I/A Court H.R., Case of Montero Aranguren et al. (Detention Center of Catia) v. Venezuela. Preliminary Objection, Merits, Reparations and Costs. Judgment of July 5, 2006. Series C No. 150.

Non official brief

This summary is also published in the website of the Council of Europe in the following link: https://www.venice.coe.int/files/Bulletin/B2006-3-e.pdf  

 

Headnotes:

 

Government security forces should only use force in exceptional circumstances, in a limited and proportionate manner, once all other methods of control have been exhausted and failed.

 

The use of firearms and lethal force against people by law enforcement officers - which must be generally forbidden - is only justified in extraordinary cases. Such exceptional circumstances shall be determined by law and restrictively construed, so that firearms and lethal force are used to the minimum extent possible in all cases, but never exceeding that use which is "absolutely necessary" in relation to the force or threat to be repelled. Where excessive force is used, any deprivation of life is arbitrary.

 

If it discovers that members of the security forces have used firearms with lethal consequences, the State must immediately launch a rigorous, impartial and effective investigation ex officio.

 

States cannot invoke economic hardship to justify prison conditions that do not respect the inherent dignity of human beings. The impairment of rights arising from the deprivation of liberty, or as its collateral effect, must be strictly minimised. The State is in a special position as guarantor of the rights of persons deprived of their liberty.

 

Solitary confinement cells must be used as a disciplinary measure or for the protection of persons only for the time necessary and in strict compliance with the criteria of reasonableness, necessity and legality. Confinement in a dark cell with no means of communication is forbidden.

 

Poor physical and sanitary conditions existing in detention centres, as well as insufficient lighting and ventilation, are per se violations of the right to humane treatment. The intensity, length of detention and the inmate's personal circumstances must be considered, as they can cause hardship which is in excess of the unavoidable level of suffering inherent in detention, and because they involve humiliation and feelings of inferiority.

 

Inadequate medical assistance could be considered per se a violation of Articles 5.1 and 5.2 ACHR depending on the specific circumstances of the person, the type of disease or ailment, the time spent without medical attention, and its cumulative effects.

 

Summary:

 

On 24 February 2005, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights asked the Court to decide whether the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela had violated the rights to life and to humane treatment, under Articles 4 and 5 ACHR, in relation to Article 1.1 ACHR (obligation to respect rights). The case arose from detainees who allegedly died in an operation carried out on 27 November 1992 in the Flores de Catia Judicial Detention Centre. The Commission also asked the Court to assess whether the State breached the rights to fair trial and judicial protection, under Articles 8 and 25 ACHR, in the context of Article 1.1 ACHR, to the detriment of the alleged victims and their next of kin. Finally, the Commission asked the Court to declare Venezuela responsible for failure to comply with the general obligation set forth in Article 2 ACHR (domestic legal effects), failure to repeal those parts of its legislation which empowered military courts to investigate violations of human rights, and failure to develop policies to reform the penitentiary system.

 

In 1992, the situation at Catia Detention Centre was characterised by hunger strikes, poor prison conditions, deaths and disappearances of prisoners, breakouts and riots resulting in many injuries. Multiple violations of the prisoners' rights resulted from severe overcrowding. The prisoners held at the centre were subject to malnutrition, poor sanitary conditions and inadequate health care.

 

During the police operation of 27 November 1992 at Catia Detention Centre, the National Guard and the Metropolitan Police shot indiscriminately at prisoners, using firearms and tear gas. Approximately 63 prisoners died, including the 37 victims in the instant case, 52 were injured and 28 disappeared. Investigations carried out by the authorities to date have not yet established the total number of victims. Those reports which are available are incomplete, confusing and contradictory. The National Guard denied authorities from the Public Prosecutor's Office access to the Centre, due to alleged safety concerns.

 

Between 28 and 29 November 1992, scores of prisoners were transferred from Catia Detention Center to other prisons. The next of kin of the prisoners who were transferred had no knowledge of their whereabouts or fate. Before their transfer, authorities kept prisoners in the yards for many hours, forcing them to be naked and in uncomfortable positions.

 

In its Judgment of 5 July 2006, the Court ordered the State inter alia, to adapt its domestic laws to the provisions of the American Convention so that they:

 

a. adequately conform to international legal standards on the use of force by law enforcement officers;

b. are aimed at the creation of a penitentiary service, open to scrutiny and of a non-military nature;

c. secure an efficient procedure or system to file petitions before competent, impartial and independent authorities for the investigation of complaints on human rights violations filed by inmates, in particular, on illegal use of force by state agents;

d. ensure that investigations of human rights violations are carried out by ordinary prosecutors and judges instead of military prosecutors and judges;

e. adopt the necessary measures to bring prison conditions in line with internationally accepted standards.

 

These standards include:

 

a. bed space that meets minimum standards;

b. accommodation which is ventilated and naturally lit;

c. regular access to clean toilets and showers;

d. adequate, timely and sufficient food and health care; and

e. access to educational, employment and other opportunities to assist inmates towards a law-abiding and self-supporting life.