I/A Court H.R., Case of Vera Vera et al. v. Ecuador. Preliminary Objection, Merits, Reparations, and Costs. Judgment of May 19, 2011. Series. C No. 226.

Non official brief

This summary is also published in the website of the Council of Europe in the following link: www.venice.coe.int/files/Bulletin/B2011-3-e.pdf

 

Headnotes:


As set out in the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, every prisoner must be seen and examined by a medical officer as soon as possible after admission and thereafter as needed; this officer must take all measures necessary to discover any physical or mental illnesses.


As set out in the Standard Minimum Rules of the United Nations for the Treatment of Prisoners, inmates who require specialised treatment shall be transferred to specialised institutions or civil hospitals. All institutions with hospital facilities available to prisoners shall have adequate resources and suitably trained staff.


Ill-treatment must attain a minimum level of severity in order to be considered cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment. The circumstances of the case, such as the duration of the treatment, its purpose and physical and mental effects, and, in some cases, the sex, age, and state of health of the victim must be taken into account. The absence of any purpose does not inevitably lead to a finding that there has been no violation.


With respect to prisoners who are ill, whether a State is responsible for the commission of cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment will depend, inter alia, on factors such as whether appropriate emergency and specialised medical care was provided, whether the prisoner suffered excessive deterioration of his or her physical and mental health, exposure to severe or prolonged pain as a result of the lack of timely and diligent medical care, or excessive security conditions despite his or her obvious serious health condition and with no grounds or evidence that would have required this, as well as public awareness or media communication of these situations.


The State may be responsible for cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment suffered by a person who has been in the custody of State agents, or who has died in such circumstances if, in addition, authorities have not conducted a serious investigation of the facts followed by the prosecution of those responsible.


The State’s duty of care of persons under its custody requires it to provide a satisfactory explanation of the death of such persons.


Statutes of limitations are inadmissible in cases that involve serious human rights violations such as forced disappearance, the extrajudicial killing of persons, and torture. Whether a violation has occurred as part of a context of massive and systematic violations is a factor to be taken into account in determining the admissibility of such a statute.


Rendering the statute of limitations inapplicable in this particular case would imply that such statutes are inapplicable in all cases before the Court, as the latter involve human rights violations which entail a degree of severity in and of themselves. This is not in line with the standards specified by the Court on the inapplicability of statutes of limitations.


The State must satisfy, in some way, the right of the mother and family to know what happened to the victim as a complementary measure of satisfaction.


Summary:


I. On 12 April 1993, Pedro Miguel Vera Vera was chased by a group of people that accused him of robbery and by members of the National Police in Santo Domingo de los Colorados. During the confusion, Mr Vera Vera was shot, but the origin of the shot is unknown. Mr Vera Vera was arrested and died eleven days later, while under State custody, due to lack of adequate medical care for his gunshot wound. No investigations were carried out with respect to the gunshot or with respect to the lack of medical care.


On 24 February 2010, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (hereinafter, the «Commission»), filed an application against the Republic of Ecuador (hereinafter, the «State» or «Ecuador») with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (hereinafter, the «Court») to determinate the State’s international responsibility for alleged violations of Article 4.1 ACHR (Right to Life), Articles 5.1 and 5.2 ACHR (Right to Personal Integrity), in relation to the general obligations contained in Article 1.1 ACHR, to the detriment of Mr Pedro Miguel Vera Vera, and Article 8.1 ACHR (Judicial Guarantees) and Article 25.1 ACHR (Judicial Protection), in relation to the general obligations contained in Article 1.1 ACHR, to the detriment of his family members. The representative of the victims agreed with the Commission’s allegations.


II. In its Judgment, the Court rejected the State’s preliminary objection that domestic remedies had not been exhausted because this point was not raised at the correct procedural moment before the Commission. Furthermore, in its prior considerations, the Court held that because they were the only persons indicated as alleged victims in the Commission’s Article 50 merits report, only Mr. Vera Vera and his mother would be considered alleged victims in this case.


On the merits, the Court found that the State violated Articles 5.1, 5.2 and 4.1 ACHR, in conjunction with Article 1.1 ACHR, to the detriment of Mr Pedro Miguel Vera Vera, as State authorities did not provide him with the necessary medical attention during the ten days he was under their custody, causing him severe physical and psychological harm and ultimately leading to his death, a result that could have been avoided with adequate and opportune medical treatment. Due to his health condition and his deprivation of liberty, it was clear that Mr Vera Vera could not obtain treatment on his own; therefore, it was an obligation of the State to do so. For the Court, these facts amounted to inhumane and degrading treatment.


However, due to a lack of supporting evidence, the Court rejected the Commission’s allegation that a generalised situation of inadequate medical care for prisoners existed in Ecuador.


Furthermore, the Court found that the State violated Articles 8.1 and 25.1 ACHR, in relation to Article 1.1 ACHR, to the detriment of Mr Vera Vera, as it did not investigate the origins of his gunshot wound, an obligetion that should have been executed ex officio. The Court also found violations of these same articles to the detriment of Mr Vera Vera’s mother, Francisca Mercedes Valdez Vera, due to the failure to investigate, prosecute, and, where appropriate, punish those res-ponsible for Mr Vera Vera’s death while in State custody.


Additionally, the Court found that the State violated Article 5.1 ACHR, in relation to Article 1.1 ACHR, to the detriment of Ms Vera Valdez, because it was clear that she suffered due to the poor treatment afforded to her son while he was detained, to the lack of assistance she received in attempting to secure him proper medical care, and to the State’s failure to investigate and determine the cause of his death.


Accordingly, the Court ordered the State to adopt, within a reasonable period, measures necessary to satisfy Ms Vera Valdez’s right to know what happened to her son. However, the Court rejected the Commission’s request that a statute of limitations on the prosecution of charges related to Mr Vera Vera’s death be declared inadmissible. The Court also ordered the State to publish the Judgment in its official gazette, in another newspaper of national readership, and on an official webpage, and to disseminate it among State agents; to pay pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages; and to reimburse the parties’costs and expenses.