The ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights of February 29, 2016 in the case of Chinchilla Sandoval v. Guatemala (Series C, No. 312).
The applicant was assisted in preparing a complaint to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Washington, USA).
Subsequently, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights referred the applicant's complaint to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (San Jose, Costa Rica) for consideration. The complaint was then communicated to Guatemala.
In the case, the complaint on the right to life and personal integrity of prisoners was successfully considered.
The right to life and security of prisoners.
Circumstances of the case
In 1995, Maria Ines Chinchilla Sandoval was sentenced to 30 years in prison for aggravated theft and murder by negligence. She was serving her term in a women's prison in Guatemala. She suffered from diabetes and other diseases, and from 1997 to 2004 her health deteriorated, which caused her physical and sensory dysfunctions.
In particular, her leg was amputated, and she moved in a wheelchair. She also suffered from partial loss of vision. In 2002-2004, her lawyer applied for early release four times. Although the prison clearly lacked the technical, professional and medical capabilities to provide the applicant with adequate treatment, the judge rejected all four applications. On May 25, 2004, while in prison, Chinchilla fell down the stairs in her stroller. She was assisted by a group of prisoners, and later by a prison nurse, but the applicant died soon.
The investigation into her death was terminated because the autopsy did not reveal traces of harmful substances in her body.
(a) Articles 5 (1) (right to security of person) and 4 (1) (right to life) in relation to article 1 (1) (obligation to respect and ensure rights without discrimination) of the American Convention on Human Rights (hereinafter - ACHR) . The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (hereinafter - the Inter-American Court) recalled the special obligation of the state to guarantee the rights of persons deprived of their liberty. He determined that the right to life of persons deprived of their liberty also implies the obligation of the state to ensure their physical and mental health through regular medical examinations, as well as adequate, timely and, if necessary, specialized treatment in accordance with their special needs. The Inter-American Court noted that the lack of adequate medical care for persons deprived of their liberty and in custody could be considered a violation of Article 5 (1) and 5 (2) of the ACHR, depending on specific circumstances, such as their state of health or the type of illness that they suffer from a period of lack of medical supervision, the combined physical and mental consequences and, in some cases, their gender and age. The Inter-American Court emphasized that in the present case the burden of proof rests with the state.
The Inter-American Court of Justice decided that a special obligation of the state to guarantee the rights of persons deprived of their liberty could be conditional, emphasized or determined taking into account the type of disease, especially if it is in the final stage or may be complicated or aggravated by the special circumstances of the person, the conditions of his detention or the real medical capabilities of the prison or authorities. This obligation is entrusted to the penitentiary and judicial authorities, which, at their own initiative or at the request of interested parties, must exercise judicial control with respect to guarantees for persons deprived of their liberty.
In addition, the Inter-American Court has indicated that persons deprived of their liberty suffering from serious, chronic or incurable diseases should not be held in prison if the state cannot ensure the availability of adequate medical departments with equipment and qualified personnel in which they can be provided with specialized help and treatment. The state should also provide adequate nutrition and diet as directed. The Inter-American Court also noted that states are required to ensure that a medical card is issued for every person entering the detention center.
In the present case, the Inter-American Court found that the state was unable to prove that Chinchilla had a medical card, that she regularly received adequate nutrition and medications, and that she was provided with periodic and systematic help in treating her diseases.
Authorities monitored her illnesses and disabilities, but did not prevent her condition from worsening by providing periodic, adequate and systematic medical care and supervision, in particular by providing an appropriate diet, rehabilitation and other necessary means. The Inter-American Court indicated that if the state does not have the means to guarantee such medical care and supervision in prison, a mechanism or protocol for systematic, diligent and appropriate treatment should be established, since the external consultation procedure is not so simple in order to ensure the provision of appropriate medical care, especially in case of emergency. Procedures created for external consultation in hospitals were not operational enough to effectively enable timely treatment. For the above reasons, the Inter-American Court concluded that the state did not guarantee Chinchilla's right to security of person and life during detention. Regarding Chinchilla’s disability, the Inter-American Court stated, including, inter alia, the Mircea Dumitrescu v. Romania judgment of the European Court of Justice (Mircea Dumitrescu v. Romania) (dated July 30, 2013, complaint No. 14609/10) that the state was It is obliged to guarantee access to various sections of the prison for persons with disabilities, including the creation of appropriate infrastructure changes that allow maximum independence and equal conditions in comparison with healthy prisoners. The Inter-American Court found that the state should provide access to reasonable means of rehabilitation. In this regard, he indicated that Chinchilla was discriminated against because of her disability and that her conditions of detention were incompatible with her right to physical and mental integrity.
The Inter-American Court also concluded that the state did not guarantee adequate medical assistance to the applicant on the day of her death.
The case has violated the requirements of the Convention (adopted unanimously).
(b) Compensation. The Inter-American Court found that the decision itself constituted a form of reparation, and ordered the state (i) to take measures to train the judicial authorities responsible for the enforcement of sentences, as well as prison staff and other competent authorities that deal with prisoners, with a view to adequate fulfilling their function as guarantors of the rights of prisoners, (ii) publish the decision and its official summary, (ii) guarantee the applicant priority regarding the processing of any application for the survivor's pension, and (iii) pay compensation for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage, as well as legal costs and expenses.