Inter-American Court of Human Rights



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Inter-American Court of Human Rights




Case of Juan Humberto Sánchez v. Honduras




Judgment of June 7, 2003


(Preliminary Objection, Merits, Reparations and Costs)

In the Juan Humberto Sánchez case,


the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (hereinafter “the Inter-American Court” or “the Court”), composed of the following judges: *
Antônio A. Cançado Trindade, President;

Sergio García Ramírez, Vice-President;

Máximo Pacheco Gómez, Judge;

Hernán Salgado Pesantes, Judge;

Oliver Jackman, Judge; and

Alirio Abreu Burelli, Judge;


also present,
Manuel E. Ventura Robles, Secretary, and

Pablo Saavedra Alessandri, Deputy Secretary;


pursuant to Articles 29, 36, 55, 56 and 57 of the Rules of Procedure of the Court (hereinafter “the Rules of Procedure”), and to Article 63(1) of the American Convention on Human Rights (hereinafter “the Convention” or “the American Convention”), issues the following Judgment on the instant case.

i

introduction of the case

1. On September 8, 2001, pursuant to the provisions of Articles 50 and 51 of the American Convention, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (hereinafter “the Commission” or “the Inter-American Commission”) filed before the Court an application against the Republic of Honduras (hereinafter “the State” or “Honduras”) originating in complaint No. 11.073, received at the Secretariat of the Commission on October 19, 1992.


The Commission argued in its application that Juan Humberto Sánchez, the alleged victim, had twice been detained by the Honduran armed forces “for his alleged ties with the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN) of El Salvador.”
The first capture allegedly took place on July 10, 1992, and was carried out by members of the Tenth Infantry Battalion of Marcala, La Paz, under the command of second lieutenant Ángel Belisario Hernández González, and he was released on July 11, 1992 for lack of evidence on the charges for which he was detained.
The second capture was allegedly carried out by members of the First Battalion of Territorial Forces at his home during the night of that same day, July 11. On July 22, 1992 the next of kin of the alleged victim heard that the body of Juan Humberto Sánchez had been found “in a deep pool of the ‘Río Negro,’ stuck between the stones and in a state of decay [,] […] with a rope around the neck that crossed his chest and tied his hands toward the back and there were signs of torture.”
On the other hand, the Commission argued that on July 20, 1992, before the body of the alleged victim was found, a habeas corpus remedy had been filed before the Appelate Court of Comayagua for the “kidnapping and detention” of Juan Humberto Sánchez. This habeas corpus remedy was rejected on August 14, 1992.
Furthermore, the Commission pointed out that to date no person has been tried or punished for the “kidnapping, torture, and execution” of Juan Humberto Sánchez, for which reason there continues to be a situation of impunity with respect to the case. In this regard, the Commission also stated that the criminal proceeding followed there has been marked by a “lack of seriousness and effectiveness,” that it has been insufficient and that from the start it has faced numerous obstacles, including intimidation and threats against witnesses and relatives of the alleged victim.
2. In view of the above, the Commission asked the Court to find that the following rights were breached to the detriment of Juan Humberto Sánchez: Articles 4 (Right to Life), 5 (Right to Humane Treatment), 7 (Right to Personal Liberty), 8 (Right to Fair Trial) and 25 (Judicial Protection), in combination with the obligation set forth in Article 1(1) (Obligation to Respect and Ensure Rights) of the American Convention. The Commission also requested that the Court order the State to adopt a series of pecuniary and non-pecuniary measures of reparation (infra 154, 160, 171, 181 and 192).


ii

competence

3. Pursuant to the terms of Articles 62 and 63(1) of the American Convention, the Court is competent to hear the instant case, because Honduras has been a State Party to the Convention since September 8, 1977, and it accepted the contentious jurisdiction of the Court on September 9, 1981.

iii

PROCEEDING before the Commission


4. Case No. 11.073 was opened by the Inter-American Commission on October 20, 1992 in view of a complaint filed by the Comisión para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos en Centroamérica (hereinafter “CODEHUCA” or “the applicants”).1
5. The applicants submitted to the Commission their pleadings regarding admissibility and the merits of the matter on November 19, 1992, April 2, 1993, December 7, 2000, and January 29, 2001, and the State submitted its pleadings on April 6, 1993, July 14, 1997, and July 12, 1999. They were forwarded to the respective parties at the appropriate times.
6. On June 11, 1999, the Commission sent a communication to the parties making itself available with the aim of attaining a friendly settlement, pursuant to “Articles 48(1)(f) of the American Convention and 45(1) of the Rules of Procedure of the Commission.”
7. On March 6, 2001, during its 111th Session, the Commission adopted Report No. 65/01 on admissibility and the merits of the case, and it decided:
1. That it is competent to hear th[e] case and that the complaint is admissible pursuant to Article 46 of the American Convention.
2. That, based on the proven facts and the analysis [carried out], the Commission finds that the State of Honduras is responsible for the violation, to the detriment of Juan Humberto Sánchez, of the rights to life (Article 4), to humane treatment (Article 5), to personal liberty (Article 7), to fair trial (Article 8(1)) and to judicial protection (Article 25), in combination with the general obligation to respect and ensure the rights protected by the American Convention, set forth in Article 1(1) of said treaty.
The Commission also recommended to the State that it:
1. Conduct a serious, impartial and exhaustive investigation of the facts stated in the complaint, with the aim of establishing the criminal responsibility of all the perpetrators of the kidnapping and execution of Mr. Sánchez and to establish whether there are other facts or actions by State agents that have obstructed the complete investigation and punishment of those responsible;
2. Make effective and prompt reparations for the violation to the next of kin of the victim;
3. Adopt such measures as m[ight] be necessary to prevent and avoid recidivism of similar facts.
8. Said report was sent by the Commission to the State on June 8, 2001, with a request for it to report, within two months, on the measures adopted to comply with the recommendations of the Commission and to correct the situation stated in the complaint. On August 22, 2001, the Commission received the reply by the State to Report No. 65/01, in which it requested that the latter be reconsidered.

iv

PROCEEDING before the Court


9. The Commission filed the application in the instant case before the Inter-American Court on September 8, 2001 (supra 1).
10. The Commission appointed Julio Prado Vallejo as its delegate before the Court, and Santiago Cantón, Ariel Dulitzky, Martha Braga and María Claudia Pulido as its legal advisors.
11. In its September 27, 2001 communication, the Secretariat of the Court (hereinafter “the Secretariat”), under instructions by the President de the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (hereinafter “the President”), informed the Commission, pursuant to Article 34 of the Rules of Procedure of the Court (hereinafter “the Rules of Procedure”), that it was not possible to notify the application in the Juan Humberto Sánchez case (No.11.073), because it contained defects of substance and, therefore, it granted the Commission twenty days to make the pertinent corrections and to submit the required information. On October 17, 2001, the Commission sent the documentation requested.
12. In its October 26, 2001 note, the Court notified the State and the representatives of the alleged victim and his next of kin (hereinafter “the representatives of the alleged victim”) of the application and its annexes. It also informed the State that it had the right to appoint an ad hoc judge to participate in consideration of the case.
13. On November 22, 2001, the representatives of the alleged victim requested a fifteen-day extension of the period to submit their brief with requests, pleadings and evidence in the instant case. Said extension to December 7, 2001, was authorized and communicated to them on November 23 of that same year.
14. On November 23, 2001, the State requested an extension “of no less than two months” to answer the application, appoint its agents and designate an ad hoc judge, due to the political transition period that the country was going through at that time. On November 24, the Secretariat, under instructions by the President, informed the State that “due to the exceptional circumstances stated […], the extension requested ha[d] been granted until January 12, 2002, and was non-renewable.”
15. In a brief received by the Court on December 7, 2001, the representatives of the alleged victim submitted their requests, pleadings and evidence with respect to the application in the instant case. On December 14, 2001, the Secretariat forwarded the documentation received to the Inter-American Commission and to the State and granted them a non-renewable thirty-day term to submit whatever observations they deemed pertinent.
16. On January 11, 2002 the State raised a preliminary objection regarding exhaustion of domestic remedies, answered the application and submitted its observations to the brief with requests, pleadings and evidence filed by the representatives of the alleged victim. On that same date, the State designated Carlos Humberto Arita Mejía as its agent and Jorge Alberto Milla Reyes as its deputy agent. On February 7 and August 19, respectively, the State appointed -as substitutes of the aforementioned persons- Sergio Zavala Leiva as agent and Argentina Wellerman Ugarte, as deputy agent.
17. On January 14, 2002, the Inter-American Commission submitted its observations on the brief with requests, pleadings and evidence filed by the representatives of the alleged victim.
18. In its January 16, 2002 note, the Court forwarded the brief on preliminary objections to the representatives of the alleged victim and to the Inter-American Commission, granting them one month to submit whatever observations they deemed pertinent. On February 15 and 20, respectively, the Inter-American Commission and the representatives of the alleged victim submitted their observations to the brief on preliminary objections filed by the State.
19. On September 12, 2002 the Secretariat asked the State, the Commission and the representatives of the alleged victim to send the definitive list of witnesses and expert witnesses, whose testimony and expert opinions they would offer at a possible public hearing on preliminary objections and possible determination of the merits and reparations in this case. The parties supplied the information requested on September 21 and 26, 2002.
20. On October 2, 2002 the Secretariat, under instructions by the President, asked the State, the Commission and the representatives of the alleged victim to send whatever observations they deemed pertinent regarding inclusion of two new witnesses by the State and the change of an expert witness proposed by the representatives of the alleged victim.
21. On October 11, 2002, the representatives of the alleged victim stated that they had no objection to the Court hearing the two new witnesses offered by the State. The Inter-American Commission and the State did not submit the observations requested.
22. In his November 30, 2002 Order, the President summoned the representatives of the alleged victim, the Inter-American Commission and the State to a public hearing to be held at the seat of the Court commencing on March 3, 2003, with the aim of hearing the testimony of the witnesses and the expert opinions offered by the parties, and it pointed out that the latter could submit their final verbal pleadings. Within one month of the end of the public hearing, they could also submit their final written pleadings.
23. The Court held the aforementioned public hearing (supra 22) on March 3, 4 and 5, 2003.
There appeared before the Court,
For the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights:
Martha Braga, legal assistant; and

María Claudia Pulido, legal assistant.


For the representatives of the next of kin of the alleged victim:
Juan Carlos Gutiérrez, representative;

Francisco Quintana, representative;

Luguely Cunillera, representative; and

Milton Jiménez Puerto, representative.


For the State of Honduras:
Sergio Zavala Leiva, agent; y

Argentina Wellerman Ugarte, deputy agent.


Witnesses offered by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights:
Leonel Casco Gutiérrez;

Domitila Vijil Sánchez; and

María Dominga Sánchez.
Expert witness offered by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights:
Leo Valladares Lanza.
Expert witness offered by the representatives of the next of kin of the alleged victim:
Débora Munczek.


Witnesses offered by the State of Honduras:
Luis Alonso Discua Elvir;

Enmanuel Flores Mejía;

José Germán Silvestrucci; and

Lucinda Mena Amaya.


Expert witness offered by the State of Honduras:
Héctor Fortín Pavón.
Even though they were summoned by the Court, some witnesses did not appear before it to render their testimony.2
24. During the public hearing, the representatives of the alleged victim, the Commission and the State submitted various documents as evidence in this case (infra 36 to 40).

25. On March 20, 2003, the Secretariat, under instructions by the Court, asked the State and the representatives of the alleged victim to submit evidence to facilitate adjudication of the case. On April 10, 2003, the State replied that that said request seemed strange because it was their understanding that “in the cases in which the respondent party is found responsible, the evidence requested must be expressed in the execution of the judgment, for which reason [they] d[id] not understand, and [...] [they] request[ed] clarification regarding the reason for said request.” On the following April 22, the Secretariat, under instructions by the President, explained to the State that said request was made pursuant to Article 44 of the Rules of Procedure and that its aim was for “the Court to have all the evidence necessary in case it were to rule in one judgment both on preliminary objections and on the merits and reparations, based on the principle of procedural economy.” In view of the above, it asked the State to send the documents requested no later than April 28, 2003. On May 7, 2003, the State submitted the information requested.


26. On April 4, 2003, the representatives of the alleged victim requested an extension for submission of their final written pleadings, which was granted by the President until April 10. On that date, the representatives of the alleged victim submitted their final pleadings in writing, as well as the evidence to facilitate adjudication of the case. On April 7, 2003, the State submitted its final written pleadings and the respective annexes. Finally, on April 22 the Commission reiterated its considerations regarding the facts and the law made at the public hearing (supra 23) and it endorsed the claims made by the representatives of the alleged victim with respect to reparations.

v




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