Juvenile Reeducation Institute v. Paraguay

Preliminary Objections, Merits, Reparations and Costs, Judgment, Inter-Am. Ct. H.R. (ser. C) No. 112 (Sept. 2, 2004).
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Nine inmates died from a fire at juvenile detention center “Colonel Panchito López” Juvenile Reeducation Institute (Center), one inmate died from a bullet wound sustained at the Center, and 37 inmates sustained injuries and smoke inhalation from three fires at the Center. The Center was under the authority of the Ministry of Justice and Labor of Paraguay. The Center maintained gross conditions that did not comply with international standards for the incarceration of juveniles, such as “overpopulation, overcrowding, lack of sanitation, inadequate infrastructure, and a prison guard staff that was both too small and poorly trained.” Cells at the Center were unsanitary and lack hygienic facilities. Inmates were poorly fed and received inadequate medical, psychological, and dental care. Those with disabilities, mental disorders, and addictions did not receive medical care suited for their special needs. Guards at the Center sold narcotic substance to inmates. Inmates were given “few opportunities to exercise or to participate in recreational activities.”  Many were not given a bed, mattress, or blankets, and therefore had to sleep on the floor or share the bed with others. The overcrowded conditions and lack of beds “enabled an environment of sexual abuse among inmates.” Punishment at the Center included torture, solitary confinement, and beatings.

The petitioners filed a claim with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and after failed attempt for a friendly settlement, the Commission submitted the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The representatives alleged violation of Articles 2 (legal effects) and 26 (progressive development of economic, social, and cultural rights), and both the representatives and the Commission alleged that the state had violated Articles 4 (right to life), 5 (right to humane treatment),  7 (right to personal liberty), 19 (Rights of the Child), 8 (Right to a Fair Trial) and 25 (Judicial Protection) of the American Convention.

The Court held that the state had violated Article 5 (right to humane treatment), finding that the conditions at the Center were "never" the kind that would have allowed inmates to "live with dignity"--inmates lived in "an atmosphere of violence, danger, abuse, corruption, mistrust and promiscuity, where the rule that prevailed was survival of the fittest." The Court recalled that one of the domestic courts reviewing the case had found that "allegations of a) physical, psychological or moral violence exacerbating the conditions under which the inmates were held, [and] b) the threat to the personal safety of the juveniles interned [at the Center] ha[d] been proved with all its consequences."

The Court, with respect to the children interned at the Center, held that the state had violated Article 4 (right to life), read in combination with Article 19 (children's rights) in failing to take the necessary measures to prevent the fire, which caused not only the deaths of a number of inmates, but also the mental suffering of many, including those who died slowly from asphyxiation and burns.

The Court held that, with respect to children interned between August 14, 1996 and July 25, 2001, the state had violated Articles 4 (right to life) and 5 (right to humane treatment) of the American Convention in failing to provide inmates in conditions that would allow them to live at the Center with dignity, including punishing them by sending them to adult prisons. The Court underscored that the state bears the responsibility of protecting the rights to life and humane treatment of inmates, which included creating the conditions to prevent violence and provide education and health care at the Center.

The Court held that the state had violated Article 5 (right to humane treatment) to the detriment of the children who survived but were harmed as a result of the fire. The Court recognized that the victims were experiencing mental and physical suffering.

The Court found the state in violation of Article 2 (legal effects) and Article 8 (right to fair trial), in relation to Article 19 (children's rights) for failing to establish a specialized court jurisdiction for children or a proceeding different than the ones used for adults.

The Court concluded that it did not have sufficient evidence to rule on Article 7 (right to personal liberty).

The Court found the state in violation of Article 25 (judicial protection) for failing to provide remedy to the inmates at the Center following the granting of the petition of generic habeas corpus, which sought to address the deplorable living conditions at the Center. The Court observed that despite the ruling, inmates "continued to endure the same unsanitary and overcrowded conditions, without proper health care, ill-fed, under the constant threat of being punished, in an atmosphere of tension, violence, abuse, and unable to effectively enjoy a number of their human rights."

The Court analyzing Article 26 (progressive development of economic, social, and cultural rights) would have been redundant, considering that it had already addressed the issues on "life with dignity, health, education and recreation" within its analysis of Articles 4 (right to life) and 5 (right to humane treatment).

"147: [T]he alleged victims of a significant number of the violations being claimed are children who, like the adults, 'have the same rights as all human beings [...] and also special rights derived from their condition, and these are accompanied by specific duties of the family, society, and the State.' This is the requirement under Article 19 of the American Convention, which provides that 'Every minor child has the right to the measures of protection required by his condition as a minor on the part of his family, society, and the state.' This provision must be construed as an added right which the Convention establishes for those who, because of their physical and emotional development, require special protection."

"149: The measures that the State must undertake, particularly given the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, encompass economic, social and cultural aspects that pertain, first and foremost, to the children's right to life and right to humane treatment."

"151. This Court has held that all persons detained have the right to live in prison conditions that are in keeping with their dignity as human beings and that the State must guarantee their right to life and their right to humane treatment."

"155. [O]ther rights –such as the right to life, the right to humane treatment, freedom of religion and the right to due process- cannot be restricted under any circumstances during internment, and any such restriction is prohibited by international law. Persons deprived of their liberty are entitled to have those rights respected and ensured just as those who are not so deprived."

"156-58. [T]he right to life plays a key role in the American Convention as it is the essential corollary for realization of the other rights. When the right to life is not respected, the other rights vanish because the bearer of those rights ceases to exist. States have the obligation to ensure the conditions required for full enjoyment and exercise of that right. […] The right to humane treatment is a fundamental right that the American Convention protects by specifically prohibiting, inter alia, torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment or treatment; it also lists the right to humane treatment among those nonderogable rights that may not be suspended during states of emergency. […] The right to life and the right to humane treatment require not only that the State respect them (negative obligation) but also that the State adopt all appropriate measures to protect and preserve them (positive obligation), in furtherance of the general obligation that the State undertook in Article 1(1) of the Convention."
"161-62. Articles 6 and 27 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child include within the right to life the State's obligation to 'ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.' The Committee on the Rights of the Child has interpreted the word "development" in its broadest sense as a holistic concept, embracing the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral, psychological and social development. Regarding to children deprived of their liberty and thus in the custody of the State, the latter's obligations include that of providing them with health care and education, so as to ensure to them that their detention will not destroy their life plans. The United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of Their Liberty provide that: 'Juveniles deprived of their liberty shall not for any reason related to their status be denied the civil, economic, political, social or cultural rights to which they are entitled under national or international law, and which are compatible with the deprivation of liberty.' […] In the case of the right to humane treatment of a child deprived of his or her liberty, the State's obligations are intimately related to quality of life. The standard applied to classify treatment or punishment as cruel, inhuman or degrading must be higher in the case of children."

"172. The Court must now establish whether, in the case of the children interned at the Center, the State fulfilled the added obligations it has under Articles 4, 5 and 19 of the American Convention, based on the existing international corpus juris regarding the special protection that children require. One such obligation is provided for in Article 5(5) of the American Convention, whereby States are required to keep minors subject to criminal proceedings separated from adults. And, as previously noted (supra para. 161), another obligation of the State is to provide children deprived of their liberty with special periodic health care and education programs. These obligations follow from a proper interpretation of Article 4 of the Convention, in combination with the pertinent provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Article 13 of the Additional Protocol to the American Convention in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Paraguay ratified on June 3, 1997 and which entered into force on November 16, 1999. Such measures are of fundamental importance inasmuch as the children are at a critical stage in their physical, mental, spiritual, moral, psychological and social development that will impact, in one way or another, their life plan."

"176. [T]he State did not effectively fulfill its role as guarantor of the rights of the child, in this special relationship of subordination between the State and the adult/child deprived of liberty. The State failed to take the necessary positive measures to ensure to all inmates decent living conditions. It also failed to take the special measures of protection that are required of it where children are concerned. Furthermore, it was the State that allowed its agents to threaten, infringe, violate or restrict nonderogable rights that may not be violated or restricted under any circumstances or in any way, by exposing all the inmates at the Center to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and to unfit living conditions that were prejudicial to their right to life, their growth and development and their life plans."

"255. Within the present judgment, the Court analyzed the issues pertaining to a life with dignity, health, education and recreation in its considerations with regard to Articles 4 and 5 of the Convention, in relation to Articles 19 and 1(1) thereof and Article 13 of the Protocol of San Salvador. This Court therefore deems that to address the matter of Article 26 [Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Progressive Development] of the Convention would be redundant."