Corte interamericana de derechos humanos



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III. PLAZO RAZONABLE

29. En el presente caso se hizo notar la inobservancia del “plazo razonable” para concluir un proceso y aplicar una pena, inobservancia que afectaría el debido proceso legal. Este problema se ha observado tanto desde el ángulo del enjuiciamiento en si mismo, que culmina con una sentencia, como desde la perspectiva de la ejecución penal que tiene, como título ejecutivo, esa resolución final. No ingresó la Corte en la consideración del carácter procesal que pudiera tener la ejecución, o bien, visto bajo otro lente, de la aplicabilidad a ésta de los principios que informan el debido proceso penal.


30. Es obvio que la desatención al plazo razonable sigue siendo un problema central de la justicia penal, cuyas reformas no han conseguido responder con suficiencia y definitividad a la demanda de brevedad, diligencia, expeditez en la administración de justicia. Ahora bien, en las circunstancias del caso sub judice resulta evidente que la Corte Interamericana no podía considerar que la sanción de azotes, en sí misma ilícita, se debió ejecutar con celeridad --conforme a las disposiciones del Derecho interno--, para atender los requerimientos del debido proceso. La ilegitimidad de la medida es flagrante, cualesquiera que sean el plazo y la fecha para disponerla e infligirla. La demora contra legem no genera la violación; sólo exhibe su existencia y agrava sus consecuencias.

IV. CONDICIONES DE DETENCIÓN

31. También llama la atención, a propósito de los hechos del presente caso, la persistencia de un problema mayor en el ámbito de la justicia penal, observado constantemente en un creciente número de asuntos sometidos a la jurisdicción contenciosa de la Corte y examinado, inclusive, en alguna opinión consultiva. Me refiero a las condiciones de detención en la gran mayoría de las prisiones --sean instituciones para menores de edad, sean reclusorios para adultos--, que resultan radicalmente incompatibles con la Convención Americana y con los denominados “estándares” internacionales en esta materia, expuestos en diversos instrumentos mundiales y regionales, sobre todo a partir de las Reglas Mínimas de Naciones Unidas sobre Tratamiento de los Reclusos (Ginebra, 1955), que han cumplido medio siglo y son ampliamente conocidas, pero frecuentemente desatendidas. Una vez más, la realidad se ha rebelado contra las normas. Los discursos y los hechos corren por separado.


32. De la situación prevaleciente -como se percibe a través de las sentencias de la Corte Interamericana y de diversas medidas provisionales ordenadas por ésta-- y del concepto reiterado por el mismo Tribunal acerca de la función de garante que corresponde al Estado con respecto a las personas sujetas a custodia --adultos o menores, sanos o enfermos--, se desprende la necesidad imperiosa de emprender cuanto antes una reforma verdadera e integral de los sistemas de detención. Esto abarca normas, medidas, establecimientos, personal de custodia y alternativas a la reclusión, entre otras cosas. Son muchas, de suyo, las paradojas e insuficiencias de la prisión. A ello se añade, para agravar el estado de cosas que tenemos a la vista, el quebranto reiterado o constante de las reglas cuya observancia pudiera aportar un sistema de reclusión siquiera medianamente aceptable.
33. Se ha señalado, con abundantes elementos para hacerlo, que las instituciones de internamiento constituyen el escenario de constantes, sistemáticas y arraigadas violaciones a los derechos humanos, que con frecuencia revisten, además, la mayor gravedad. A este respecto hay que volver los ojos a un amplio número de sentencias o resoluciones sobre medidas provisionales emitidas en los últimos años: por ejemplo, Cárcel de Urso Branco, Instituto de Reeducación del Menor “Panchito López”, Bulacio, Neira Alegría, Penitenciarías de Mendoza, Lori Berenson, Hilaire, Constantine y Benjamín y otros, etcétera. Esta relación se incrementa con la sentencia sobre el Caso César vs. Trinidad y Tobago. La violación de derechos que trae consigo la insoportable situación que prevalece en numerosas prisiones constituye ya uno de los grandes temas planteados ante la jurisdicción interamericana.

V. PROPORCIONALIDAD DE LA PENA

34. En este caso pudo figurar la consideración sobre la racionalidad --que implica, en la especie, legitimidad-- de la pena privativa de libertad prevista por la ley e impuesta por el juzgador. En el marco del Derecho penal de la sociedad democrática, que supone la cuidadosa tipificación de las conductas ilícitas y la medición razonable de sus consecuencias, debe existir una graduación adecuada de las reacciones punitivas conforme a los bienes jurídicos afectados y a la lesión causada o al peligro corrido. La mayor jerarquía del bien protegido a través de los tipos penales y la mayor gravedad del daño ocasionado o del peligro corrido determinan la severidad de la sanción aplicable. No es admisible sancionar la tentativa, que es la figura a la que se refiere el expediente integrado en este caso por las autoridades competentes, con penas muy elevadas que debieran asignarse al delito consumado. Si se pierde de vista este principio, como en efecto sucedió, se habrá mellado el principio de proporcionalidad de la pena.


35. El problema de la sanción destaca más todavía cuando se observa la imprecisión legal cuantitativa de ésta, con lo que ello implica en términos de exceso potencial, que se volvió actual en el caso presentado ante la jurisdicción interna, que no suministra razón alguna para optar por cierta duración en la privación penal de la libertad. A falta de razonamiento suficiente, la pena impuesta se sustenta en el arbitrio. La sección 31.1 de la Offences against the Person Act, que contiene el tipo penal (aparentemente) considerado en este caso, manifiesta: “Any person who is convicted on the crime of rape is liable to imprisonment for life or for any term of years”. De esta suerte, toda violación carnal, independientemente de las condiciones en las que hubiera sido cometida, e incluso del grado de ejecución al que se hubiese llegado en el iter criminis --que, en la especie, fue el de tentativa-- se halla sujeta a una pena que puede oscilar entre un año y reclusión perpetua, a discreción del tribunal.
36. Así, la ley prevé una sola punibilidad para dos situaciones obviamente diferentes: la violación consumada y la tentativa de violación. La ley no contiene regla alguna para deslindar las consecuencias penales que pudieran derivar, en un caso concreto, de esta identidad punitiva. Todo esto se desprende no sólo de la lectura del ordenamiento, sino también de la explícita apreciación hecha por el juez y por los abogados participantes --defensor y acusador--, acerca del sentido y el alcance de las normas correspondientes, apreciación de la que existe constancia en el expediente. Semejante indeterminación difícilmente se podría mirar con naturalidad a la luz de la legalidad penal y de los derechos del inculpado.


  1. Nos encontramos de nueva cuenta ante una situación de tabla rasa como la que se presentó con respecto a la Mandatory Death Penalty, acerca de la cual se pronunció la Corte en una resolución (Hilaire, Constantine y Benjamín y otros vs. Trinidad y Tobago, sentencia del 21 de junio de 2002) a la que acompañé un Voto razonado, algunas de cuyas consideraciones son aplicables al presente caso, en cuanto se refieren a principios generales del Derecho penal desatendidos por la legislación aplicada entones y ahora. Es obvio que la racionalidad penal no entraña, por sí misma, conflicto alguno entre los derechos del inculpado, por una parte, y la seguridad pública y la protección a la víctima, por la otra.

Sergio García Ramírez

Juez
Pablo Saavedra Alessandri

Secretario


Concurring Judgment of Judge Jackman




            The present judgment, with which I wholly concur, is of particular importance for at least three reasons:  its reaffirmation that the practice of corporal punishment by States Parties to the American Convention on Human Rights (“the Convention”) is in flagrant breach of that treaty; its insistence on the absolute necessity that States should respect their treaty obligations; and its rejection of the dismal device known as “savings clauses” which have the effect of permitting certain states in the Commonwealth Caribbean the luxury of simultaneously reprobating and approbating internationally illicit behaviours.

Corporal punishment


           The Court’s judgment adequately details the extent to which international human rights jurisprudence has outlawed this cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment, so that there is no need for me to dilate on it further.  It is, however, worth noting that, quite apart from the international opprobrium which this practice has attracted, the Supreme Curt of a jurisdiction with great constitutional similarity to Trinidad and Tobago had no difficulty, in the Barbadian case of Hobbs et al v R, in finding that flogging with the cat-o´-nine-tails is, in the words of Chief Justice Sir Denys Williams, “…inhuman within the meaning of section 15(1) [of the Constitution of Barbados]” and “…degrading within the meaning of section 15(1)”.  The section referred to by the learned Chief Justice reads as follows:

 
15. (1) No person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading punishment of other treatment.


The relevant Trinidad and Tobago constitutional provision states that:


[…The] Parliament may not… impose or authorize the imposition of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment […]

Pacta sunt servanda

          But, will Trinidad and Tobago comply with the decision of the Court?  To judge from its failure to participate in the hearing of this case, and given its previous contemptuous attitude in the Hilaire case, compliance is, to say the least, unlikely.  This despite the State’s indisputable responsibility under international law to answer to the Inter-American human rights system for any violations of the Convention alleged to have taken place during the period from May 28 1991, the day on which the State ratified the Convention and recognised the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court, and May 26, 1999, the day on which its denunciation of the Convention took legal effect.


The principle that states should abide in good faith by the terms of treaties into which they voluntarily enter (pacta sunt servanda) is the bedrock of international comity and international law.  Article 26 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (“the Vienna Convention”) reads as follows: Every treaty in force is binding upon the parties to it and must be performed by them in good faith”. (Emphasis added.)
It ought to be obvious that good faith compliance is of even greater importance in the area of international human rights law, where what is at stake is not the impersonal interests of states but the protection of the fundamental rights of the individual.  Trinidad and Tobago’s denunciation of the Convention was profoundly regrettable for the cause of a universal regime of human rights protection, but the State was fully within its rights to take that unprecedented step.  But its contumelious refusal to acknowledge its continuing obligations under a treaty that remained in force for it when the violations in this case took place represents a gratuitous attack on the Rule of Law, all the more astonishing in a State that, like other Commonwealth Caribbean states, prides itself on its Common Law traditions, where respect for human rights and for the Rule of Law are deeply embedded in the legal culture.

            At present, in the wake of Trinidad and Tobago’s brief sojourn and precipitous withdrawal, only four of those states are party to the Convention. Only one, Barbados, has accepted the contentious jurisdiction of the Court.  On the evidence of that State’s recent refusal, in the context of its very first procedural contact with the Court, to obey an interlocutory Order of the Court in a matter referred to the Court by the Inter-American Commission under the terms of Article 63.2 of the Convention, it seems that Barbados is bent on following the scofflaw example of its CARICOM colleague and neighbour.


Although - unlike Trinidad and Tobago in the instant case - Barbados has displayed a minimum of courtesy in actually making a response to the Order of the Court, that response is in the form of a claim that the State is exempt from the Court’s jurisdiction, on the juridically incoherent ground that to obey any such order would conflict with its Constitution.  This is in direct antithesis to the precept contained in Article 27 of the Vienna Convention:  “A party may not invoke the provisions of its internal law as justification for its failure to perform a treaty.”
There is, unfortunately, no evidence that any of the Commonwealth Caribbean States Parties to the Convention has taken action to meet the obligation set out in Article 2, “Domestic Legal Effects”, viz:

“Where the exercise of any of the rights or freedoms referred to in Article 1 is not already ensured by legislative or other provisions, the States Parties undertake to adopt, in accordance with their constitutional processes and the provisions of this Convention, such legislative or other measures as may be necessary to give effect to those rights or freedoms.”




“Savings Clauses”


           As the Court has found both in the instant case and, previously, in the Hilaire case, Section 6 of the Trinidad and Tobago Constitution, the so-called “savings clause”, (mirrored in similar constitutional provisions in the Commonwealth Caribbean) has the effect of protecting from scrutiny in the national Courts certain State acts that would otherwise be in breach of the fundamental rights provisions of the said Constitution. However, by virtue of the principle set out in Article 26 of the Vienna Convention, this does not exempt the State from its duty under international law; to the extent that such a provision purports so to do, it constitutes a clear breach of the relevant international obligations.

 
           Countries that enter voluntarily and sovereignly into treaties cannot pick and choose which treaty obligations to obey and which to flout.  Even where reservations are entered, it is clearly settled international law and practice that such reservations must not be “incompatible with the object and purpose of the treaty”.  (Vienna Convention:  Article 19).




           Trinidad and Tobago has exercised its sovereign right to denounce and withdraw from the Convention.  No State, however, having committed itself to an international agreement, can in good faith refuse to abide by those obligations which it unambiguously undertook to honour during the period of the treaty’s validity.  This would make a mockery of international law and, in the particular case of human rights treaties, would undermine a regime of international concern for the individual human being that dates back at least to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


           That there is emerging a clear tendency on the part of Commonwealth Caribbean states in this dismal direction, with its implications for the integrity and inclusiveness of the Inter-American system, is a matter of the very gravest concern.







                                                                                          Oliver Jackman

                                                                                                Judge

           


Pablo Saavedra Alessandri

Secretary



SEPARATE OPINION OF JUDGE A.A. CANÇADO TRINDADE

1. I have concurred with my vote in the adoption of the present Judgment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the Caesar versus Trinidad and Tobago case. Given the relevant legal issues dealt with by the Court in its decision, as well as those underlying it and those surrounding the present case, I feel obliged to leave on the records my personal reflections on them as foundations of my position on the matter. I shall address, in the present Separate Opinion, the following points which I consider of key importance, not only for a better understanding of the Court's decision in the present Caesar case, but also for the handling of future cases in which such issues may possibly also be raised: a) the humanization of the law of the treaties, as illustrated by developments concerning interpretation of treaties, reservations to treaties, denunciation of treaties, and termination and suspension of the operation of treaties; b) international rule of law: non-appearance before an international tribunal and the duty of compliance with its judgment; and c) the expanding material content and scope of jus cogens in contemporary international law.
I. The Humanization of the Law of Treaties.
2. It is hardly surprising that basic considerations of humanity surround recently emerged domains of international law, such as that of the international protection of human rights. But the incidence of those considerations upon more traditional areas of international law, which were in the past approached, almost invariably, from the angle of the "will" of States, is indicative of the new times, and a new mentality centred rather on the ultimate addressees of international norms, the human beings.
3. The law of treaties affords a pertinent illustration, disclosing that it is no longer entirely at the mercy of the "will" of States and that it, too, acknowledges certain superior common values that the international community as a whole deems should be preserved. Pertinent examples can be found in such areas of the law of treaties pertaining to interpretation of treaties, reservations to treaties, denunciation of treations, and termination and suspension of the operation of treaties. I shall review, however succinctly, each of them, before presenting my concluding observations on the matter.
1. Considerations on the Interpretation of Treaties.
a) General Remarks.
4. When one comes to the interpretation of human rights treaties, as well as of other international treaties, one is inclined to resort at first to the provisions enshrined in Articles 31-33 of the two Vienna Conventions on the Law of Treaties (of 1969 and 1986, respectively), and in particular to the combination under Article 31 of the elements of the ordinary meaning of the terms, the context, and the object and purpose of the treaties at issue57. One then promptly finds that, in practice, while in traditional law there has been a marked tendency to pursue a rather restrictive interpretation which gives as much precision as possible to the obligations of States Parties, in the international law of human rights, somewhat distinctly, there has been a clear and special emphasis on the element of the object and purpose of the treaty, so as to ensure an effective protection (effet utile)58 of the guaranteed rights.
5. Whilst in general international law the elements for the interpretation of treaties evolved primarily as guidelines for the process of interpretation by States Parties themselves, human rights treaties, in their turn, have called for an interpretation of their provisions bearing in mind the essentially objective character of the obligations entered into by States Parties: such obligations aim at the protection of human rights and not at the establishment of subjective and reciprocal rights for the States Parties. Hence the special emphasis on the element of the object and purpose of human rights treaties, of which the case-law of the two regional - the Inter-American and the European - Courts of Human Rights gives eloquent testimony.
6. The interpretation and application of human rights treaties have been guided by considerations of a superior general interest or ordre public which transcend the individual interests of Contracting Parties. As indicated by the jurisprudence constante of the two international human rights tribunals, those treaties are distinct from treaties of the classic type, incorporating restrictively reciprocal concessions and compromises; human rights treaties prescribe obligations of an essentially objective character, implemented collectively by mechanisms of supervision of their own59. The rich case-law on methods of interpretation of human rights treaties has enhanced the protection of the human person at international level and has enriched International Law under the impact of the International Law of Human Rights.
7. The converging case-law to this effect has generated the common understanding, in the regional (European and inter-American) systems of human rights protection, that human rights treaties are endowed with a special nature (as distinguished from multilateral treaties of the traditional type); that human rights treaties have a normative character, of ordre public; that their terms are to be autonomously interpreted; that in their application one ought to ensure an effective protection (effet utile) of the guaranteed rights; that the obligations enshrined therein do have and objective character, and are to be duly complied with by the States Parties, which have the additional common duty of exercise of the collective guarantee of the protected rights; and that permissible restrictions (limitations and derogations) to the exercise of guaranteed rights are to be restrictively interpreted. The work of the Inter-American and European Courts of Human Rights has indeed contributed to the creation of an international ordre public based upon the respect for human rights in all circumstances60.
8. As I have pondered in my Separate Opinion in the Blake versus Guatemala case (reparations, 1999) before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights,
"(...) in so far as human rights treaties are concerned, one is to bear always in mind the objective character of the obligations enshrined therein, the autonomous meaning (in relation to the domestic law of the States) of the terms of such treaties, the collective guarantee underlying them, the wide scope of the obligations of protection and the restrictive interpretation of permissible restrictions. These elements converge in sustaining the integrity of human rights treaties, in seeking the fulfilment of their object and purpose, and, accordingly, in establishing limits to State voluntarism. From all this one can detect a new vision of the relations between public power and the human being, which is summed up, ultimately, in the recognition that the State exists for the human being, and not vice-versa"61.
9. Another aspect to be here recalled is that of the autonomous meaning of the terms of human rights treaties (as distinct from their meaning, e.g., in domestic law). The point, stressed by the Human Rights Committee (under the U.N. Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) in the adoption of its views in the Van Duzen versus Canada case (in 1982), has also been taken up by the two regional - European and Inter-American - Courts of Human Rights. The European Court has endorsed the doctrine of autonomous interpretation in its judgments, for example, in the Ringeisen (1971), König (1978) and Le Compte (1981 and 1983) cases. The Inter-American Court, in its turn, in its sixth Advisory Opinion, on The Word "Laws" in Article 30 of the American Convention on Human Rights (1986), clarified that the word "laws" in Article 30 of the American Convention, to be examined in accordance not only with the principle of legality but also with that of legitimacy, means a juridical norm of a general character, turned to the "general welfare", emanated from the legislative organs constitutionally foreseen and democratically elected, and elaborated according to the procedure for law-making established by the Constitutions of States Parties.
10. Moreover, the dynamic or evolutive interpretation of the respective human rights Conventions (the intertemporal dimension) has been followed by both the European Court62 and the Inter-American Court63, so as to fulfil the changing needs of protection of the human being; in its sixteenth and pioneering Advisory Opinion, on The Right to Information on Consular Assistance in the Framework of the Guarantees of the Due Process of Law (1999), which has inspired the international case-law in statu nascendi on the matter, the Inter-American Court has clarified that, in its interpretation of the norms of the American Convention, it should extend protection in new situations (such as that concerning the observance of the right to information on consular assistance) on the basis of pre-existing rights. The same vision has been propounded by the Inter-American Court in its subsequent forward-looking eighteenth Advisory Opinion, on the Juridical Condition and Rights of Undocumented Migrants (2003).
11. There is a converging case-law of the two regional Human Rights Courts - and indeed of other human rights international supervisory organs - on this issue. Thus, the European Court of Human Rights has reiteratedly pronounced to that effect64; in the Loizidou versus Turkey case (1995), for example, the European Court expressly discarded undue restrictions which would not only "seriously weaken" its role in the discharge of its functions but "would also diminish the effectiveness of the Convention as a constitutional instrument of European public order (ordre public)"65. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, on its part, has likewise repeatedly stressed the object and purpose of human rights treaties and the objective character of the obligations ensuing therefrom66, as well as the special character of human rights treaties, as distinguished from multilateral treaties of the traditional type67.
12. Such convergence of views of the two regional Human Rights Courts on the fundamental issue of the proper interpretation of human rights treaties naturally ensues from the overriding identity of the object and purpose of those treaties. General international law itself bears witness of the principle (apparently subsumed under the general rule of interpretation of Article 31 of the two Vienna Conventions on the Law of Treaties) whereby the interpretation is to enable a treaty to have appropriate effects68, - a principle which has been resorted to against eventual calls for an unduly restrictive interpretation. There is a jurisprudence constante pointing towards the restrictive interpretation of provisions which limit or restrict the exercise of recognised human rights69.
13. An aspect which in this respect should not pass unnoticed is that derogation measures and limitations must not be inconsistent with the other obligations under international law incumbent upon the State Party concerned: thus, neither derogation clauses, nor limitation provisions, of a given human rights treaty, are to be interpreted to restrict the exercise of any human rights protected to a greater extent by other human rights treaties to which the State Party concerned is also a Party. Such understanding finds support in the rule of international law whereby the interpretation and application of a treaty cannot restrict a State's obligations ensuing from other treaties on the subject - in the present case, human rights protection - to which the State at issue is also a Party. In the present domain, international law has been made use of in order to improve and strengthen - and never to weaken or undermine - the protection of recognised human rights70.
14. The specificity of the international law of human rights finds expression not only in the interpretation of human rights treaties in general but also in the interpretation of specific provisions of those treaties. Pertinent illustrations can be found in, e.g., provisions which contain references to general international law. Such is the case, for example, of the requirement of prior exhaustion of local remedies as a condition of admissibility of complaints or communications under human rights treaties; the local remedies rule bears witness of the interaction between international law and domestic law in the present domain of protection, which is fundamentally victim-oriented, concerned with the rights of individual human beings rather than of States. Generally recognised principles or rules of international law - which the formulation of the local remedies rule in human rights treaties refers to, - besides following an evolution of their own in the distinct contexts in which they apply, necessarily suffer, when inserted in human rights treaties, a certain degree of adjustment or adaptation71, dictated by the special character of the object and purpose of those treaties and by the widely recognised specificity of the international law of human rights72.


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