Case 1716-2003-R

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After being violently captured during an attempted escape from prison, Carlos Orlando and Rubén Suárez Saavedra, the sons of the plaintiff, were in need of medical treatment. Carlos Orlando was suffering from appendicitis, an inflamed gallbladder, and a broken rib while Rubén had AIDS and was experiencing pulmonary tuberculosis, immunodeficiency, symptoms of depression, and a nasal obstruction. Upon capture, both men were reintegrated into the prison and placed into “Chonchocorito”, the maximum-security division where they were unable to receive medical care.

This placement choice by Gerardo Catacora, Chief of Prison Security, was in opposition to the order of the Judge of the Court of Instruction in Criminal Matters. This order instructed the men to be held in the PC4 unit of the prison where medical assistance would be accessible to them. The Settlement Judge of the Eight Division then instructed Catacora to immediately transfer the men to the medical center in unit PC4 for urgent care. Catacora ignored this order and ordered abuse of Carlos Orlando as retaliation.

Following the continued refusal of Catacora to provide healthcare access to the men, the men’s father filed a claim of amparo (writ of protection for fundamental rights) in the Social and Administrative Chamber of the Supreme Court of the District of Santa Cruz, asserting a violation of the rights to life and health of his sons.  The Supreme Court initially only allowed the claim of amparo for Carlos Orlando and denied the claim of Rubén due to lack of standing. The claim on behalf of Rubén was amended and subsequently allowed. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the sons finding that their rights to life and health had been violated.

The Constitutional Tribunal upheld the decision of the Social and Administrative Chamber of the Supreme Court of the District of Santa Cruz.

According to the Tribunal, the rights to life and health were fundamental rights so a claim of amparo was applicable. These rights also clearly covered the remedy sought by the plaintiff. The right to life was the root of many rights and required the government to defend humankind, one method of which was protecting health. The right to health entitled citizens to “an existence with quality of life” provided by the State, not just a “right to be free of disease”. Both of these rights were linked to a right of human dignity, which should especially be protected for vulnerable members of the community.

All of these rights applied to prisoners under the Law on the Enforcement of Criminal Sentences (LEPS) 2298. This statue prohibited treatment that was degrading or disrespectful to the human rights of the inmates. The Tribunal held that the treatment of Carlos Orlando and Rubén Suárez Saavedra violated these rights and the continued disobedience of court orders further endangered their lives and health.

“[T]he right to life is the origin from which other rights stem, so that its exercise cannot be hindered by bureaucratic procedures or subject to appeals, especially when the possessor of the right is at serious risk of dying.” (page 5)

“The right to health is the right by virtue of which individuals and social groups – specifically the family – as holders of this right, can demand, as taxpayers, that the organs of the State establish adequate conditions so that they can achieve an optimal state of physical, mental and social wellbeing, and ensure that these conditions are maintained. The right to health does not just mean the right to be free of disease; it also entails the right to an existence with quality of life.” (page 5)

“[I]t is the duty of Prison Service Officials to promote and respect the human rights of all inmates.” (page 5)