’eqchi’, Mam, Q’anjob’al, Ixil and K’iche indigenous peoples, three of them children. Even though the Guatemalan authorities detained 14 members of the armed forces, the massacre has yet to be investigated in an independent and impartial manner, and the State has failed to resolve obstacles resulting from threats and harassment against persons involved in the process. The IACHR found the massacre to be a form of racial discrimination against the Mayan community. [IACHR Press Release: Guatemala]
In its merits report, the IACHR recommended that Guatemala take public responsibility; investigate the matter with due diligence and in a reasonable time; provide rehabilitation programs for survivors of the massacre and the victims’ families; and adopt measures to end threats and harassment against judicial officers, victims, and witnesses during investigations. [IACHR Press Release: Guatemala]
Referral of Cases to the IACtHR
The IACHR referred these four cases to the Court because the Commission determined that Mexico, Chile, Nicaragua, and Guatemala committed human rights violations and failed to follow the IACHR’s recommendations. The IACHR issues a merits report after it evaluates the substance of a matter in a particular case and determines whether there were any human rights violations. When the IACHR concludes that the facts of the case constitute human rights violations, the merits report includes recommendations to the State. The IACHR refers cases to the Court when States parties do not comply with the recommendations issued in the IACHR’s merits report