Penafiel Parraga v. Ecuador

Report No. 73/09, Petition 4392-02, August 5, 2009; OEA/Ser.L/V/II., Doc. 51, corr. 1, 30 December 2009
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This report addresses the admissibility of a petition that alleged Ecuador failed to fulfill its obligations under the American Convention on Human Rights (the Convention), including the right to humane treatment.

Wellington Geovanny Peñafiel Parraga was a former National Police officer who suffered psychological distress allegedly as a result of treatment he received during a police training course and an extended period of warrantless detention by the National Police. During his detention, he was evaluated by a police psychiatrist who concluded that he required immediate hospitalization in a specialized psychiatric facility. Petitioners alleged that the police did not act upon the doctor’s recommendation and that Mr. Peñafiel’s mental state deteriorated as a consequence of his continued detention.

Mr. Peñafiel appeared before the Disciplinary Tribunal of the National Police (the Tribunal) in connection with an incident during which he took a man’s motorbike without permission and returned it sometime later. Petitioner’s claimed his actions were caused by his psychological distress. Petitioners alleged the Tribunal did not take into account Mr. Peñafiel’s psychological distress and he was disciplined “as a normal person.” Mr. Peñafiel was expelled from the police force. The decision was appealed before the Constitutional Tribunal and upheld.

After being removed from the police force, family members placed Mr. Peñafiel in a psychiatric hospital because he continued having “mental gaps and severe depression with psychotic symptoms.” He escaped from the hospital and was later treated in clinics and by private psychiatrists. Petitioners alleged Mr. Peñafiel was “completely normal” and capable of rejoining the police force following this therapy.

The petition was admissible as to allegations of violations of articles 5 (right to humane treatment), 7 (right to personal liberty), 8 (right to a fair trial), and 25 (right to judicial protection) of the Convention.

The Commission further indicated that Ecuador was likely responsible for the presumed violation of the right to personal integrity under article 5.1 of the Convention (every person has the right to have his physical, mental, and moral integrity respected) in relation to Mr. Peñafiel’s poor health during his detention by the National Police.

“Faced with the facts and laws presented by the parties and the nature of the matter being brought to its attention, the Commission finds that in the present case it is necessary to establish that the petitioners’ allegations relative to the presumed violation of the right to personal liberty, judicial protection and guarantees could characterize violations of the rights protected in articles 7, 8.1 and 25.1 in concordance with article 1.1 of the American Convention. Regarding a lack of substance or the irrelevance of these aspects of the claim not being evident, the Commission considers the requirements as established in articles 47.b) and c) of the American Convention to be satisfied.” Para. 33.

“On the other hand, the petitioners allege a violation of article 10 of the American Convention with the notion that Wellington Peñafiel’s removal was due to ‘an error of the Disciplinary Tribunal of the National Police.’ Having analyzed the claims presented before the Constitutional Court, as well as those presented in this petition, and taking into account that internal legal recourse was exhausted as related to the rights of personal liberty, judicial protection and guarantees, the Commission considers that there is not sufficient evidence to establish the characterization of a possible violation of article 10 of the Convention, thereby requiring a declaration of said pretension as inadmissible.” Para 34.

“Likewise, given the factual elements of the present petition and in application of the principle iura novit curia, it corresponds to the Commission establish the possible responsibility of the State for the presumed violation of the right to personal integrity provided for in article 5.1 of the American Convention in that relating to Mr. Wellington Peñafiel’s health during his detention.” Para. 35.