Case of Montero Aranguren et al. (Catia Checkpoint) v. The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

Judgment of July 5, 2006

In the case of Montero Aranguren et al. (Detention Center of Catia), the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (hereinafter “the Inter-American Court”, “the Court” or “the Tribunal”), composed of the following judges *:

Sergio García Ramírez, President;

Alirio Abreu Burelli, Vice President;

Antônio A. Cançado Trindade, Judge;

Cecilia Medina Quiroga, Judge, and

Manuel E. Ventura Robles, Judge.

present, in addition,

Pablo Saavedra Alessandri, Secretary, and

Emilia Segares Rodríguez, Deputy Secretary, in accordance with Articles 62.3 and 63.1 of the American Convention on Human Rights (hereinafter “the Convention” or “the American Convention”) and with Articles 29, 31, 53.2, 55, 56 and 58 of the Rules of the Court (hereinafter “the Rules”), dictates this Judgment.

I
Introduction of the Cause

1. On February 24, 2005, in accordance with the provisions of Articles 50 and 61 of the American Convention, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (hereinafter “the Commission” or “the Inter-American Commission”) submitted to the Court a complaint against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (hereinafter “the State” or “Venezuela”), which originated in complaint number 11,699, received at the Secretariat of the Commission on November 12, 1996.

2. The Commission filed the application in this case in order for the Court to decide whether the State violated the rights enshrined in Articles 4 (Right to Life) and 5 (Right to Humane Treatment) of the American Convention, in in relation to the obligation established in article 1.1 (Obligation to Respect Rights) of the same, to the detriment of the inmates who supposedly died in an operation carried out on November 27, 1992 at the Detention Center and Judicial Confinement Center of “Los Flores de Catia ”(Hereinafter“ the Retén de Catia ”). In turn, the Commission asked the Court to declare that the State violated the rights enshrined in Articles 8 (Judicial Guarantees) and 25 (Judicial Protection) of the American Convention, in relation to the obligation established in Article 1.1 (Obligation of Respecting the Rights) thereof, to the detriment of the alleged victims and their next of kin. Finally, the Commission asked the Inter-American Court to declare Venezuela responsible for the breach of the general obligation established in Article 2 of the American Convention, for not suppressing from its legislation the provisions that attribute to the military courts competence to investigate violations of human rights and for not having developed policies aimed at reforming the prison system.

3. The application refers to the alleged extrajudicial execution of 37 inmates of the Detention Center of Catia, located in the city of Caracas, Venezuela, on the early morning of November 27, 1992. These events occurred after a second attempted military coup in Venezuela, which would have caused an upheaval within the aforementioned checkpoint. Presumably, the prison guards and troops from the 5th Regional Command of the National Guard and the Metropolitan Police intervened en masse, using disproportionate force and shooting indiscriminately at the prison population. The versions of the events of some survivors say that the Detention Center guards opened the doors of the cells announcing to the inmates that they were released, they waited for the inmates to leave and fired at them. The inmates were also alleged to be living in inhumane conditions of detention.

4. The Commission alleged that after the events an investigation was initiated by the Public Ministry and the judicial authorities, which was characterized by the obstruction and lack of collaboration on the part of the police, military, and prison authorities. As of August 1994, no actions were taken to gather more information, and no procedural activity was carried out in the case. For almost 8 years, the relatives of the alleged victims were denied access to the file. Currently the investigation rests with the Sixty-eighth Prosecutor’s Office of the Metropolitan Area of ​​Caracas in the preliminary investigation phase under file number 4582.

5. Furthermore, the Commission asked the Inter-American Court to order the State, in accordance with Article 63.1 of the Convention, to adopt certain measures of reparation indicated in the application. Lastly, it asked the Court to order the State to pay the costs and expenses generated in the processing of the case in the domestic jurisdiction and before the organs of the Inter-American System for the Protection of Human Rights.

II

Competence

6. The Inter-American Court is competent, under the terms of Article 62.3 of the Convention, to hear this case, since Venezuela has been a State Party to the American Convention since August 9, 1977 and recognized the contentious jurisdiction of the Court June 24, 1981.

III

Procedure before the Commission

7. On March 12, 1996, the Committee of Relatives of Victims of the Events of February-March 1989 (hereinafter “COFAVIC”) and the Center for Justice and International Law (hereinafter “CEJIL”) filed a petition. before the Inter-American Commission, which was processed under number 11,699, in relation to “the [alleged] serious events that occurred inside the Catia Detention Center and Judicial Confinement Center on November 27, 1992.”

8. On October 20, 2004, during its 121st Regular Period of Sessions, the Commission approved Report on Admissibility and Merits No. 79/04, by which it concluded, inter alia, that the State violated the rights enshrined in Articles 4 (Right to Life), 5 (Right to Humane Treatment), 8 (Judicial Guarantees) and 25 (Judicial Protection) of the American Convention, in connection with Articles 1.1 and 2 thereof, for the massacre that occurred in the Flores de Catia Detention Center on November 27, 1992, as well as for the lack of investigation, prosecution and punishment of those responsible, and for the lack of effective reparation for the victims of these violations and their next of kin. The Commission recommended that the State adopt a series of measures to correct the aforementioned violations.

9. On November 24, 2004, the Commission transmitted Report No. 79/04 to the State and gave it a period of two months to report on the measures adopted in order to comply with the recommendations made. That same day, the Commission, in accordance with Article 43.3 of its Rules of Procedure, notified the petitioners of the adoption of the report and its transmission to the State and requested their position regarding the eventual submission of the case to the Inter-American Court, information that they forwarded on 3 January 2005.

10. On January 24, 2005, the State requested an extension of the period granted to present information on compliance with the recommendations of Report No. 79/04. The Commission granted the requested extension, however the State did not submit the requested information.

11. On February 18, 2005, the Inter-American Commission decided to submit the instant case to the jurisdiction of the Court, given “the lack of satisfactory implementation of the recommendations contained in Report No. 79/04”.

IV

Procedure before the Court

12. On February 24, 2005, the Commission filed an application with the Court in relation to this case. The annexes to the application were forwarded on March 14, 2005. The Commission appointed Commissioners Paulo Sergio Pinheiro and Florentín Meléndez and Executive Secretary Santiago A. Canton as Delegates before the Court, and Messrs. Juan Pablo as legal advisers. Albán, Débora Benchoam and Víctor H. Madrigal.

13. On April 1, 2005, the Secretariat of the Court (hereinafter “the Secretariat”), after preliminary examination of the application by the President of the Court (hereinafter “the President”), notified it, together with its annexes, to the State and informed it of the deadlines for answering it and appointing representation in the process. On April 5, 2005, in accordance with the provisions of Article 35.1.d and e of the Regulations, the Secretariat notified CEJIL and COFAVIC of the application, designated in the application as representatives of the alleged victims and their next of kin (hereinafter “the representatives ”), And informed them that they had a period of two months to present their brief of requests, arguments and evidence (hereinafter“ brief of requests and arguments ”).

14. On June 7, 2005, the representatives presented their brief of requests and arguments. In addition to what was indicated by the Commission in its application (supra paras. 2, 3, 4 and 5), the representatives requested that the Court decide whether the State violated the “right to the truth […] recognized in Articles 8, 13 , 25 and 1.1 of the American Convention, to the detriment of each of the victims identified in [their] brief and of Venezuelan society ”. On June 14, 2005, the representatives presented the annexes to the requests and arguments brief.

15. On July 27, 2005, the State requested “an extension to present the response to the application filed by the Inter-American Commission.” On July 28, 2005, the Secretariat, following instructions from the President, informed Venezuela that the extension could not be granted based on Article 38 of the Regulations, which establishes the non-extension of said period.

16. On August 1, 2005, the State submitted a brief in which it filed a preliminary objection, answered the application, and sent its observations to the brief of requests and arguments (hereinafter “answer to the application”). The preliminary objection filed refers to the failure to exhaust domestic remedies.

17. On August 1, 2005, the Secretariat, in accordance with Article 37.4 of the Rules of Procedure, granted the Commission and the representatives a period of thirty days to present the written arguments on the preliminary objection filed.

18. On August 19, 2005, the Commission presented its arguments to the preliminary objection filed by the State and asked the Court to reject it. For their part, on August 26, 2005, the representatives presented their arguments to the said preliminary objection and requested that it be dismissed.

19. On December 9, 2005, the Commission requested the “admission of authenticated copies of 16 death records of [alleged] victims of the events, as additional evidence” in relation to this case. In this regard, the Commission indicated that “said evidence is offered at this procedural moment because it was only available to the Commission on September 15, 2005, that is, after the submission of the application to the Court.” On December 16 and 19, 2005, the Secretariat, following instructions from the President, asked the representatives and the State to submit any observations they deemed pertinent to the request for admission of “additional evidence” presented by the Inter-American Commission.

20. On December 22, 2005, the representatives indicated that they had “no objections to formulate in relation to the evidence provided by the […] Commission”. For its part, on January 4, 2006, the State stated that “it formally opposes the admission of said evidence, since it was not promoted with the presentation of the application nor does it respond to any of the causes that, exceptionally, I would allow their admission.”

21. On February 7, 2006, the President issued an Order, by means of which he requested that Mr. Pedro Ramón Castro and Mrs. Carmen Yolanda Pérez Santoya, proposed as witnesses by the Commission and the representatives, and Mr. Mireya Josefina Ayala Gualdrón, Inocenta del Valle Marín, Nazario Ruiz, María Auxiliadora Zerpa de Moreno, Osmar Martínez, Douglas Lizano and Edgar López, proposed as witnesses by the representatives, will give their testimonies through statements made before a notary public (affidavits). It also required that Mr. Pieter Van Reener, proposed as an expert witness by the Commission, and Messrs. Magdalena Ibañez, Christopher Birkbeck and Magaly Vásquez, proposed as experts by the representatives, provide their opinions through a statement made before a notary public (affidavit). Likewise, the President summoned the Commission, the representatives, and the State to a public hearing to be held in the Courtroom of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation, in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina, as of April 4. April 2006, to hear their final oral arguments on the preliminary and eventual objections, merits, reparations, and costs in this case, as well as the statements of the witnesses and expert witnesses proposed by the Commission and the representatives. Furthermore, in the aforementioned Resolution, the President informed the parties that they had until May 19, 2006 to present their final written arguments in relation to the preliminary objections and possible merits, reparations, and costs. Finally, the President asked the State for evidence to better resolve it.

22. On February 22, 2006, the Inter-American Commission reported that it was withdrawing the testimony of Pedro Ramón Castro, who “for health reasons” could not comply with the President’s request in his Order of February 7, 2006 (supra para . twenty-one).

23. On February 23 and 24, 2006, the Commission and the representatives presented the statements and opinions rendered before a notary public (affidavits) requested by the President (supra para. 21). On March 10, 2006, the Inter-American Commission forwarded the sworn statement made by the expert witness Pieter Van Reenen.

24. On March 23, 2006, the Commission reported that, for reasons of force majeure, the witness Ana María González, summoned to appear before the Inter-American Court in a public hearing (supra para. 21), was unable to travel to the city of Buenos Aires, so he could not give his testimonial statement. For this reason, the Commission asked the Court to allow it to substitute said testimony with that of Mr. Giovanni Gaviria Velásquez. On March 27, 2006, the representatives stated that they were in agreement with the Commission’s request. The State did not present observations.

25. On March 28, 2006, the Inter-American Court issued an Order, by which it admitted the substitution of witnesses proposed by the Commission and decided to summon Mr. Giovanni Gaviria Velásquez to give his testimony at a public hearing, in substitution of Mrs. Ana Maria Gonzalez.

26. On April 4, 2006, the public hearing was held in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina, in which there appeared: a) for the Inter-American Commission: Paulo Sergio Pinheiro and Santiago Canton, Delegates; Víctor H. Madrigal, Juan Pablo Albán, Debora Benchoam, Lilly Ching and Camilo Sánchez, Advisors; b) for the representatives: Liliana Ortega, Carlos Ayala Corao and Willy Chang, for COFAVIC, and Viviana Krsticevic, Tatiana Rincón and Pedro Díaz, for CEJIL, and c) for the State: María Auxiliadora Monagas, Agent; Iskrey Pérez, Alis Boscán and Boris Bosio, Advisors. Also, Mr. Giovanni Gavidia Velásquez, witness offered by the Commission, and Messrs. Nellys María Madriz and Arturo Peraza, witnesses offered by the representatives, appeared. During the aforementioned public hearing, the State acknowledged its international responsibility for the facts, and acquiesced in the claims made by the Inter-American Commission in its application and by the representatives in their pleadings and motions brief. During the public hearing, the State submitted a brief in which it referred in detail to the acknowledgment of international responsibility made.

27. On May 18 and 29, 2006, the Commission and the representatives presented their final written arguments, respectively. The State did not present final arguments.

28. On May 25, 2006, the Secretariat, following instructions from the President of the Court, asked the representatives for evidence to facilitate adjudication of the case, part of which was forwarded by them, after an extension granted, on June 13, 2006. That same day, the Secretariat asked the representatives to complete the evidence to better resolve the missing one, and asked the State for new evidence to better resolve it. On June 13 and 21, 2006 the representatives, after an extension granted, presented part of the required evidence.

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