Disabled Peoples International v. United States

Application No. 9213; OEA/Ser.L/V/II.71, Doc. 9 rev.1, 184, 22 September 1987
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The Richmond Hill Insane Asylum in Grenada was bombed by military aircraft belonging to the United States in 1983. Petitioners, including Disabled Peoples’ International, presented the names of sixteen persons who were killed and six who were injured and claimed that the deaths and physical injuries of the mental patients were caused by purposeful armed attack on their hospital.

Petitioners alleged violations of the rights to life and health, as guaranteed by articles I and XI of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, in relation to the deaths and physical injuries of the mental patients and the prevailing conditions at the mental institution. They also alleged violations of the Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (the Fourth Geneva Convention). Petitioners claimed that the defenses of military necessity or military error could not excuse or justify violations of the right to life, liberty and security of the person or acts committed in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The United States maintained, among other things, that the alleged violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention concerned matters outside the Commission’s jurisdiction and that Petitioners had failed to exhaust domestic remedies, rendering the petition inadmissible. It asserted that only the Government of Grenada could authorize reconstruction of the mental hospital and determine where patients would be housed in the interim. Finally, the United States rejected the proposal for a Friendly Settlement, in part because the American Convention on Human Rights did not apply to the United States.

Petitioners contended, among other things, that the right to life was non-derogable and a pre-emptory norm of international law. They argued that since the right to life was derogated during wartime, it was necessary to consult relevant instruments and principles, including the Fourth Geneva Convention and customary humanitarian law, in order ascertain whether the United States’ violated the right. They further noted that the mental institution was “in shambles” and that the mental patients suffered from “serious medical and health problems.” Finally, they argued that domestic remedies did not exist because they did not have standing to initiate proceedings under United States law and the Grenadan judicial system was “in complete disarray and that the Courts were not functioning.”

The Commission declared the petition admissible. Domestic remedies had not been provided by legislation of Grenada or the United States. The Commission further noted the “ad hoc” nature of the compensation program, the evident failure of the United States to contact the incapacitated victims, and its unwillingness to compensate the victims subsequent to the expiration of the compensation program.

The case was closed in 1996 after Petitioners informed the Commission that “a new hospital was built in 1987 to replace the one which was destroyed in 1983 and emergency and other repairs were completed in 1994.” Additionally, residents of the new facility and the individual petitioners were paid “satisfactory compensation and [had] been provided with clothing, food, care and services meeting minimum international standards of care.” Funding was provided by the United States Agency for International Development. The United States maintained that its actions were “entirely in conformance with the law of armed conflict, and that therefore [it] had no legal liability for any damages claimed.”

“Domestic remedies were not provided by the legislation of Grenada or the United States; given the ad hoc nature of the U.S. compensation program, the evident failure of the U.S. Government to contact these incapacitated victims, and the unwillingness of the U.S. Government to compensate these victims subsequent to the expiration of the ad hoc compensation program, lead the Commission to conclude that the domestic remedies could not be invoked and exhausted . . .” Page 6.