Daniel David Tibi v. Ecuador

Series C No. 114, September 7, 2004
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Daniel Tibi was a gem merchant who was arrested in 1995 while he was driving his car down a street in Quito, Ecuador. He was detained by officers of the Quito police force without a court order and taken by plane to the city of Guayaquil, 600 kilometers from Quito, where he was placed in jail and illegally detained for 18 months. Tibi asserted that he was innocent of the charges against him and that he was tortured several times, beaten, burned, and asphyxiated to force him to confess to his participation in a drug trafficking case. When Mr. Tibi was arrested, the police seized goods that were his property, worth one million French francs, which were not returned to him when he was released in 1998.

Tibi filed a complaint before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights based on the alleged violations of Article 5 (right to humane treatment), Article 7 (right to personal liberty), Article 8 (right to fair trial), Article 17 (family rights), Article 21 (right to property), and Article 25 (right to judicial protection) of the American Convention on Human Rights (“Convention”).

The Court held that there had been a violation of Article 7 of the Convention because Tibi was arrested without the proper procedures having been followed. In particular, no arrest warrant had been issued for Tibi, yet he had been arrested anyway. Moreover, the state had ordered the preventive imprisonment of Tibi without sufficient indicia to presume that he had committed a crime, making it an arbitrary arrest in violation of Article 7(3) of the Convention. Not informing Tibi of the reason for his arrest and not allowing him to visit with his attorney also constituted a violation of Article 7. Finally, the Court found that the State had not brought Tibi's case to trial "promptly," as required by Article 7(5) of the Convention.

The Court further held that Tibi's Article 5 rights had been violated because he had been subjected to fist blows on his body and face, cigarette burns on his legs, and electrical discharges on his testicles, and he was housed in overcrowded and unhealthy conditions, all of which amounted to torture. Moreover, the state's failure to investigate Tibi's claims of torture while he was imprisoned further violated Article 5.

The Court also found that the state had violated Article 8 because Tibi had not been informed of the court order to investigate the alleged crime nor of the charges against him. He also had been appointed a lawyer who did not visit him or intervene in his defense. Finally, he was not informed of his right as a French national to speak to his consulate.

The Court further held that the state violated Article 21 by seizing and not returning Tibi's property. The Court did not examine the Article 21 claim because the effects of the facts related to the effects of Tibi's arrest and detention on his family had already been examined.

"Pursuant to Articles 19(17)(h) of the Political Constitution and 172 and 174 of the Criminal Procedures Code of Ecuador, in force at the time of the facts, a court order is required to detain an individual, unless this person has been caught flagrantly committing a crime. In the instant case, it has been proven that Daniel Tibi’s detention did not comply with the procedure established in said provisions. The alleged victim was not caught in fraganti, but rather was detained while driving his car in the city of Quito, without there being an arrest warrant against him, which was issued the day after said detention, that is, on September 28, 1995 (supra para. 90(13)). In light of the above, Daniel Tibi’s unlawful detention constitutes a violation of Article 7(2) of the American Convention." Para. 103.

"The acts of violence intentionally committed by agents of the State against Daniel Tibi caused him grave physical and mental suffering. The aim of repetitive execution of these violent acts was to diminish his physical and mental abilities and annul his personality for him to plead guilty of a crime. It has also been proven in the sub judice case that the alleged victim was threatened and suffered harassment during the period when he was detained, and this made him feel panic and fear for his life. All this is a form of torture, under the terms set forth in Article 5(2) of the American Convention." Para. 149.

"It is the understanding of the Court that, in light of the general obligation of the States party to respect and ensure the rights of all persons under their jurisdiction, contained in Article 1(1) of the American Convention, the State has the duty to immediately and ex officio begin an effective investigation to identify, try, and punish those responsible, when there is a complaint or there are grounds to believe that an act of torture has been committed in violation of Article 5 of the American Convention. In the instant case, the Court notes that the State did not act in accordance with these provisions. Daniel Tibi suffered serious injuries while he was detained at the Penitenciaría del Litoral, and this should have been sufficient reason for the competent authorities to begin, upon their own initiative, an investigation of what happened to him. This action is also specifically set forth in Articles 1, 6 and 8 of the Inter-American Convention against Torture, which place the States Party under the obligation to take such effective measures as may be necessary to prevent and punish all acts of torture under their jurisdiction.158 Since said Inter-American Convention against Torture entered into force in Ecuador (December 9, 1999), the State is demandable regarding compliance with the obligations set forth in that treaty. It has been proven that, in the period since that date, the State has not investigated, tired, or punished those responsible for the tortures suffered by the alleged victim. Therefore, the Court deems that this conduct constitutes a violation of Article 5 of the American Convention, in combination with Article 1(1) of this same Convention, as well as non-compliance with the obligations set forth in Articles 1, 6 and 8 of the Inter-American Convention against Torture." Para. 159.

The Commission's admissibility finding is available in English and Spanish.