Press Release

IACHR Takes Case involving El Salvador to the Inter-American Court

April 1, 2014

Washington, D.C.—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed an application with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Case No. 12.679, José Agapito Ruano Torres and Family v. El Salvador.

This case has to do with a series of violations to the American Convention to the detriment of José Agapito Ruano Torres, and the effects of those violations on his family. José Agapito Ruano Torres was deprived of liberty in his home, in the early morning hours of October 17, 2000, and maltreated in front of his family. The Commission concluded that the physical and verbal abuse constituted torture. He was later prosecuted and criminally convicted in violation of the minimum due process guarantees. He is still servicing his sentence.

Specifically, José Agapito Ruano Torres was convicted with serious doubts as to whether he was in fact the person alleged to have committed the crime. The only two pieces of evidence on which his conviction was based were handled with a series of irregularities. The IACHR therefore concluded that the State violated the right to presumption of innocence. It also considered that the poor conduct of the public defender’s office constituted a violation of the right to a defense. In the Commission’s view, his deprivation of liberty in execution of a conviction handed down in violation of these guarantees was, and continues to be, arbitrary. The Commission also deemed that the State did not provide effective recourse to investigate the acts of torture that were suffered, protect the victim from due process violations, or review his deprivation of liberty.

The Inter-American Commission submitted the case to the Inter-American Court on February 13, 2014, due to the lack of substantive progress in compliance with its recommendations. The Commission had recommended that the State take the necessary measures, as soon as possible, to nullify the effects of José Agapito Ruano Torres’ conviction; review his conviction, if the victim should so request, so that it can be adjusted to the standards applicable to presumption of innocence and the rights to a defense, in the terms described in the report; provide full reparation in such a way that both material and nonmaterial aspects are included; carry out a serious, diligent, and effective investigation, within a reasonable time frame, to clear up the acts of torture; order the appropriate administrative, disciplinary, and punitive measures over the acts or omissions of the State officials who contributed to the violations in the case; and adopt the necessary measures to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.

The case proposes an innovative analysis with regard to the right to presumption of innocence, specifically regarding the minimum steps a State must take to verify a person’s identity before proceeding with a criminal case and a conviction. Moreover, the Commission noted that the case could help develop case law on the extent of State responsibility for acts and omissions that could be incurred in a person’s public defense.

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 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. 30/14