Individual Cases

IACtHR could help quell gender-based violence by ruling Venezuela guilty of torture by a private individual

Geneva-Madrid, 8 March – By considering Venezuela guilty of the torture inflicted by a private individual upon Ms. Linda Loaiza López Soto, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) has a unique opportunity to help quell gender-based violence, OMCT and Women’s Link Worldwide (Women’s Link) have advised the court.

After Ms. Loaiza López last month testified in a public hearing before the international tribunal, OMCT and Women’s Link added weight to the case for torture and ill-treatment put forth by her lawyers by filing an amicus curiae –unsolicited expert and legal advice – calling on theIACtHR to recognise the Venezuelan State’s responsibility.

This is the first time the international tribunal– recognised as a pioneer when it comes to setting legal precedents on cases of violence against women – will examine a case of gender-based violence perpetuated on a Venezuelan citizen. It is also the first case where a Member State of the Organization of American States could be held responsible for the torture carried out by a private individual for failing to exercise due diligence to investigate and provide adequate redress to the victim. If the IACtHR were to condemn Venezuela for torture, it would send a powerful message that could help prevent violence against women and protect more victims both in the country and around the world.

“We need justice on the Loaiza López case to set the bar, to say enough is enough to the pervasive violence that women suffer around the world,” said Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General. “It would mean that from now on it is the State’s business, everyone’s business, to finally do stop it, rather than let it pass as insignificant incidents happening punctually behind closed bedroom doors.”

Gender-based violence

Impunity for cases of violence against women continues to be particularly egregious in Venezuela, where violence against women is rampant and feminicides are commonplace. Statistics from the Public Ministry indeed show that, of the 70,763 complaints it received of violence against women in 2014, just 0.7% have come to trial.

Gender-based violence in Venezuela follows global trends. According to the World Health Organization, some 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives. Other national studies raise the figure to up to 70 per cent, according to United Nations Women. Experts of gender-based violence stress that violence can only be addressed by taking into consideration both the discrimination against women and the inefficiency of legal systems that fail to respond to violent crimes.

"The Inter-American Court has now the opportunity to finally protect women,” said Women’s LinkPresident and CEO Viviana Waisman. “By ruling the acts committed by private individuals on countless women are torture and the responsibility of the State, the Court can help end centuries of deeply engrained discrimination and stereotyping that generate the violence.”

The torture

Luis Carrera Almoina abducted Ms. Loaiza López, then 18 years old, on 27 March 2001 as she was leaving her house and forced her into his van. He held her in an apartment and hotel room and tortured her for almost four months, until she was able to call for help and was rescued by local authorities. During her captivity, Ms. Loaiza López was subjected to severe and constant physical, sexual and psychological violence that caused irreparable injuries.

Ms. Loaiza López was disfigured by the beatings: she had a triple fracture of the jaw, her teeth were broken, her bottom lip was almost obliterated, her right eye developed a cataract, the many blows left her with cauliflower ears. She suffered multiple burns, fractures, bites, and has lesions all over her body. One of her nipples was ripped off. As a consequence of her many injuries, she was hospitalised for a whole year, and underwent more than 15 operations, including reconstructive surgery to her nose, vagina and pancreas.

The proceedings until now

Ms. Loaiza López’s case was riddled with negligent acts of the police and investigative officials, who from the very beginning remained passive despite the insistence of her relatives to act and find her. A major factor that contributed to such negligence and indifference in Loaiza López’s case were culturally-induced stereotypes and prejudices about her sex and age, which revictimised her throughout the trial.

Fifty-nine judges declined to hear Ms. Loaiza López’s case and the hearings were deferred 38 times. Ms. Loaiza López, from a humble family of the mountainous region of Merida, had to go on a 13-day hunger strike to obtain a trial, in which Mr. Carrera Almoina, the son of a well-connected university professor, was absolved of any wrongdoing. In a second trial two years later, Mr. Carrera Almoina was sentenced to six years in jail for depriving Ms. Loaiza López of her liberty and inflicting grievous bodily injuries – but not for attempted murder, rape, sexual abuse and other acts of torture on her.

Unable to obtain a redress in her home country, Ms. Loaiza López brought her case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, who referred the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights – individual citizens of Organization of American States Members are not allowed to file cases directly to the Court. She is defended by COFAVIC (a SOS-Torture Network member) and CEJIL. She has now become a women’s rights advocate in her own right, using her story to call for their greater protection from violence.

The amicus

Basing themselves on international standards and jurisprudence of the United Nations human rights system and regional courts, expertise in combatting torture and sexual violence and reliable data, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and Women’s Link advised the court to condemn the State of Venezuela for its negligence to stop, investigate, sanction and provide remedies to Ms. Loaiza López for the brutal physical, sexual and psychological abuse that Luis Carrera Almoina inflicted upon her. Under the United Nations Convention Against Torture, torture consists of acts carried out by State agents, officials or other individuals at the instigation, or with the consent or acquiescence, of the State. Acts carried out in the private sphere fall under that category when they are condoned, or allowed to happen for lack of due diligence, by the State. As a result, acts of gender-based and sexual violence that happen as a result of the State’s ineffective prevention or reprehension may be considered acts of torture.

In what is likely the most emblematic case of gender-based violence committed in the private sphere, the IACtHR delivered a judgment in 2009 in the case Gonzalez et al. v. Mexico known by the name of “Campo Algodonero”, or “Cotton Field”, named after where the three victims were found. Though much progress remains to be done in practice, this decision, which questioned the roots of violence against women and recognised it as a major social issue, strengthened the legal protection of women against violence, rape and murder in the Americas.

A decision as the one advocated by the OMCT and Women’s Link would constitute a step further insofar as it would make the State responsible for taking actual steps to stop and prevent it.

The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) is the catalyst of the SOS-Torture network, a coalition of more than 200 international and national non-governmental organisations fighting torture, summary executions, enforced disappearances and all other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, and promoting better protection for human rights defenders. With offices in Geneva, Brussels and Tunis, OMCT runs programmes to favour State compliance with anti-torture legislation, support victims of torture, with particular attention to children in detention and women, and protect human rights defenders worldwide.

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Women’s Link Worldwide is an international organisation with regional offices in Latin America andEurope, and expanding partnerships across East Africa. Since it opened in2001, Women's Link Worldwide has been successfully advocating and litigating for new standards to advance the human rights of women and girls. It has become known for opening new frontiers, developing legal theories and strategies, particularly those that bring attention to women’s rights violations that are undocumented or neglected.

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