The ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights of May 3, 2016 in the case of Maldonado Ordonez v. Guatemala (Series C, No. 311).
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, a complaint regarding guarantees of a fair trial in disciplinary proceedings was successfully considered.
Guarantees of a fair trial in disciplinary proceedings.
Circumstances of the case
The complainant Olga Yolanda Maldonado Ordonez has been working in the office of the Commissioner for Human Rights of Guatemala since 1992. On February 21, 2000, her brothers filed a complaint against her with the head of the ombudsman’s department, in which they referred to forgery of an official document in the inheritance case and asked that a “moral sanction” be applied to her. The applicant was notified of the complaint, she was informed that there were grounds for her dismissal in accordance with the staff regulations and that she had the right to submit documents or exculpatory evidence within two days. The applicant submitted evidence and claimed that the information was false.
On May 16, 2000, the Commissioner for Human Rights issued Order No. 81-2000 on the dismissal of Maldonado from her positions as temporary assistant and methodologist. The applicant appealed to the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights, demanding the cancellation of the order and immediate reinstatement. She claimed that she was fired due to family problems not related to professional disabilities at work. This appeal was rejected on the grounds that the issue was related to the family and therefore belonged to general jurisdiction. The decision noted that the mere fact that the applicant had been lodged complaints indicated "undesirable behavior for the human rights defender".
Lastly, the applicant complained to the labor court of appeal, which in turn rejected the complaint with reference to the lack of jurisdiction. She subsequently filed a constitutional complaint with the Court of Appeal, which served as the Constitutional Court. The complaint was dismissed because the case did not violate the requirements of the Constitution. The applicant filed a complaint submitted to the Constitutional Court, which on 9 October 2001 rejected the complaint.
QUESTIONS OF LAW
(a) Articles 8 (right to a fair trial) and 9 (exemption from laws ex post facto) of the American Convention on Human Rights (hereinafter - ACHR) in relation to its own article 1 (1) (obligation to respect and respect rights). Recognizing the punitive nature of the dismissal proceedings and their outcome, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (“the Inter-American Court”) decided that the procedural guarantees provided for in Article 8 (2) of the ACHR were part of the minimum guarantees that must be respected for these decisions in order to satisfy fair trial requirements and not be arbitrary.
Ex post facto (lat.) - after a fait accompli, in hindsight.
The Inter-American Court of Justice determined that the accused’s right to preliminary detailed notice of criminal charges against him or her also applies to matters of a different nature referred to in Article 8 (1) of the ACHR, although such a requirement could have a different intensity or scope. In disciplinary proceedings, the Inter-American Court ruled that the scope of this guarantee included notification of the prosecution of an act that allegedly violated the disciplinary rules. In particular, he found that the applicant should have been at least informed of the grounds for dismissal and that a reference should be made to the connection between the facts of her case and the allegedly violated norm. In the same way, it was established that the applicant was not clearly notified about the reasons for the disciplinary proceedings and the specific grounds for her final dismissal. This omission constituted a violation of the guarantee of prior notification of the applicant of her right to defense.
The Inter-American Court recalled that the obligation to state the basis of all decisions is one of the necessary guarantees to ensure the right to a fair trial. It is related to the proper administration of justice, which protects the right of citizens to be tried on the grounds provided by law, and makes reliable decisions in the context of a democratic society. In this regard, the Inter-American court confirmed that the decisions taken by the domestic authorities must be properly substantiated, otherwise they will be considered arbitrary. In this regard, the court indicated that the arguments underlying the judgment and certain administrative acts should clearly indicate the facts, motives and norms relied on by the authorities. In the present case, the court considered that the grounds for dismissing the applicant were not sufficiently motivated and justified in accordance with the applicable provisions. This constituted a violation of the obligation to motivate decision-making.
The Inter-American Court also found that the principle of legality applies to disciplinary proceedings, despite the fact that the extent of the latter depends on the subject. The required accuracy of a punitive norm of a disciplinary nature may differ from what is necessary in accordance with the principle of legality in criminal matters, due to the nature of the conflicts to which they are directed.
The court concluded that the applicant was dismissed for conduct that was not provided for in the staff regulations as a disciplinary offense and that it did not fall within the scope of the provisions indicated in justification of the sanction applied. Therefore, he found a violation of the principle of legality.
The case has violated the requirements of Article 8 (2) (b) and (c) of the ACHR in relation to its Article 1 (1) (unanimously), the case has violated the requirements of Articles 8 (1) and 9 of the ACHR in relation to Article 1 (1 ) (adopted unanimously).
(b) Articles 25 (right to judicial defense) and 2 (the meaning of domestic law) of the ACHR in conjunction with its own article 1 (1). The Inter-American Court noted that the remedies must be adequate to remedy the violation and should be effective in practice. The latter suggests that an analysis of a judicial remedy by a competent authority cannot be reduced to mere formality. Such a body should consider the parties' submissions and give a clear answer to them. The Inter-American court indicated that the proceedings should entail the effective protection of the right recognized in the judgment by appropriate application of the judgment.
An Inter-American court ruled that Guatemalan law was inconsistent in terms of the remedy that the applicant should have used to appeal her dismissal. Based on this, the Inter-American Court concluded that since the applicant could not count on a simple and effective remedy and, given the lack of certainty and clarity of the available remedies, she was deprived of legal protection.
This was a violation of the right to judicial protection and the obligation to take legislative or other measures in national law.
The case has violated ACHR requirements (adopted unanimously).
(c) Compensation. The Inter-American Court found that the decision in itself constituted a form of reparation, and ordered the state (i) to publish the decision and its official summary, (ii) exclude Maldonado’s dismissal from her “track record” or other documents and guarantee the applicant priority regarding the processing of any application for survivors' pensions and (iii) clearly indicate or regulate, through legislative or other measures, the judicial procedure and the competence of judicial review of sanctions or administrative and disciplinary measures of the ombudsman’s office, (iv) pay compensation for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage, as well as legal costs and costs.