Press Release

IACHR Takes Case Involving Ecuador to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

February 13, 2019

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed an application before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (I/A Court H.R.) in Case 12,678, Paola del Rosario Guzmán Albarracín and Next of Kin, with regard to Ecuador.

The case deals with the Ecuadorian State’s international responsibility for the sexual violence suffered by Paola del Rosario Guzmán Albarracín between the ages of 14 and 16, and for her subsequent suicide at 16. The Commission concluded that she was a victim of violence—including sexual violence—for being a woman and a girl. Such violence was exercised by her school’s assistant principal Bolívar Espín and by school doctor Raúl Ortega, both public servants, and there was direct causation between her experiences at school and her decision to kill herself, the IACHR found. The Commission deemed that the State’s responsibility extends—beyond its failure to comply with its duty to respect citizens—to its failure to ensure prevention, since neither the school nor the State in general had prevention and early detection tools or accountability mechanisms in place to deal with cases such as this one, although it was not a one-off event at that school.

The Commission further concluded that the assistant principal, the doctor and the school inspector failed to take the measures needed to address the serious and urgent situation Paola Guzmán Albarracín was facing on December 12, 2002, after ingesting the fireworks containing white phosphorus (known as “diablillos”) that caused her death. The actions and omissions of those public servants, who had a particular obligation to look after the girl in her school environment, contributed to that day’s fatal events, and also compromised the State’s compliance with its international responsibilities.

The Commission concluded that the Ecuadorian State is responsible for violations of Paola del Rosario Guzmán Albarracín’s rights to life, personal integrity, autonomy, private life and dignity, her right to enjoy special protection from the State as a child, her right to equality and non-discrimination, her rights to education and health, and her right to live without violence.

The Commission further considered that the impunity that has affected the case was caused by a lack of due diligence from the authorities. The IACHR also concluded that procedures implemented following Paola del Rosario Guzmán Albarracín’s death failed to adopt a gender perspective and that the criminal, civil and administrative proceedings that were conducted all included stereotypes about women’s role and social behavior, which was in itself a violation of the principle of equality and non-discrimination in access to justice. The IACHR therefore concluded that the State had violated the rights of the girl’s next of kin to a fair trial and to judicial protection, as well as to equality and non-discrimination. Finally, the Commission deemed that the loss of a loved one and the failure to obtain justice have caused suffering and anxiety to Paola’s parents and sister, which violated their right to mental and moral integrity.

In its Merits Report, the Commission recommended that Ecuador provide comprehensive reparation for human rights violations, both material and moral, by taking measures to grant financial compensation and satisfaction. The IACHR further recommended that the Ecuadorian State provide free and immediate psychological, psychosocial or psychiatric care (as appropriate) to Paola del Rosario Guzmán Albarracín’s family, in an agreed upon manner, should they want such care. Regarding the need to ensure justice, the IACHR recommended that Ecuador conduct—with due diligence and within a reasonable timeframe—any relevant investigations and criminal proceedings, in order to establish, identify, try and, if necessary, punish the people responsible, considering that the statute of limitations in this criminal case was a consequence of an investigation and of criminal proceedings incompatible with the American Convention. The IACHR also recommended taking appropriate administrative, disciplinary and criminal measures with respect to the actions and omissions of State officials who contributed to the denial of justice and impunity that have plagued events in this case.

The Inter-American Commission further recommended that Ecuador take non-repetition measures including the following: establishing appropriate regulations and mechanisms to ensure adequate training, early detection, auditing, oversight and accountability in public and private educational institutions, in order to prevent and suitably respond to cases of sexual harassment at such institutions including violence exercised through healthcare services provided within schools; designing protocols for the education and healthcare sectors that encourage denunciation, ensure confidentiality and provide assistance to students who are victims or witnesses of acts of sexual violence, considering their best interests (special attention needs to be paid to ethical medical care and to any effects on the emotional and mental health of girls and adolescents); integrating in compulsory teaching materials information that is suitable, timely and adequate for the development stage of the relevant children and seeks to give them tools to prevent and report cases of sexual violence; ensuring that officials in the judiciary, the public prosecutor’s office and the National Police in charge of conducting investigations and criminal proceedings involving violence against women and girls (including sexual violence in educational settings and in healthcare services provided at educational institutions) receive appropriate training and have the institutional support they need to investigate with a gender perspective and with due diligence; and implementing educational and awareness-raising campaigns at public and private schools, with the aim of countering sociocultural structures that normalize or trivialize sexual violence in such contexts.

The Inter-American Commission submitted the case to the Court’s jurisdiction on February 7, 2019, given the Ecuadorian State’s failure to comply with the recommendations held in the Merits Report.

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

No. 032/19