Case Watch: A Window on the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

In our “Case Watch” blog series, lawyers at the Open Society Justice Initiative provide quick-hit analysis of  notable court decisions and cases that relate to their work to advance human rights law around the world.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has recently published its annual report [pdf] for 2010. An annual report might not sound like exciting reading, but this one is an important resource for all those who are interested in human rights. It gives an excellent overview of the main activities of the court in the past year:  in particular, providing a summary of the provisional measures, decisions and judgments that it has delivered. Its 10-page summary of the developments in its jurisprudence in 2010 – broken down into issues such as “amnesty laws,” “rights of immigrants,” and “exclusion of evidence obtained through coercion” – would be valuable in any system, where it can be difficult to stay up to date on all the latest developments in the growing body of human rights law. But it is of particular value in the Inter-American system, where recent decisions are often initially published only in Spanish.

The report is not just about reviewing the past, however. It also helps to map out the coming year for the court, and beyond. It contains a useful table of the status of all the cases before it: those with provisional measures; those awaiting judgment; and those where a judgment is being implemented. And it also gives details of all of the new cases which have been communicated to the court after already being considered by the Inter-American Commission:  a total of 16 in 2010. Out of these, three cases are particularly interesting for the work of the Open Society Justice Initiative, dealing with issues of discrimination, freedom of expression, and accountability for international crimes:

Karen Atala and Daughters v. Chile [pdf] will allow the court for the first time to pronounce on the issue of discrimination based on sexual orientation under the American Convention. In this case the Chilean Supreme Court withdrew custody from a mother of three little girls and granted it to her ex-husband, who is also father to the children. The Chilean court reasoned that the mother had put her own interests before those of the girls by choosing to live with a same-sex partner, and added that there is a danger that the girls get confused regarding their sexual roles.

Fontevecchia and D’Amico v. Argentina [pdf] raises issues of the relationship between the freedom of expression and the right to privacy. The facts of the case go back to 1995 when the applicants were director and editor of a magazine. That magazine published two articles about the existence of an unacknowledged son of the, then president of Argentina.  The Supreme Court of Argentina found that the president’s right to privacy has been violated and convicted the applicants, under civil law.

Rio Negro Massacre v Guatemala [pdf] concerns massacres against the Río Negro community. This community was one of the Mayan communities targeted in the massacres committed in Guatemala, between 1962 to 1996, in the context of an armed conflict that raged in the country. Mayans were targeted by state agents because the government belived that they were or could be the basis of support for the guerrilla movement. Guatemala is being accused of genocide, of not carrying out an effective investigation into these massacres and also of not adopting measures of reparation.

Over the coming year, each of these cases is likely to contribute significantly to the evolving jurisprudence of the court.

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