IACHR Takes Case involving Venezuela to the Inter-American Court
November 17, 2016
The case concerns the State of Venezuela’s international responsibility for the grave violations of the rights to personal integrity, personal liberty, privacy, dignity, and autonomy, and the right to live a life free of violence and discrimination suffered by Linda Loaiza López Soto, then 19 years old, between March 27 and July 19, 2001. For nearly four months, Linda Loaiza López Soto was deprived of liberty against her will and was a victim of terrible acts of violence inflicted with extreme cruelty, including mutilation, severe physical and psychological damage, and repeated forms of sexual violence and rape, all of which had a profound and irreversible impact on her life. All this violence was motivated by and an expression of brutality toward the victim as a woman, and therefore constituted gender-based violence, in this case of an extreme intensity.
The Commission determined that the Venezuelan State was or should have been aware of the situation of real and imminent risk faced by Linda Loaiza López Soto, given her sister’s repeated attempts to report her disappearance. Starting from when it should have been aware to the moment the victim was rescued, the State failed to take any measures to protect her from the risk she was facing or prevent it from materializing. The Commission also established that the State’s failure to comply with its duty to prevent violence against women, in this case, suggests a situation of State acquiescence. Therefore, the grave acts of physical, psychological, and sexual violence suffered by Linda Loaiza López Soto constituted a failure to comply with State obligations regarding the absolute ban on torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.
The case also involves violations of the rights to judicial guarantees and judicial protection in the context of the investigation and criminal proceeding brought in response to what occurred. The Commission determined that the Venezuelan State failed to comply with its obligation to investigate with due diligence, based on omissions in the initial identification and procedural steps taken, given that this was a case of violence against women, including sexual violence; the authorities’ actions and omissions throughout the entire investigation; and the failure to investigate alleged irregularities throughout the investigation and criminal proceedings, as well as the threats and harassment reported by Linda Loaiza López Soto and her family. The Commission also established that the Venezuelan State failed to comply with its obligation to investigate within a reasonable period of time.
The Commission concluded that the victim did not have equal access to justice. On the contrary, from the moment she was rescued and thereafter Linda Loaiza López Soto did not receive care and treatment appropriate to her status as a victim of violence against women, including sexual violence and rape. Moreover, the grave acts of violence she suffered were investigated and brought to trial in a legal framework that was discriminatory and incompatible with the American Convention; this allowed the oral arguments to focus on speculations about the victim’s life and not on clearing up what happened and determining who was responsible. The Commission analyzed the almost total lack of merit given to the testimony of Linda Loaiza López Soto, as well as the various indications of bias when it came to following up lines of investigation and collecting and weighing evidence. Not only did all these situations violate her right to access to justice, but they constituted forms of revictimization that affected both her privacy and dignity as well as her psychological and moral integrity.
Finally, the Commission found that the gravity of what took place, plus the absence of a timely and adequate judicial response, led to effects that extend beyond the direct victim to her relatives.
In its Merits Report on the case, the Commission recommended that Venezuela investigate effectively, with due diligence and within a reasonable time, the sexual violence suffered by Linda Loaiza López Soto and carry out the corresponding investigations and judicial proceedings in accordance with the standards the IACHR described in its report. The Commission further recommended that the State order the appropriate administrative, disciplinary, or criminal measures that correspond to the actions or omissions of the State officials who contributed to the different factors involved in denial of justice identified in the Merits Report. The IACHR also recommended that the State provide for full reparation to Linda Loaiza López Soto and her relatives for the human rights violations against her. This reparation must include monetary compensation and measures of satisfaction to redress both the material and moral damage. The IACHR also determined that the measures of satisfaction should include an act of public apology to Linda Loaiza López Soto and her relatives; campaigns to raise awareness about violence against women; and a scholarship for Linda Loaiza López Soto’s professional development, arranged in coordination with her. Further, the Commission recommended that the State provide free and immediate medical and psychological or psychiatric care as needed, and for as long as necessary, to the victims in this case per their request and in coordination with them.
Finally, the Commission recommended that Venezuela provide non-repetition mechanisms that include adopting legislative, administrative, or other measures to guarantee access to justice for women who are victims of violence; designing and implementing a national policy on prevention of violence against women and gender-based violence, one that includes effective supervision and oversight mechanisms; and strengthening the institutional capacity for responding to the structural problems identified in this case as factors of impunity in cases of violence against women in Venezuela. The Commission also recommended that Venezuela design and implement adequate and accessible reporting mechanisms for women victims of violence in Venezuela, including sexual violence, pursuant to the standards established in the report; design and implement multidisciplinary healthcare services for women victims of sexual violence to address the specific needs of these victims for recovery and rehabilitation; and design protocols that facilitate and foster effective, uniform, and transparent investigation of acts of physical, sexual, and psychological violence that includes a description of the complexity of the evidence and details the minimum evidence that must be collected to have an adequate evidentiary basis, taking into account the international standards set forth in the Istanbul Protocol. The Commission also recommended designing training programs for all justice system officials who come in contact with or are in charge of investigating cases of violence against women, including sexual violence.
The Inter-American Commission submitted this case to the Court’s jurisdiction on November 2, 2016, because it found that the State of Venezuela had not complied with the recommendations contained in the Merits Report. The State of Venezuela did not respond at all to the Merits Report. The Commission submitted the entirety of the facts in that report to the Court.
This case will allow the Inter-American Court to develop its case law on the circumstances in which a State can be held responsible for grave acts of violence against women, including rape, committed by non-State actors. Specifically, the Inter-American Court will be able to address the refusal to receive a report of a woman’s disappearance in light of the duty to prevent violence against women. In addition, the Court will be able to examine the possibility of categorizing as torture severe acts of physical, psychological, and sexual violence against a woman committed by a non-State actor when the State deliberately fails to adopt protection measures in the face of a risk that such violations could occur. In addition, the Court will be able to further develop its case law on the obligation to investigate with due diligence acts of violence against women, including sexual violence, with a gender perspective, adopting all necessary measures to prevent any form of revictimization. On this last point, the case raises the issue of a criminal law framework that made it possible for the oral arguments in the case to be centered on speculations about the victim’s life and not on clearing up the case and conducting a thorough investigation into who committed the grave acts of physical, psychological, and sexual violence she suffered.
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.