Case 0005-08-AN

Corte Constitucional Case No. 0005-08-AN, April 2, 2009
Download Judgment: English Spanish
Country: Ecuador
Region: Americas
Year: 2011
Court: Constitutional Court [Corte Constitutional]
Health Topics: Disabilities
Human Rights: Freedom from discrimination, Freedom of movement and residence
Tags: Disabled, Handicapped, Physically challenged

This case was a noncompliance action brought by the plaintiffs, Silvia Game Muñoz y Alfredo Luna Narváez, in respect of Art. 23 of the Law Restating the Law regarding Persons with Disabilities (“LRLPD”), which provided for the importation of certain vehicles for the use of persons with disabilities. The first plaintiff had previously obtained a favorable ruling in a protection action, which ordered the National Council for Persons with Disabilities (“CONADIS”) to issue her the authorization for the importation of her vehicle. The second plaintiff presented a resolution from the Constitutional Court in his favor to similar effect. CONADIS complied, but the Ecuadorian Customs Corporation (“CAE”) refused to allow the importation to go through, citing (a) a resolution of the State Attorney General (issued in response to a question posed by CONADIS) which found that Article 23 was in contravention of customs and transportation laws (due to regulations regarding the age of the vehicles), and therefore was unenforceable; and (b) the claimants’ failure to provide commercial invoices for their vehicles as required by law.

The issues in this case revolved around hierarchies of laws and legal interpretation.

In respect of hierarchies of laws, the Court performed a weighting analysis between the rights of the claimants (to tax-free importation of certain vehicles as persons with disabilities) against the environmental and consumers’ rights cited by the State Attorney General. The Court held that the limitation to environmental and consumers’ rights was minimal in this case and did not justify the infringement of the claimants’ rights as persons with disabilities, and ordered compliance with the LRLPD, allowing the plaintiffs to import their vehicles.

In respect of legal interpretation, the Court found that the State Attorney General did not have the power under the current Ecuadorian Constitution to interpret the Constitution or international instruments, ordered the office to limit its resolutions to legal standards of a lower hierarchy and declared unconstitutional the inclusion of the phrase “constitutional provisions” in the Organic Law regarding the State Attorney General.

In ordering the CAE to comply with its ruling and authorize the importation of the claimants’ vehicles, the Court held that the CAE could not interpret its regulation in respect of commercial invoices in such a way as to impede the claimants’ rights to import pre-owned vehicles, for which such documentation may not be available, and modified the Organic Law of Customs to provide for the presentation of “similar documentation” in the case of a pre-owned vehicle.

“Al tenor de lo dicho, cabe preguntarse, ¿es justificable la restricción del derecho a exenciones en el régimen tributario respecto a automóviles ortopédicos y no ortopédicos de hasta tresaños de fabricación, a favor de la población discapacitada, en beneficio del ejercicio de derechos al medioambiente y del consumidor?” (page 27 of Spanish text)

“…it is necessary to ask if the restriction of the right of persons with disabilities to the tax-free importation of orthopedic and non-orthopedic vehicles of a model year up to three years old is justifiable in order to enforce environmental and consumers’ rights.” (page 27 of English text)

“La conclusion que se genera a partir del uso de la formula del peso, refleja que la satisfacción del derecho al medio ambiente sano y del consumidor…no justifica la intervención en los derechos de los grupos de atención prioritaria, como en efectoes a quel previsto en el artículo 47 numeral 4 de la Constitución y desarrollado en el artículo 23 de la Ley Reformatoria a la Ley sobre Discapacidades…como resultado del caso, debe establecerse que resultain admisible e inconstitucional la restricción a la importación libre de impuestos de vehículos automáticos de hasta tresaños de fabricación a favor de la población discapacitada.” (page 30 of Spanish text)

“The conclusion we reach from the application of the weighting formula, reflects the fact that the satisfaction of the right to a healthy environment and consumers’ rights…does not justify the infringement of the rights of a group of people in need of special attention, as provided in Article 47, numeral 4, of the Constitution, and implemented by Article 23 of the Law Restating the Law regarding Persons with Disabilities…the Court must find that the restriction of persons’ with disabilities right to the tax-free importation of automatic vehicles of a model year up to three years old is improper and unconstitutional.” (page 29 of English text)

“El ejerciciopráctico del ampliocatálogo de derechos invocado por los accionantes…se reduce, en estepunto, al cumplimiento denormas generals sobre declaraciones aduaneras para que procedan las respectivas importaciones reclamadas. Por lo tanto, es oportuno verificar que la imposición de estosrequisitos no sea inconstitucional por provocar perjuicios al goce de los derechos humanos de las personas con discapacidad.

“Uno de los derechos reconocidos a lo largo de estasentencia a favor de los accionantes como personas con discapacidad, es el derecho a la movilidad personal36 en sudimensión de “movilidad de calidad” que incluye facilitar ayudas o dispositivos a un costoasequible. El artículo 23 de la Ley sobre Discapacidades des arrollauna de las medidas que posibilita el ejercicio de la movilidad personal, permitiendo la importación de vehículosusados no ortopédicos con exenciones tributarias.

“Sin embargo, puede resultar que la exigencia de una “factura comercial” por parte de la Ley de Aduanas constituya un obstáculo por tratarse de un bienusado, y deje sin efecto estasuerte de acción afirmativa a favor de las personas con discapacidad. La Convenciónsobre los derechos de las personas con discapacidad debe prevalecer sobre el resto de normas jurídicas conforme los artículos 424 y 425 de la Constitución, y si la exigencia de facturaspara la importación de vehículos usados resulta en la inaplicabilidad del artículo 23 de la Ley sobre Discapacidades, podría ser necesario declarar la inconstitucionalidad de la norma aduanera. …

“Este será el caso del literal b del artículo 44 de la Ley Orgánica de Aduanas: cuando se trate de importaciones de vehículos usados llevadas a cabopor personas con alguna discapacidad en aplicación del artículo 23 de la Ley sobre Discapacidades, no se podrá interpretar los términos “facture comercial” comouna exigencia de documentos que sólo proceden para bienes nuevos; por el contrario, se deber átener como satisfecho este requisito con la presentación del document o equivalente que se pueda obtener para vehículos usados.” (page 32-34 of Spanish text)

“The practical exercise of the wide range of rights invoked by the claimants…is reduced, at this point, to compliance with the general rules of customs declarations, in order for the respective importations to proceed. Therefore, it is appropriate to verify that the imposition of these requirements is constitutional, in the sense that they might prejudice persons’ with disabilities enjoyment of their human rights.

“One of the rights recognized throughout this decision in favor of the claimants, as persons with disabilities, is the right to freedom of movement[1] in respect of “quality of movement,” which includes providing assistance or devices at a reasonable cost. Article 23 of the Law regarding Persons with Disabilities includes one manner in which freedom of movement is facilitated, by allowing for the tax-free importation of pre-owned, non-orthopedic vehicles.

“However, it may be the case that the requirement of a “commercial invoice” by the Customs Law constitutes an obstacle, given that the good in question is pre-owned, and therefore renders this type of affirmative action for persons with disabilities without effect. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities must prevail over other legal standards, as per Articles 424 and 425 of the Constitution, and if the requirement of a commercial invoice for the importation of pre-owned vehicles results in the unenforceability of Article 23 of the Law regarding Persons with Disabilities, it would be necessary to declare the relevant provision of the customs law unconstitutional. …

“This will now be the case in respect of paragraph b of Article 44 of the Organic Law of Customs: when dealing with the importation of pre-owned vehicles by persons with disabilities, in application of Article 23 of the Law regarding Persons with Disabilities, the term “commercial invoice” may not be interpreted so as to requirethe presentation of a document that is solely issued for new goods; instead, the presentation of an equivalent document that may be obtained in respect of pre-owned vehicles shall be considered to satisfy this requirement.” (page 32-33 of English text)



[1]The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Article 20.b.

View full summary and print   |   Download summary as PDF