Case 1586-2002-R

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Country: Bolivia
Region: Americas
Year: 2002
Court: Tribunal Constitucional de Bolivia [Constitutional Tribunal of Bolivia]
Health Topics: Chronic and noncommunicable diseases, Health care and health services, Prisons, Violence
Human Rights: Right to health, Right to life
Tags: Abuse, Access to health care, Assault, Custody, Heart disease, Imprisonment, Incarceration, Inmate, Jail, Noncommunicable diseases, Prison conditions

A constitutional amparo (writ of injunctive relief) petition was filed by Marco Marino Diodato del Gallo against the Governor of the Center for Rehabilitation “Santa Cruz” (the “Prison Governor”), alleging infringement of the claimant’s rights to life and health and safety.

On March 12, 2001, the claimant suffered a triple heart attack caused by the obstruction of more than 90% of his arteries. He subsequently underwent a risky surgical procedure. Following the operation, he was returned to the Palmasola prison in which he had been confined.

Despite serious health risks and precarious security conditions, the claimant was confined to the maximum-security division of the prison. While there, he received death threats from other inmates. Upon his request, a Judge of Criminal Sentencing of the Third Division ordered the Prison Governor to transfer him to the Prison Micro-Hospital and to provide for his post-surgery needs. The Prison Governor refused to transfer him to the Micro-Hospital, stating that the transfer could not be effected due to security reasons and lack of space. His report to the court stated that the Micro-Hospital was located in the women’s wing, did not meet minimum standards of security, and that the claimaint was a high-danger inmate.

The claimant brought another action to the First Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Santa Cruz, in which the Prison Governor argued that it would not be safe to transfer the claimant to the Micro-Hospital and that the claimant had not yet exhausted his remedies to appear befor eth Judge of Criminal Sentencing. The Supreme Court of Santa Cruz allowed the appeal and upheld the transfer order of the Judge of Criminal Sentencing. Again, the Prison Governor refused to effectuate the order.

Citing the legal provision guaranteeing respect for human dignity and constitutional and human rights in prison, the Constitutional Court noted that the Prison Governor’s refusal to transfer the claimant had risked his right to life and health. The Constitutional Court also noted that actions which undermine the right to life or health were an exception to the rule of subsidiary as the contested actions could be irreparable.

The Constitutional Court therefore approved the ruling of the First Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Santa Cruz, and allowed the appeal.

“The LEPS, in art. 5, provided that ‘In the prison establishments there prevails a respect for human dignity, constitutional guarantees and human rights’. In addition, art.9 of the cited Act established that an incarcerated person can exercise the same rights as non-detainees.” Section III.1.

“La LEPS, en su art. 5°, dispone que "En los establecimientos penitenciarios prevalecerá el respeto a la dignidad humana, a las garantías constitucionales y a los derechos humanos...", mientras que el art. 9 de la citada Ley establece que la persona privada de libertad puede ejercer todos los derechos no afectados por la condena.” Sección III.1


“Additionally, ‘The right to life, as proclaimed in SC 687.2000-R, is the most important legal entitlement of those enshrined in the Constitution, and it heads the list of fundamental rights stipulated in art. 7. It is the right of every person to be and exist. Its essential characteristic is that it is the basis for the exercise of other rights, as life itself is the indispensable prerequisite to possessing rights and obligations. The right to life is an inalienable right of the person that the State is obligated to respect and protect. The State authority is constitutionally barred from doing anything that may destroy or weaken the essential content of this right, and must implement conditions to ensure full observance and complete compliance. Similarly, the right to health and security is also recognised, as per art. 7-a) CPE.’” Section III.1

“A propósito, ‘... el derecho a la vida es el bien jurídico más importante de cuantos consagra el orden constitucional, de ahí que se encuentre encabezando el catálogo de los derechos fundamentales previstos en el art. 7 CPE. Es un derecho inalienable de la persona que obliga al Estado en dos sentidos: su respeto y su protección. La autoridad estatal está constitucionalmente impedida de hacer cosa alguna que destruya o debilite el contenido esencial de ese derecho, debiendo crear las condiciones indispensables para que tenga cabal observancia y pleno cumplimiento. De igual manera se reconocen también el derecho a la salud y a la seguridad contenidos en el art.7-a) CPE’” Sección III.1.