Press Release

IACHR Takes Case involving Guatemala to the Inter-American Court

November 6, 2015

   Related links

Merits Report in Word and PDF

Letter of submission (Spanish), in Word and PDF

Cases in the Court

   Contact info

IACHR Press and Communication Director
Tel: +1 (202) 370-9001
[email protected]

   More on the IACHR
A+ A-

Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed an application with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Case 12.349, Mayra Angelina Gutiérrez Hernández and Family, with regard to Guatemala.

The case has to do with the disappearance of Mayra Angelina Gutiérrez Hernández on April 7, 2000, and the lack of a serious, diligent, and timely investigation into what happened. The Commission found that while it does not have sufficient evidence to characterize what happened as a forced disappearance, the State of Guatemala incurred international responsibility due to its failure to protect the victim’s rights to life and humane treatment since it became aware of her disappearance. The Commission believes that from that moment on it should have been abundantly clear to the authorities that the victim was in a situation of extreme danger. However, during the first 48 hours after her disappearance was reported, the State did nothing to look for her, and over the ensuing weeks, the investigative procedures carried out were minimal and unrelated to the facts and evidence that emerged from the time she was reported missing.

The Commission also declared that the State of Guatemala bore international responsibility for the way the investigations were conducted. Specifically, the Commission determined that there was a failure to comply with the reasonable-time guarantee and a lack of due diligence from the beginning and throughout all the investigations. It also determined that there was an omission, in terms of the State’s failure to establish and thoroughly pursue logical leads, including those related to Mayra Angelina Gutiérrez Hernández’s work on the issue of illegal adoptions in Guatemala, as well as multiple factors related to the armed conflict. The Commission also concluded that the investigation was not conducted with a gender-sensitive approach and that it was colored by stereotypes regarding the role and social behavior of women.

In its Merits Report, the Commission recommended that the State of Guatemala provide full reparation, both pecuniary and non-pecuniary, for the human rights violations in the case; conduct and complete a full, effective, impartial, and prompt judicial investigation in order to establish the circumstances under which  Mayra Angelina Gutiérrez Hernández disappeared; explore and thoroughly exhaust the logical lines of inquiry in connection with the case; and identify and, as appropriate, punish all those who participated in the acts. The Commission also recommended that the State perform an exhaustive search to ascertain the fate or whereabouts of Mayra Angelina Gutiérrez Hernández. It also asked the State to impose appropriate administrative, disciplinary, or criminal penalties for the acts or omissions of State officials that contributed to the denial of justice and the impunity in which the case remains. Finally, it recommended implementing measures to avoid a repetition, to ensure that investigations of reported disappearances conform to the standards established in the case.

The Inter-American Commission submitted the case to the Court’s jurisdiction on July 15, 2015, because it believed the State of Guatemala had not complied with the recommendations contained in the Merits Report. The Commission submitted the entirety of the facts in that report to the Court.

This case provides an opportunity for the Inter-American Court to develop its case law concerning the duty to protect from the time the State first learns that a person has been reported missing, particularly a woman in a specific context. Unlike other cases heard by the Court on this subject, this one is unusual in that the missing victim’s whereabouts have not been determined. In addition, the case will allow the Court to develop its case law concerning the obligation to investigate with due diligence, particularly as regards the aspect related to logical lines of inquiry that take into account all relevant elements, including the reinforced nature of this aspect when the motive could have been the missing person’s activities to defend human rights. Among other many factors, the case will allow the Court to delve into the issue of the various stereotypes that discriminate against women based on their role and social behavior and that could be present in an investigation such as the one in this case.

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. 125/15