Inter-American Court Judge Resigns Amid Domestic Violence Allegations

Roberto F. Caldas recently resigned from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights
Credit: CorteIDH via Flickr

On May 15, 2018, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) accepted the resignation of Judge Roberto F. Caldas, whose appointment to the Court will terminate immediately. [IACtHR Press Release] Caldas submitted his letter of resignation on May 14, following the revelation of allegations of domestic violence against him. [IACtHR Press Release] Caldas had served on the Inter-American Court since 2013, and his term was set to expire at the end of this year. [La Nacion] The body responsible for appointing Inter-American Court judges, the Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly, is expected to fill the vacancy at the next General Assembly meeting in June of this year. See Statute of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, OAS Res. 448 adopted by the General Assembly of the OAS at its Ninth Regular Session (1979), reprinted in Basic Documents Pertaining to Human Rights in the Inter-American System, OEA/Ser.L/V/1.4, rev. 13 at 205 (2010), art. 6(2) (Statute of the IACtHR). In commenting on the resignation, the President of the Inter-American Court emphasized that the Court condemns all forms of violence against women. [IACtHR Press Release] The Inter-American Court has ruled on several cases concerning the prevention of violence against women over the years. See, e.g., I/A Court H.R., Case of González et al. (“Cotton Field”) v. Mexico. Preliminary Objection, Merits, Reparations and Costs. Judgment of November 16, 2009. Series C No. 205.

Interim Judicial Appointments in the Inter-American Court

The OAS will be responsible for filling the vacancy left by Caldas’ resignation. See Statute of the IACtHR, at art. 6(2). When Court vacancies prematurely arise due to death, permanent disability, resignation, or dismissal of judges, the OAS will appoint an interim judge to carry out the remaining term of the outgoing judge at the next OAS General Assembly, if possible. See id. The only exception to this rule is that the OAS will not appoint an interim judge when the vacancy arises within six months of the end of the outgoing judge’s term. See id. Because Caldas’ term had over six months remaining, the OAS will be expected to appoint an interim judge at its next session, which will occur at the OAS headquarters in Washington, D.C. from June 4 to 5, 2018. [La Nacion] See OAS, 48 Regular Session of the OAS General Assembly – 2018.

Caldas’ replacement should be elected by a majority of the States parties to the American Convention on Human Rights from a list of judicial nominees via a secret ballot, according to the Statute of the Court. See OAS, Statute of the IACtHR, arts. 7, 8(1), 9. The OAS General Assembly may hold successive rounds of voting, eliminating the nominees that receive the least amount of votes, until one candidate receives a majority. See id. at art. 9(2). States parties may propose up to three nominees. See id. at art. 7. Generally, States will have a 90-day period to submit their nominations for judges, but, when unanticipated vacancies arise such as that left by Caldas’ resignation, the OAS Secretary General will shorten this period to a time-frame that the Secretary deems reasonable. See id. at arts. 8(1), 8(3).

As Caldas’ term was set to expire at the end of 2018, the nomination process for his position was likely underway. [La Nacion] While judges on the Inter-American Court may serve two successive terms, it is not clear whether Caldas’ was expected to run for reelection to the Court. See Statute of the IACtHR, art. 5.

The Allegations Against Caldas

In the context of a domestic violence suit, Michella Marys, Caldas’ ex-wife, accused Caldas of domestic violence during their marriage. [El Universal; La Nacion] Marys alleged that, over the course of their relationship, Caldas insulted, assaulted, beat, and threatened to kill her. [El Universal] In several recently surfaced recordings by Marys, Caldas can be heard insulting and insinuating physical violence against Marys. [La Vanguardia] Caldas’ defense attorney has stated that while the verbal abuse heard in the recordings is serious, Caldas denies all allegations of physical violence. [La Vanguardia]

After the domestic abuse allegations came to light, two women formerly employed as nannies for Caldas’ children have since come forward alleging that Caldas sexually harassed them while under his employment. [El Universal]

The Current Judges of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

In addition to Caldas, two other judges, Humberto Antonio Sierra Porto and Eduardo Ferrer Mac-Gregor Poisot, have terms set to expire at the end of 2018 but are eligible for a second term. See Inter-American Court, Composition. As ordinary judicial elections are held in the General Assembly session preceding the expiration of the term of the outgoing judge, the election for these positions is scheduled to take place at the 48th Session of the OAS General Assembly. See OAS General Assembly Preparatory Committee, Preliminary Draft Schedule, AG/CP/doc.916/18 rev. 2, 16 May 2018; OAS, Statute of the IACtHR, art. 6(1). The other three judges’ terms – Eduardo Vio Grossi, Elizabeth Odio Benito, Eugenio Raúl Zaffaroni, and Patricio Pazmiño Freire – run until 2021. Currently, only one of the judges is female, despite a push from civil society for gender parity on supranational human rights bodies. See GQUAL, About GQUAL. [IJRC: GQUAL]

The Inter-American Court is composed of seven judges from OAS Member States, elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacities to six-year terms. See OAS, Statute of the IACtHR, art. 4(1). There may only be one judge from any single OAS Member State, and judges may only be re-elected once. See id. at arts. 4(2), 5(1).

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights

The Inter-American Court is the judicial organ of the Inter-American human rights system, and it may issue judgments on contentious cases against one of the 20 States that have accepted its contentious jurisdiction, and may issue advisory opinions when requested by a Member State or an organ of the Organization of American States.

Additional Information

For more information on the Inter-American systemthe Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, or the Inter-American Court, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub. For additional information on States’ obligations to prevent violence against women, see IJRC’s Thematic Research Guide on women’s rights.