IACHR Files Application Before Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Case Concerning Venezuela Involving Rape and Other Degrading Treatment

December 28, 2023

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed on November 8, 2023, an application before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (I/A Court H.R.) in Case 12,830, with regard to Venezuela. This case concerns violations of the rights to a fair trial and to judicial protection in criminal proceedings against Dianora Maleno, as well as the rape and the appalling conditions of detention she was subjected to while she was deprived of liberty.

In October 2001, Dianora Maleno was arrested for allegedly killing her daughter, which led to the launch of a criminal investigation. Although a psychiatric examination was requested during the trial, the court refused to order one and instead ordered that Maleno should be deprived of liberty at the Internado Anzoátegui as she awaited her sentence. During the preliminary hearing held in March 2002, her public defender requested that this decision be reconsidered, since Maleno had health problems and risked suffering gender-based violence in her place of detention. However, this request was also rejected. The Internado Anzoátegui facility featured overcrowding, deficient infrastructure, and inadequate inmate separation by sex and gender. Female inmates faced gender-based risks including sexual violence at the hands of male inmates, which included sexual servitude, forced prostitution, and other forms of abuse.

In 2002, Dianora Maleno was raped by five inmates. After filing a formal complaint about those events, Maleno and 28 other female inmates were transferred to the Lecherías police facility. However, during the transfer, she did not receive specialist medical care, while no measures were taken to protect her integrity. The detention facility where she was taken was also severely overcrowded.

The Second Public Prosecutor's Office launched an investigation into allegations of gang rape and, based on a forensic medicine report that had found no evidence of acute injuries, requested a probe against Maleno for "the crime of simulating a crime," although there is no information about the launch of such an investigation.

In 2003, the First Court replaced preventive prison with alternative precautionary measures, so that Maleno was released from detention to await a decision on her case. However, criminal proceedings in this case, launched in October 2001, have remained inactive since 2007, and no sentences have so far been issued.

In its Merits Report, the Commission found that Maleno's detention as she awaited her sentence was arbitrary, unjustifiably long, and sought punitive goals. The Report noted that criminal proceedings against her were still awaiting their first court sentence after more than 20 years and that a timely psychiatric assessment that was crucial for her ability to take part in these proceedings had not been conducted. The Report further noted the public defender's failure to secure judicial safeguards in her favor.

Concerning her conditions of detention, the IACHR found that they had been inhuman and degrading, and that this had joined her own vulnerability to lead Dianora Maleno to suffer cruel and inhuman treatment. Although it was aware of the situation, the State failed to adopt effective measures or to conduct investigations as required to protect Maleno's rights. The Commission further noted that gang rape amounts to torture.

The IACHR concluded that the Venezuelan State was liable for violations of the rights held in Articles 5.1, 5.2, and 5.4 (right to humane treatment), 7.3 and 7.5 (right to personal liberty), 8.1 and 8.2 (right to a fair trial), 11 (right to privacy), 24 (right to equal protection), and 25.1 (right to judicial protection) of the American Convention on Human Rights, concerning the obligations held in Article 1.1 of that instrument; as well as for violations of Articles 1, 6, and 8 of the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture and Article 7(b) of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women (Convention of Belém do Pará).

The Commission therefore recommended that the State of Venezuela adopt the following redress measures:

  1. Provide comprehensive reparations—material and immaterial—for the rights violations mentioned in the Merits Report
  2. Provide any physical and mental healthcare necessary for Dianora Maleno's rehabilitation, in agreement with her
  3. Ensure that criminal proceedings launched against Dianora Maleno are resolved in a timely manner and respect all the appropriate safeguards of due process
  4. Ensure that ongoing criminal proceedings over the rape of Dianora Maleno are resolved with due diligence and a gender perspective, respecting due process
  5. Take non-recurrence measures to ensure conditions of detention that protect the dignity and human rights of individuals who are deprived of liberty (this includes separating male and female inmates, adopting protocols for allegations of sexual violence in detention facilities, and improving conditions of detention at the Internado Anzoátegui prison and the Lecherías police facility)  

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 322/23

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