I/A Court H.R., Case of Myrna Mack Chang v. Guatemala. Merits, Reparations and Costs. Judgment of November 25, 2003. Series C No. 101.

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/B2004-1-e.pdf

 

Headnotes:

 

The Court, exercising its inherent authority of international protection of human rights, can establish whether an acknowledgment of international responsibility by a respondent State offers sufficient basis, in terms of the American Convention, to proceed or not with its hearing on the merits and establishment of possible reparations.

 

When a State acquiesces to the application, it must clearly state whether it does so only regarding the merits of the matter, or whether it also includes reparations and legal costs. When there is an acquiescence the State must clearly state whether the claims made by the alleged victims or their next of kin are also accepted.

 

The Rules of Procedure of the Court do not establish any specific moment for the respondent party to state its acquiescence. Therefore, if a State resorts to this procedural act at any stage of the proceeding, this Court, after hearing all the parties, must evaluate and decide its scope in each specific case.

 

The existence of a pattern of selective extra-legal executions fostered by the State, directed against individuals who are considered "internal enemies", coupled with the absence of effective judicial mechanisms to investigate human rights violations and to punish those responsible, gives rise to an aggravated international responsibility of the State.

 

In cases of human rights violations, the State authorities cannot resort to mechanisms such as official secret or confidentiality of the information, or reasons of public interest or national security, to refuse to supply the information required by the judicial or administrative authorities in charge of the ongoing investigation or proceeding.

 

The State, to ensure due process, must provide all necessary means to protect the legal operators, investigators, witnesses and next of kin of the victims from harassment and threats aimed at obstructing the proceeding and avoiding elucidation of the facts, as well as covering up those responsible for said facts.

 

The right to effective judicial protection requires that the judges direct the proceeding in such a way as to avoid undue delays and obstructions that lead to impunity, thus frustrating due judicial protection of human rights.

 

Summary:

 

On 11 September 1990, Myrna Elizabeth Mack Chang, a noted cultural anthropologist, was extra-legally executed in a Guatemalan military intelligence operation designed and carried out by the high command of the Presidential General Staff. In addition to Mack Chang's actual execution, the case deals with extensive judicial delays and a wide range of irregularities, owing to the active role of various government officials - including military officers, police and judges - to obstruct justice. Finally, the Court takes into account the suffering faced by Mack Chang's next of kin as a consequence of the severe threats, harassment, and intimidation that they endured, acts which were directed to dissuade them from continuing their efforts to prosecute all those responsible for the aforementioned execution.

 

On 19 June 2001, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights brought the case before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. In its Judgment of 25 November 2003, the Court, taking note of the State of Guatemala's acknowledgment of responsibility, ruled that the State's international responsibility for violations of the American Convention on Human Rights (hereinafter "American Convention") was established. However, since the State's acceptance of responsibility did not encompass reparation measures, the Court proceeded to render judgment in this regard. Furthermore, the Court decided to issue a judgment on the merits of the case because it considered that doing so constituted an additional form of reparation for the victims. As a result, the State of Guatemala was found to have violated to the detriment of Mack Chang Article 4.1 ACHR (Right to Life), as well as Article 5.1 ACHR, Article 8 ACHR and Article 25 ACHR (Right to Humane Treatment, Right to a Fair Trial, Right to Judicial Protection, respectively) to the detriment of Mack Chang's next of kin, all in combination with Article 1.1 ACHR (Obligation to Respect Rights).

 

With regard to reparations, the Court ordered, inter alia, that the State:

 

1.  effectively investigate the facts of the instant case, with the aim of identifying, trying, and punishing all those responsible both for the extra-legal execution of Mack Chang and for the cover-up of the facts of the instant case; and that the results of the investigations must be made known to the public;

2.  remove all de facto and legal obstacles and mechanisms that maintain impunity in the instant case; provide sufficient security measures to the judicial authorities, prosecutors, witnesses, legal operators and to the next of kin of Mack Chang; and resort to all other means available to it so as to expedite the proceeding;

3. publish within three months of notification of the instant Judgment, at least once, in the official gazette and in another national-circulation daily, certain specified parts of the Judgment;

4.  carry out a public act of acknowledgment of its responsibility in connection with the facts of this case and of amends to the memory of Mack Chang and to her next of kin, in the presence of the highest authorities of the State;

5. publicly honor the memory of José Mérida Escobar, the police investigator killed investigating the facts of the instant case;

6. include in the training courses for members of the armed forces and the police, as well as the security agencies, education regarding human rights and International Humanitarian Law;

7. establish a scholarship in the name of Mack Chang;

8. name a well-known street or square in Guatemala City after Mack Chang and place a plaque in her memory where she died, or nearby, with reference to the activities she carried out;

9. pay pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages; and

10. pay legal costs and expenses.