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Holding States to Account for Gender-Based Violence: The Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ decisions in López Soto vs Venezuela and Women Victims of Sexual Torture in Atenco vs Mexico

Published on January 21, 2019        Author: 
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In two recent decisions, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) has affirmed the existing binding obligations of States to address gender-based violence against women by State and non-State actors. The López Soto vs Venezuela decision (published in November 2018) is the IACtHR’s first ruling on State responsibility for acts of sexual torture and sexual slavery by a private actor and its first case for gender-based violence against Venezuela. The Women Victims of Sexual Torture in Atenco vs Mexico decision (published in December 2018) sets out the State obligations in cases of sexual torture by state security forces. Both rulings build on the IACtHR’s prior gender jurisprudence and set important new precedents by providing detailed content to the duties of due diligence and by explaining the circumstances in which States can be held liable for breaching them.

The López Soto vs Venezuela case examines the circumstances in which acts of gender-based violence by private actors can be attributed to the State. In 2001, a well-connected private individual kidnapped Linda Loaiza López Soto, then 18 years old, in Caracas, Venezuela, holding her hostage for over three months. During her captivity, she was brutally tortured, raped and humiliated. In her February 2018 testimony before the IACtHR, she provided a harrowing account of the sadistic abuse she endured, the multiple surgeries she underwent for her injuries following her rescue, and the lasting impact of these injuries. López Soto brought her case before the IACtHR after domestic authorities failed to duly investigate and prosecute the crimes, convicting her abductor of lesser charges.

The Court focused its analysis on two contentious issues: (1) whether the conduct of a private actor could be attributed to Venezuela; and (2) whether this conduct amounted to torture and sexual slavery under international law, as argued by the plaintiff. Read the rest of this entry…