Inter-American Court of Human Rights judgment of 24 August 2017 in the case of Gutierrez Hernandez et al. V. Guatemala (Series C, no. 339).
The applicants were 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 José, Costa Rica). The complaint was then communicated to Guatemala.
The case successfully reviewed a complaint about the state's obligations to investigate violence against women.
State obligations to investigate violence against women.
THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
Mayra Angelina Gutierrez Hernandez was a university professor. On 7 April 2000, she did not go on her usual Friday business trip to another city. Two days later, a colleague and her brother reported her disappearance to the National Civil Police, and her brother reported that the man she was in a relationship with could be responsible for her disappearance. The prosecutor's office opened an investigation, which remained open at the date of the decision of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (hereinafter - the Inter-American Court). In April and May 2000, the victim's representative filed two habeas corpus motions with the court, which granted the motions and ordered the prosecutor to investigate. The prosecutor filed a third application for a habeas corpus order, but this was rejected as an investigation was already underway. Finally, in December 2000, the Supreme Court of Guatemala ordered the Ombudsman to carry out a special inquiry, giving him powers and responsibilities similar to those of a prosecutor. The mandate of the Ombudsman ended in 2013. All investigations focused on establishing the possible responsibility of the victim's former partner, rejecting other possible versions of her disappearance, in particular, versions that could imply participation or connivance on the part of state representatives.
(a) Articles 3 (right to legal personality), 4 (right to life), 5 (right to security of person) and 7 (right to personal liberty) of the American Convention on Human Rights (hereinafter - ACHR) in conjunction with Articles I and II Inter-American Convention on the Forced Disappearance of Persons. The Inter-American Court has analyzed the reasons given by the representatives to support their theory that Gutierrez was a victim of forced disappearance: (i) in 1982 and 1985, during the internal armed conflict in Guatemala, two members of her family were forcibly disappeared, (ii) her her name was in a military magazine that was declassified in 2000, (iii) she was involved in an investigation into child smuggling in Guatemala, which was used in a report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. The Inter-American Court concluded that these elements alone were insufficient to establish that Gutierrez was deprived of her liberty by representatives of the State or with their acquiescence. Thus, he did not hold the State responsible for the alleged enforced disappearance and concluded that there was no violation in this regard.
In addition, the Inter-American Court concluded that there was no violation of the State's duty to prevent violations of Gutierrez's right to life and security of person, given that (i) it was not proven that, at the time of her disappearance, the State knew or should have known about the increasing level of violence in against women and the killings of women in Guatemala, therefore there was no obligation on the part of the state to strictly monitor her search, and (ii) state representatives were not notified of previous threats, risks or demands to protect Gutierrez, so at the time of her disappearance there were not enough elements to establish that she was exposed to a real and imminent threat of harm. Therefore, the Inter-American Court concluded that there was no violation of Articles 4 and 5 of the ACHR and ordered that the authorities' response to her disappearance would be analyzed in relation to the effectiveness of the investigations.
There is no violation in the case (adopted unanimously).
(b) Articles 8 (1) (right to a fair trial) and 25 (1) (right to judicial protection) in conjunction with Articles 1 (1) (obligation to respect and ensure rights and non-discrimination) and 24 (equality before the law) ACHR as well as Article 7 (b) of the Inter-American Convention to Prevent, Punish and Eliminate Violence against Women (hereinafter referred to as the Belém do Para Convention), with regard to prejudice to the interests of Gutierrez Hernandez and her family. First, the Inter-American Court of Justice concluded that, from the initial stages of the investigation, there was no thoroughness on the part of the authorities in developing the information collected. In addition, the authorities used stereotypical language in relation to Gutierrez, and these stereotypes and prejudices negatively affected their objectivity as they focused their investigation on her personal relationships and lifestyle, leaving aside other lines of investigation. In particular, the authorities focused on the version that the crime was committed "out of jealousy", and this wording shifted the blame for the disappearance from the aggressor to the victim. The lack of a thorough and comprehensive investigation made possible impunity for an unreasonable period of over 17 years. Moreover, this was not an isolated case in Guatemala, as other cases tended to discredit victims and explain what happened to them to their lifestyle, dress style, personal relationships or sexuality. Consequently, the Government violated the requirements of Articles 24 and 1 (1), as well as Articles 8 (1) and 25 of the ACHR in conjunction with its Article 1 (1) and Article 7 (b) of the Belém do Para Convention.
Secondly, the Inter-American Court concluded that, despite the fact that three habeas corpus orders were filed on behalf of Gutierrez, the prosecutor was informed of her disappearance and a special investigation was undertaken by the Ombudsman, the State did not have a thorough an investigation strategy that takes into account the complexity of the case. Thus, the state violated Articles 8 (1) and 25 of the ACHR in conjunction with its Article 1 (1).
There was a violation in the case (adopted unanimously).
(c) Compensation. The Inter-American Court found that this judgment constituted a form of reparation in itself and ordered the respondent State authorities to (i) conduct an effective investigation, free of gender stereotypes, within a reasonable time and continue and / or institute appropriate criminal proceedings to establish, prosecute and if necessary, punish the persons responsible for Gutierrez's disappearance and locate her whereabouts, (ii) publish the order as well as an official extract from it, and (iii) pay compensation for non-pecuniary damage and legal costs and expenses.