IACHR Files Application Before Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Case Concerning Chile

May 23, 2023

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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 on February 15, 2022, in the case of Mario Galetovic Sapunar and others, regarding Chile. This case concerns lack of access to an effective judicial remedy to request reparations for victims Mario Galetovic Sapunar, Daniel Ruiz Oyarzo, Carlos González Jaksic, Oscar Santiago Mayorga Paredes, Hugo René Formantel Díaz, and Néstor Edmundo Navarro Alvarado, for the confiscation of a radio station during the Chilean dictatorship.

In September 1973, the victims owned the firm Ruiz and Company Ltd., which managed and operated the radio station La Voz del Sur in the city of Punta Arenas. This was the only radio station in Punta Arenas that supported Popular Unity, the coalition that led Salvador Allende to the Chilean presidency. On the day of the military coup, Defense Ministry officers took physical control of the premises and arrested the radio station's main partners, who were taken to prison and torture facilities. A decree issued by the Interior Ministry stated that the company had been dissolved and ordered that the radio station become the property of the State of Chile. In 1975, the military government transferred to Radio Nacional de Chile, free of charge, all property that had previously belonged to Ruiz and Company Ltd.

After the return of democracy in Chile, the victims filed a judicial complaint and requested that the decrees affecting them be declared null and void. A civil-law court ruled in their favor, considering that the State lacked competent jurisdiction to exercise powers that corresponded exclusively to courts of justice, and the court of appeals confirmed this decision. However, Chile's Treasury filed an appeal to have the decision revoked, and the country's Supreme Court ruled that there was a statute of limitations in place and that the deadline to demand compensation had passed five years after the relevant decrees had been issued.

The Commission noted that the military dictatorship was still in place over the period where, according to the Supreme Court, the victims might have demanded compensation, which made it impossible for them to access effective judicial remedies. Further, the Supreme Court decision was not legally consistent, since the Supreme Court itself had previously confirmed that the decrees were void. This means that the victims could not have requested compensation earlier, because the relevant decrees were still in force and had to be presumed legal.

The IACHR also noted that, when the victims finally had a court decision that declared the decrees void, they still could not access reparations, because a statute of limitations had been imposed. The victims were therefore deprived of judicial remedies to ask that the decrees be declared void and to request compensation for damages.

The Commission stresses that, by filing a complaint to the judiciary, the victims had expected to obtain reparations for violations of their rights to property and to freedom of expression and information associated with the actions of the dictatorship. Applying a statute of limitations restricted the victims' effective access to judicial protection and to reparations, which they had a right to as victims of the dictatorship.

The IACHR therefore concluded that the State of Chile is liable for violating the rights to judicial guarantees and judicial protection held in Articles 8.1 and 25.1 of the American Convention, concerning general obligations and the rights to freedom of expression and to property held in Articles 1.1, 13, and 21, regarding Mario Galetovic Sapunar, Daniel Ruiz Oyarzo, Carlos González Jaksic, Oscar Santiago Mayorga Paredes, Hugo René Formantel Díaz, and Néstor Edmundo Navarro Alvarado.

In its report, the IACHR recommended that the State:

  1. Provide comprehensive reparations to the victims and their heirs for the damages that are described in the report
  2. Take non-recurrence measures—whether legislative, administrative, or of any other sort—to ensure that Chilean judicial practices reflect the standards held in the report and ban statutes of limitations for civil actions to request reparations in cases like this one

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. 091/23

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