Lopes Soto and Others v. Venezuela, judgment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights of 26 September 2018 (Series C, no. 362).
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 Venezuela.
The case has successfully dealt with a complaint pending an expanded due diligence duty in investigating allegations of torture and sexual slavery.
The case addresses the issue of an expanded due diligence duty in cases of investigation of allegations of torture and sexual slavery.
THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
In 2001, at the age of 18, the applicant was abducted by a private person and imprisoned for almost four months until 19 July 2001, when she was eventually released by police and firefighters. During this period the applicant was continuously subjected to various acts of physical, verbal, psychological and sexual violence, including violent use of alcohol, drugs and medications, deprivation of food, repeated acts of vaginal and anal rape, as well as beatings, as a result of which she received injuries, bruises on the face and severe damage to hearing, severe chest and abdominal injuries, nose and jaw fractures, among others. Due to the numerous injuries inflicted, the applicant spent almost a year in hospital and underwent several operations.
A criminal case was opened, in which two court proceedings were carried out, as the first was declared invalid. In the second criminal trial, the suspect was convicted of crimes such as imprisonment and grievous bodily harm, but was acquitted of the rape charges. An appeal is currently pending on the rape charges. The applicants, Lopez Soto and her relatives, complained about the lack of effective retaliation by the State officials at the time the latter were informed of the applicant's disappearance, and about the lack of an effective investigation into the facts of rape, torture and slavery that would prevent the recurrence of such crimes.
QUESTIONS OF LAW
With regard to compliance with article 3 (right to recognition of legal personality), paragraphs 1 (right to respect for personal integrity) and 2 (prohibition of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment), article 5, paragraph 1 of article 6 (prohibition of slavery), article 7 ( right to personal liberty), paragraphs 1 (right to respect for honor and dignity) and 2 (right to respect for private life), article 11, paragraph 1, article 22 (right to freedom of movement and choice of residence), article 24 (right to judicial protection ), paragraph 1 of article 1 (free and full exercise of rights and freedoms without any discrimination) of the American Convention on Human Rights (hereinafter - ACHR) in conjunction with article 7 (duty to prevent, eradicate and punish violence against women) of the Inter-American Convention on the prevention, elimination and punishment of violence against women (the Belem do Pará Convention), as well as articles 6 (the obligation to include the crime of torture in the criminal law countries) and 8 (the right of every person who claims to have been tortured to a fair trial) of the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (hereinafter referred to as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights) has indicated that in cases of violence against women, the respondent State has an expanded duty to exercise due diligence not only to prevent such cases, but also to take measures to ensure the eradication of any on the gender of future violence. The Inter-American Court has established two criteria for determining whether the respondent State's authorities were responsible for a breach of this obligation: (i) whether the authorities knew or should have known that there was a real and immediate risk to the life and / or personal integrity of an individual or group of certain individuals , and (ii) whether the authorities have taken all measures available to them to prevent or eliminate the risk. In the present case, the Inter-American Court found that the respondent Government were responsible for the inadequacy and negligence of the responses taken by officials who were aware of the applicant's disappearance no later than 26 May 2001, when her sister filed a complaint with the police. The Inter-American Court noted that the notification of abduction or disappearance reinforces the obligation of the respondent State authorities to exercise due diligence, since these circumstances create an environment conducive to the perpetration of violence against women and lead to a special situation of vulnerability in which the victim may be subjected to sexual violence.
There was a violation of ACHR requirements in the case (adopted unanimously).
With regard to compliance with article 8, paragraph 1 (right to a fair trial), 25 (remedy) and 2 (duty to take such legislative or other measures as may be necessary to give effect to rights and freedoms) ACHR. The Inter-American Court found that there had indeed been an unjustified delay in the investigation in the present case and that there were violations at the early stages of the investigation. In this regard, the Inter-American Court noted that the police response was based on negative gender stereotypes, which resulted in the events of the present case being classified as a “relationship issue” and did not require State intervention. Thus, the Inter-American Court concluded that the respondent State's authorities were responsible for the “gross omission” that made possible acts of sexual slavery and torture. In addition, the Inter-American Court of Justice ruled that the lack of a specific legal framework to ensure the participation of court and police officers who are adequately trained to deal with and investigate complaints of violence against women in any form and in any place, as well as the absence of specific rules that can serve as a guide in collecting evidence and communicating with the victims, were key factors that contributed to all the shortcomings and omissions noted during the investigation, as well as the applicant's revictimization. On the other hand, the wrong classification in the criminal law of such a crime as torture led to the qualification of the corresponding actions not as torture, but as a less serious crime.
There was a violation of ACHR requirements in the case (adopted unanimously).
Regarding the observance of paragraph 1 of Article 5 of the ACHR (right to personal integrity). The Inter-American Court concluded that the applicant's family members were significantly affected in terms of their personal integrity as a result of the uncertainty about the applicant's whereabouts for almost four months, as well as the events after her release and the outcome of the criminal proceedings.
There was a violation of the ACHR requirements in the case (adopted unanimously).
Compensation. The Inter-American Court found that the present judgment was itself a form of compensation and ordered the Venezuelan authorities:
(i) continue the criminal proceedings and, where applicable, prosecute and punish the perpetrator;
(ii) determine, through authorized government agencies, the possible liability for violations and undue delays during the investigation and proceedings before the Venezuelan courts;
(iii) adopt the rules of procedure of the Law on the Right of Women to Live a Life Free from Violence;
(iv) promote the active functioning of courts on violence against women in every region of the state;
(v) adopt, practice, track and monitor investigation protocols and ensure general attention to women victims of violence;
(vi) approve and put into practice ongoing training for officials working in the area of sexual violence;
(vii) implement, through authorized government agencies, a data recompilation system related to cases of violence against women throughout Venezuela;
(viii) pay compensation for material and moral damage, as well as legal costs and expenses.