Category Archives: Inter-American System

Inter-American Commission Refers Colombian “False Positives” Killings to Court

Date: March 26, 2012
Place: Washington, DC
Credit: Juan Manuel Herrera/OAS
Date: March 26, 2012 Place: Washington, DC Credit: Juan Manuel Herrera/OAS

The Inter-American Commission holds a hearing in the case Wilfredo Quiñonez Bárcenas et al.
Credit: Juan Manuel Herrera/OAS

On April 14, 2016, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) submitted an application to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), referring several cases that involve the extrajudicial killings by Colombian security agents. [IACHR Press Release] The victims were killed between 1992 and 1997 and were six of several thousand “falsos positivos,” a term used to refer to ordinary civilians detained and killed by Colombian soldiers who then falsely reported that the deceased were unlawful guerillas killed in military operations. [IACHR Press Release] In its merits reports, the Commission established that these six deaths fit this pattern and had been inadequately investigated, in violation of the rights to honor and dignity, personal integrity, and liberty. [IACHR Press Release]

The Commission referred the joined cases to the Court after Colombia failed to comply with the recommendations in its merits report, which included determining responsibility for the killings, moving the investigations out of the military justice system, and implementing guarantees of non-repetition. [IACHR Press Release] In the ongoing negotiations between the government and FARC rebels, accountability for the “false positives” remains controversial. [HRW] Read more

Inter-American Court: Colombian Same-Sex Partners Entitled to Equal Social Benefits

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25150862565_ecf6f6f99d_o (1)

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in session
Credit: Inter-American Court of Human Rights

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has condemned Columbia’s failure to provide a gay man with equal access to public benefits following the death of his partner, as prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. See I/A Court H.R., Duque v. Colombia. Preliminary Objections, Merits, Reparations and Costs. Judgment of 26 February 2016. Series C No. 310 (Spanish only). This case involved a petitioner, Ángel Alberto Duque, who alleged that he was denied the right to a survivor’s pension due to his sexual orientation. [IACHR Press Release] The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) submitted the case to the Court’s jurisdiction on October 14, 2014 after Colombia failed to comply with its merits report recommendations. [IACHR Press Release] The Court held that Colombia had violated the petitioner’s right to equality and non-discrimination as provided for in the American Convention on Human Rights (American Convention). See Duque v. Colombia. Judgment of 26 February 2016. para. 62. Duque’s case is the first time the Court has ruled on the issues of discrimination and access to social rights as they pertain to same-sex couples. [IACHR Press Release] Read more

April 2016: African, Inter-American, and Universal Human Rights Sessions

Flags of the 193 UN Member States outside the Palais des NationsCredit: UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré
Flags of the 193 UN Member States outside the Palais des NationsCredit: UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

Flags of the 193 UN Member States outside the Palais des Nations
Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

During the month of April 2016, six supranational human rights bodies will be in session. These include three regional human rights monitoring bodies: the Inter-American Court on Human Rights (IACtHR), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). Each will consider pending cases and human rights topics of concern in their respective regions, including through public discussions or hearings. Additionally, four United Nations mechanisms will meet in Geneva, Switzerland: the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW), the Committee Against Torture (CAT), and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). The UN treaty bodies in session will review States’ implementation of the respective treaties, consider individual complaints, and discuss best practices. Video of the public portions of these sessions is available on UN Treaty Body Webcast or UN Web TV. In addition, four experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council will carry out country visits to assess the human rights situation relevant to children, housing, persons with disabilities, and health in Georgia, India, Zambia, and Algeria, respectively. Read more

IACHR Releases Report on Grave Human Rights Situation in Mexico

IACHR in Mexico

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights visits Mexico in 2015
Credit: Daniel Cima/IACHR

In a report released March 2, 2016, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Inter-American Commission) has exposed the severity of Mexico’s ongoing human rights crisis. See IACHR, Situation of Human Rights in Mexico (2015). The report relies on information gathered during onsite visits conducted by the IACHR and its rapporteurships, as well as from IACHR hearings, precautionary measures, and petitions concerning specific human rights problems in Mexico. The report highlights the prevailing environment of impunity for human rights abuses and analyzes ongoing grave violations occurring in various regions of the country, most notably enforced disappearances, repression of journalists and human rights defenders, extrajudicial executions, torture, overall insecurity, and barriers to access to justice. [IACHR Press Release: Mexico] Read more

Guatemala Prosecutes Soldiers For Sexual Slavery During Civil War


A landmark trial of former Guatemalan soldiers for crimes against humanity commenced this month before the country’s High Risk Court A (Tribunal de Mayor Riesgo A). In 2014, the State arrested and charged former Sepur Zarco base commander Lieutenant Colonel Esteelmer Reyes Giron and former  military commissioner Heriberto Valdez Asij with acts of sexual violence, sexual slavery, murder, and forced disappearances in connection with the kidnapping, rape, and enslavement of numerous indigenous women and killing of several men over a six-month period in 1982 to 1983, the height of Guatemala’s 36-year civil war. See Guatemala Human Rights Commission, Sepur Zarco Sexual Slavery Case.  The sexual assault survivors testifying in the trial are members of the Mayan Q’eqchi’ indigenous community. [NPR] The case is being hailed as historic because it is reportedly the first time a national court will oversee a prosecution for sexual slavery and because, although there were many victims of sexual violence during Guatemala’s armed conflict, this is the first prosecution of any perpetrator. [International Justice Monitor: Sepur Zarco; The Guardian] Read more

IACtHR Confirms Indigenous Peoples’ Land and Access to Information Rights

Suriname appears before the Inter-American Court of Human RightsCredit: IACtHR
Suriname appears before the Inter-American Court of Human RightsCredit: IACtHR

Suriname appears before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights
Credit: IACtHR

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) has issued its judgment in the case of Kaliña and Lokono Peoples v. Suriname, which concerns interference with two indigenous communities’ claim to and use of their traditional territories due to mining operations, the establishment of nature reserves, and the provision of property titles to other individuals. [IACtHR Press Release] The judgment, adopted by the IACtHR on November 25, 2015, declares that Suriname is responsible for the violation of the rights to recognition of juridical personality, property, political participation, and access to information based on the State’s failure to: recognize the legal agency of indigenous and tribal peoples, evaluate their claims to collective title to the territory, ensure their access to and participation in the nature reserves, and weigh the communities’ input and the social and environmental impact when determining whether to grant mining concessions. See I/A Court H.R., Kaliña and Lokono Peoples v. Suriname. Merits, Reparations and Costs. Judgment of November 25, 2015. Series C No. 309.

Leaders of indigenous communities in Suriname originally lodged the petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in February 2007, on behalf of the Kaliña and Lokono peoples. See IACHR, Report N° 76/07, Petition 198-07, Kaliña and Lokono Peoples (Suriname), 15 October 2007. The case was then submitted to the IACtHR by the IACHR in January 2014, after the IACHR failed to receive concrete evidence that Suriname had implemented the recommendations made in its July 2013 report on the merits of the case. [IACHR Press Release] Read more

Updated Inter-American Commission Report Reviews Gender Equality, Women’s Rights Standards

Legal standards

On November 18, 2015, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) published a new report analyzing regional human rights standards on gender equality and women’s rights, as well as their implementation by domestic judiciaries. [IACHR Press Release] The publication, Legal Standards: Gender Equality and Women’s Rights, updates a 2011 publication with references to norms and interpretations developed through 2014. Its release coincides with the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Convention of Belém do Pará, the regional treaty on violence against women, and is the part of the IACHR’s efforts to promote the development and application of gender equality and women’srights standards in Americas. See IACHR, Legal Standards: Gender Equality and Women’s Rights (2015). Last month, the IACHR released a number of other thematic reports, including a second publication related to women’s human rights, entitled Access to Information, Violence against Women, and the Administration of Justice.

Legal standards

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IACHR Welcomes Mexico’s Steps to Remedy Discriminatory Discharge of Soldiers with HIV

Inter-American Commission on Human RightsCredit: OAS
Inter-American Commission on Human RightsCredit: OAS

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
Credit: OAS

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) recently released its decision in a case concerning discriminatory treatment of two Mexican soldiers with HIV, after concluding that Mexico had complied with all its recommendations for remedying the violations. See IACHR, Report No. 80/15, Case 12.689, J.S.C.H and M.G.S. (Mexico), 28 October 2015. The complaint, brought on behalf of two former members of the National Defense Secretariat, alleged that Mexico violated the American Convention on Human Rights (American Convention) by requiring the victims to retire from their positions without benefits, pay, or pension based on their HIV status. The petitioners further alleged that they were denied the right to fair trial in the process of appealing the forced retirement. The Commission found Mexico in violation of its obligation to give domestic legal effects to the rights to non-discrimination, a hearing within a reasonable time before an impartial tribunal, privacy, and equal protection of the law without discrimination. It found no violation of Article 5.1 (humane treatment) of the American Convention, holding that Mexico’s dismissal of the victims and their subsequent lack of pay and benefits did not constitute inhumane treatment. See id. The decision was announced shortly after World AIDS Day, which was observed on December. [IACHR Press Release]

In its merits report, the Commission recommended that Mexico provide the victims with any comprehensive health services needed; make complete reparations to the victims, including financial, moral, and, if desired by the victims, reinstatement in the Armed Forces; and to bring the Mexican Armed Forces Social Security Law (MAFSS Law), which governs the conditions under which a person can be retired from service, into compliance with the non-discrimination, privacy, and equal protection provisions of the American Convention. See IACHR, J.S.C.H. and M.G.S. (Mexico), 28 October 2015. Following the IACHR’s confidential release of the decision to the State and petitioners, the parties executed an agreement on reparations that recognized the victims’ desire to be reinstated in the army, required a ceremonial acceptance of responsibility, ensured amendment and evaluation of the legislation to guarantee non-repetition, and required implementation of training in the armed services on non-discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. Id. at paras. 141-47.

The IACHR determined that Mexico “fully complied with the recommendations set forth in Merits Report 139/11, as well as with the additional components of the agreement entered into by the parties.” It found that no additional evaluation would be necessary. Id at para. 168.

The decision elaborates on the international jurisprudence requiring that any difference in treatment based on HIV status be reasonable, as well as suitable and strictly proportional to pursuing a legitimate purpose. See id. at para. 99 et seq. This is apparently the first time that the IACHR has published a detailed discussion of its analysis on this issue. , For example, a previous decision found that the treatment of a hospital patient with HIV, wherein he was provided with a drinking glass marked “XXX” that no other patient used, was “utterly unreasonable and demeaning,” but the IACHR did not explain the relevant standard or analysis. See IACHR, Report No. 27/09, Case 12,249, Jorge Odir Miranda Cortez, et al. (El Salvador), 20 March 2009, para. 74. Read more

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