IACHR refers case on Argentina to the Inter-American Court

April 9, 2021

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Washington, D.C. - On March 27, 2021, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed the case of Guillermo Antonio Álvarez, regarding Argentina, before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The case refers to the international responsibility of the State for several violations of Mr. Álvarez's human rights in the context of a criminal proceeding against him.

Guillermo Antonio Álvarez was subject to criminal proceedings for the crimes of robbery and homicide that occurred between July 27 and 28, 1996. On October 28, 1999, the Oral Juvenile Court before which the proceedings were heard sentenced him to "a single penalty of life imprisonment, plus the accessory penalty of imprisonment for an indeterminate period of time to be served, legal accessories and costs". After an appeal in cassation and a series of extraordinary appeals were filed against this decision, the sentence was confirmed.

In its Report on the Merits, the Commission determined a series of violations that occurred during the criminal proceedings. In the first place, it determined that the victim did not have the time and means to prepare an adequate and effective defense. The Commission established that, following the revocation of the victim's legal representatives, the court decided not to grant him time for the designation of a new defense counsel, but instead appointed the Official Public Defender ex officio on the same day that the trial hearing was to begin. The victim was able to meet with the public defender only one hour before the hearing and, during the hearing, he decided not to testify. Although the court considered that the assigned defense counsel would have knowledge of the case since she had previously defended a co-accused, the Commission noted that she herself indicated that it was not possible for her to study the victim's situation in less than 24 hours. In addition, the Commission noted that the court did not conduct an analysis of the possible incompatibility of the representation of the two defendants in the case by a common defense counsel.

In addition, the Commission considered that the lack of arguments in favor of the interests of the accused, as well as the inadequate substantiation of the appeals filed, had an impact on the right to an effective defense. The Commission also noted that the victim did not have a defense attorney to file an extraordinary federal appeal against the sentence of the Criminal Cassation Chamber. The Commission determined that, although the multiple deficiencies in Mr. Alvarez's defense were brought to the attention of the judicial authorities through various appeals filed, these were not effective in remedying the violations of the judicial guarantees referred to.

Secondly, the Commission observed that Mr. Álvarez was presented at the hearing handcuffed, without the State having justified that the aforementioned measures were appropriate and proportional to reduce the risk of flight or violence. The Commission considered that this affected his right to the presumption of innocence.

Third, as in other cases, the Commission determined that the limitations of the grounds for cassation appeals meant that Mr. Álvarez did not have a remedy before a hierarchical authority to carry out a comprehensive review of the conviction, including the issues of fact, law, evidentiary assessment and due process alleged by the defense. It also concluded that, as a consequence of the limited nature of the cassation appeal and the even more limited nature of the extraordinary appeal, the victim did not have simple and effective judicial remedies in the framework of the criminal proceedings that culminated in his conviction.

Fourth, with respect to the imposition of the sentence of life imprisonment pursuant to the provisions of Article 80, paragraphs 2 and 7 of the National Criminal Code, plus the accessory sentence of indefinite imprisonment to be served pursuant to Article 52 of the National Criminal Code, the Commission observed that this sentence would mean that, in the best case scenario, the victim could obtain his definitive freedom in a minimum of 30 years. This, given that the sentence review model in cases of life imprisonment is not periodic, but that Mr. Álvarez would only be able to have his sentence reviewed 20 years after the conviction, without a judge being able to evaluate various elements in order to determine whether he should continue to be deprived of his liberty.

The Commission concluded that the sentence was disproportionate and contrary to the purpose of re-socialization. It also established that the imposition of the accessory penalty, which is imposed as a result of the victim's convictions in other proceedings, constituted an expression of the criminal law of the perpetrator that implied in practice an unjustified differentiated treatment in comparison with other persons who might commit the same crime. Although this last accessory penalty was declared unconstitutional in the judgment of the Gramajo case, the Commission did not have information indicating that this ruling had a general scope, allowing it to be applied to all persons who committed the same crime.

Based on these findings, the Commission concluded that the Argentine State is responsible for the violation of the rights to humane treatment, personal liberty, judicial guarantees, equality before the law and judicial protection established in Articles 5(6), 7(3), 8(1), 8(2)(c), (d), (e), (f), (h) and (f), 24 and 25 of the American Convention, in relation to the obligations established in Articles 1(1) and (2) of the same instrument, to the detriment of Guillermo Antonio Álvarez.

In its Merits Report, the Commission recommended that the State:

  1. Make full reparations for the human rights violations declared in the Merits Report, both in material and non-material aspectsThe State shall adopt measures of economic compensation and satisfaction
  2. To provide the necessary measures so that Guillermo Antonio Álvarez can have access to a criminal proceeding with due judicial guaranteesIn particular, provide the necessary measures so that, if he so wishes, Guillermo Antonio Álvarez may file an appeal to obtain a comprehensive review of the judgment in compliance with Article 8(2)(h) of the American Convention
  3. To take the necessary measures to carry out a review of the sentence imposed on MrGuillermo Antonio Álvarez consisting of life imprisonment with the accessory of indefinite imprisonment, in such a way that it is compatible with the purpose set forth in Article 5(6) of the American Convention.
  4. To adopt the necessary legislative measures to bring domestic legislation on the remedy of cassation into line with the standards established in the report on the right enshrined in Article 8(2)(h) of the American ConventionLikewise, and independently of the adaptation of legislation, ensure that the judicial authorities exercise a control of conventionality at the time of resolving appeals against convictions, in a manner consistent with the standards established in this report
  5. Take the necessary measures to bring domestic legislation in line with the standards described in this report with respect to life imprisonment or life imprisonment and indefinite imprisonmentThe State should ensure that life imprisonment: i) is applied exceptionally, with periodic review; and ii) is proportional and limited by the purpose of re-socialization provided for in Article 5(6) of the ConventionThe State must annul the accessory penalty contemplated in Article 52 of the National Criminal Code.

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate derives from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The IACHR is composed of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacity, and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 090/21