Press Release

IACHR Takes Case involving Guatemala to the Inter-American Court

December 21, 2017

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Washington, D.C.—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed an application with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Case 11.639, Alejandro Yovany Gómez Virula, with regard to Guatemala.

The case involves the State’s international responsibility for the disappearance and subsequent killing of Alejandro Yovany Gómez Virula in March 1995. The Commission concluded that the Guatemalan State is responsible for violating the rights to life, personal integrity, and personal liberty of Alejandro Yovany Gómez Virula, as it took no steps to search for the victim after learning of his disappearance. The IACHR found that, up until Alejandro Yovany Gómez Virula’s body was found, the State had the obligation to adopt immediate and diligent measures to search for and protect the victim, which did not happen. The Commission also considered that the State violated Alejandro Yovany Gómez Virula’s right to freedom of association because, despite significant evidence suggesting that his disappearance and killing could have been linked to his activities as a labor union leader, Guatemala did not pursue any type of investigation along those lines.

In addition, the IACHR found that from the preliminary stages of the investigation into his death, the State failed to meet its obligation to investigate with due diligence. The Commission showed that the authorities’ lack of drive and diligence was especially serious because of the virtually complete lack of investigative activity. The Commission also concluded that, considering the ambiguous information about whether the investigation was formally archived, the more than 21 years that have transpired since a complaint was filed in connection with the disappearance and subsequent death of Alejandro Yovany Gómez Virula constitutes an excessive period that has not been explained by the State. Finally, the IACHR concluded that the State violated the right to mental and moral integrity of Alejandro Yovany Gómez Virula’s next of kin.

In its Merits Report on the case, the Commission recommended that the State provide full redress for the human rights violations; carry out and complete an impartial, thorough, and effective judicial investigation, in an expedited manner, to establish the circumstances of the disappearance and death of Alejandro Yovany Gómez Virula; explore and exhaust the logical lines of investigation related to the case; and identify and punish anyone who participated in the acts in question. In addition, the IACHR asked the State to order any administrative, disciplinary, or criminal measures that may apply because of actions or omissions by State employees that contributed to denial of justice and impunity in this case. In addition, the IACHR indicated that the State should implement non-repetition measures, including a strengthening of the capacity to investigate violent deaths of human rights defenders—specifically union members, among others—in Guatemala.

The Inter-American Commission took the case to the Inter-American Court on November 17, 2017, because it deemed that the State had not complied with the recommendations contained in the Merits Report. The Inter-American Commission submitted to the Court’s jurisdiction all the facts and human rights violations described in the Merits Report and asked the Court to conclude and declare that the State of Guatemala bears international responsibility for violating the rights to life, personal integrity, personal liberty, freedom of association, judicial guarantees, and judicial protection, to the detriment of Alejandro Yovany Gómez Virula, and for violating the rights to personal integrity, judicial guarantees, and judicial protection, to the detriment of his father and mother.

This case will enable the Court to develop case law on a State’s obligations regarding the protection of the rights to life and personal integrity once it has learned of a person’s disappearance, even when the disappearance has taken place at the hands of non-State actors. Moreover, the case provides the opportunity to analyze State obligations to protect the right to freedom of association when this right is jeopardized by non-State actors, specifically when there is evidence suggesting that a victim’s disappearance happened because of and in retaliation for his or her activities as a union leader.

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 the respect for and defense of 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. 213/17