Carlos Raul Morales Catalan v. Guatemala

Report No. 120/09, Petition 270-01
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Country: Guatemala
Region: Americas
Year: 2009
Court: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
Health Topics: Child and adolescent health, Health care and health services, Poverty
Human Rights: Right to due process/fair trial, Right to life
Tags: Access to health care, Access to treatment, Children, Low income, Minor, Poor

In July 1998, two sons were in a car crash from which they suffered serious injuries and needed to undergo several surgical procedures.  Their father brought a case against the state of Guatemala.

In March 1999, criminal and civil charges were filed against the drivers of the two vehicles under domestic Guatemalan law, leading to a final judgement in 2004 of criminal conviction and an award of 250,000 quetzals compensation payable to the victims.  However the civil compensation had not been enforced as at the time of the hearing because the state had not seized the drivers’ assets, which the drivers had allegedly fraudulently concealed.

Due to the length of time it was taking for the compensation to be obtained, the children’s father, argued that he had been denied justice and could not afford necessary operations for his sons as he had to pay high medical and legal bills and was financially stressed.   He accused the State of violating the human rights of the victims by not expediting either the criminal trial or enforcement of judgement in the civil proceedings for compensation. The father claimed the state was thus responsible for a violation of Articles 5 (right of humane treatment), 8 (right to a fair trial), 19 (rights of the child) and 25 (judicial protection) of the American Convention of Human Rights (“American Convention”) and Articles 1,3,6, and 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Commission stated that this is not the stage of the procedure where it examines whether there has been an actual violation of the American Convention. Its examination was thus limited to whether the allegations stated facts and tended to establish a violation of the convention or if was is obviously groundless or out of order according to Article 47(c) of the Convention.

The Commission held that the petition was admissible with regards to the allegations of violation of Articles 8 and 25 of the American Convention because the alleged difficulties the victims had encountered in collecting compensation could amount to a violation of human rights.  The Commission decided to consider whether the legal framework regulating criminal proceedings in Guatemala constitutes a presumed violation of the right to judicial protection within a reasonable period of time. The Commission was especially concerned with whether Guatemala’s requirement that a criminal conviction be in place prior to a decision on civil reparations hinders access to funds necessary for the victims to receive treatment.  The Commission decided to consider whether there was an undue delay in the criminal case given the four years between the launching of the proceedings and the start of the debate, as well as whether the victims’ right to due process and judicial protection were violated by Guatemala’s rule that civil parties may only be present during a statement given by the accused if the accused consents.

The Commission did not deem admissible the allegations as to the potential violations of Articles 5 and 19 of the American Convention.

Following its decision to deem the petition admissible to the extent described above, the Commission decided to proceed with the analysis of the merits of the case at a later date. 

“In particular, the Commission considers that the alleged difficulties in obtaining the compensation ordered by the courts on account of the injuries caused in an accident to the Morales Vera minors could constitute a possible violation of human rights.  The IACHR will have to evaluate in its review of the merits, whether the rules governing criminal proceedings in Guatemala, which require prior conviction in criminal proceedings before determining civil reparations for the victims of crimes, could constitute a presumed violation of the right to judicial protection within a reasonable period of time.  That is particularly relevant considering the average duration of a trial and the special needs that may arise, as in the instant case in which the provision of reparation for the alleged victims is directly related to their possibility of acceding to medical care to address the ailments caused by the damage wrought.” Para. 46.

“Likewise, in dealing with the merits of the case the IACHR should look to see whether there was an unwarranted delay in the criminal proceedings, given the four years it took to initiate criminal debate, when domestic law requires that such debate begin within 10 days.” Para. 47.

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