Press Release

IACHR Brings Chile Case before the IA Court

February 27, 2019

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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 (IA Court) over case 12.955, Daniel Urrutia Laubreaux, involving Chile.

The case concerns a series of human rights violations that took place as part of a disciplinary process that culminated in a censure motion against Justice Daniel Urrutia Laubreaux, which was subsequently reduced to a private reprimand, for his having criticized the actions of Chile’s Supreme Court of Justice during the country’s military dictatorship in a piece of academic writing. In the merits report, the IACHR concluded that Chile had violated legal guarantees, the principle of legality, the right of freedom of expression, and the right to legal protection, to the detriment of Daniel Urrutia Laubreaux.

The IACHR found that the state had violated the right to detailed prior knowledge of the accusation being made and the right to appropriate time and means to prepare a defense, given that the victim was never notified that disciplinary proceedings had been initiated, the reasons for these, or the grounds on which his behavior constituted a breach of conduct. Likewise, the IACHR concluded that the state violated the right to an impartial disciplinary authority and the right to legal protection, as after the victim sent the academic work in question to the Supreme Court, the court returned it indicating that the interpretations it contained were inappropriate and unacceptable. However, it was the Supreme Court itself that then reviewed the sanction that had been imposed in the second instance, even though it had also issued the first value judgment. The IACHR also found that the state had violated the principle of legality because of the excessive scope of the disciplinary action taken against the victim, which imposed a sanction for having attacked the behavior of judges or magistrates “in any way whatsoever,” which affects the predictability of reprehensible behavior and provides the disciplinary authorities with a margin of discretion when defining what constitutes an attack.

Finally, the IACHR found that the state violated the right to freedom of thought and expression by imposing an arbitrary sanction on an exercise in freedom of expression by imposing a further penalty that failed to comply with the requirements set out in the American Convention. The IACHR also stated that the aim the sanction sought to achieve, namely “respect for the hierarchy,” is not one of the purposes enshrined in the American Convention. It also found that there was no relationship between ends and means in terms of the restrictions applied to the academic work in question and the stated purpose of these restrictions. The IACHR stressed that the opinions expressed in the academic work in question are in the public interest and should be protected more rigorously as they contribute to the debate on the way in which the judiciary can respond to reports of serious human rights violations.

In the Merits Report, the IACHR recommended that administrative or other measures be taken to render the sanction imposed on Daniel Urrutia Laubreaux ineffective, including the elimination of all record of these sanctions from his legal record or file. The IACHR also recommended that the consequences of the violations described in the report, which include both pecuniary and nonpecuniary damages, should be fully remedied by means of appropriate measures of compensation and satisfaction. Measures of nonrepetition should also be implemented, including the adaptation of domestic legislation to remove the grounds used in the present case from the legislation and to ensure that the disciplinary grounds associated with the right of judges to freedom of expression are compatible with the principle of legality and the right to freedom of expression as per the terms analyzed in the report.

Although progress was made toward compliance with the recommendations, a final agreement on concrete reparation to the victim could not be reached despite the parties’ efforts. As a consequence, after issuing several extensions, the Inter-American Commission decided to submit the matter to the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on February 1, 2019.

This case provides the Inter-American Court with an opportunity to develop and consolidate its jurisprudence regarding judges’ right to freedom of expression in particular cases in which the judiciary is criticized regarding matters of public interest. The case will also allow the court to expand its jurisprudence on reinforced guarantees of legality and due process during punitive proceedings against judges in light of the principle of judicial independence.

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. 044/19