I/A Court H.R., Case of the "Juvenile Reeducation Institute" v. Paraguay. Preliminary Objections, Merits, Reparations and Costs. Judgment of September 2, 2004. Series C No. 112.

Non official brief

This summary is also published in the website of the Council of Europe in the following link: https://www.venice.coe.int/files/Bulletin/B2005-2-e.pdf




The State's obligations under Article 19 ACHR go well beyond the sphere of strictly civil and political rights. The measures that the State must undertake, particularly given the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, encompass economic, social and cultural aspects that pertain, first and foremost, to the children's right to life and right to humane treatment.


All persons detained have the right to live in prison conditions that are in keeping with their dignity as human beings and the State must guarantee their right to life and their right to humane treatment. The State has a special role to play as guarantor of the rights of those deprived of their freedom. Given this unique relationship and interaction of subordination between an inmate and the State, the latter must undertake a number of special responsibilities and initiatives to ensure that persons deprived of their liberty have the conditions necessary to live with dignity and to enable them to enjoy those rights that may not be restricted under any circumstances or those whose restriction is not a necessary consequence of their deprivation of liberty and is, therefore, impermissible. Otherwise, deprivation of liberty would effectively strip the inmate of all his rights, which is unacceptable.


The right to humane treatment is a fundamental right that the American Convention protects by specifically prohibiting, inter alia, torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment or treatment; it also lists the right to humane treatment among those nonderogable rights that may not be suspended during states of emergency. The right to life and the right to humane treatment require not only that the State respect them (negative obligation) but also that the State adopt all appropriate measures to protect and preserve them (positive obligation).


The standard applied to classify treatment or punishment as cruel, inhuman or degrading must be higher in the case of children.


A State that has ratified a human rights treaty must make the necessary amendments to its domestic laws to ensure proper compliance with the obligations it has undertaken. The American Convention establishes the general obligation of each State party to adapt its domestic laws to the Convention's provisions, so as to guarantee the rights therein protected. This general obligation of a State party means that the provisions of domestic law must be effective (principle of effet utile)."


While procedural rights and their corollary guarantees apply to all persons, in the case of children exercise of those rights requires, due to the special condition of minors, that certain specific measures be adopted for them to effectively enjoy those rights and guarantees.


The essence of Article 7 ACHR is the protection of the liberty of the individual from arbitrary or unlawful interference by the State and the guarantee of the detained individual's right of defense. The protection of freedom safeguards both the physical liberty of the individual and his personal safety, in a context where the absence of guarantees may result in the subversion of the rule of law and deprive those detained of the minimum legal protection.


A child's right to personal liberty must of necessity take the best interests of the child into account; it is the child's vulnerability that necessitates special measures of protection.


Preventive detention must strictly conform to the provisions of Article 7.5 ACHR: it cannot be for longer than a reasonable time and cannot endure for longer than the grounds invoked to justify it. Failure to comply with these requirements is tantamount to a sentence without a conviction, which is contrary to universally recognised general principles of law. When preventive detention is ordered for children, the rule must be applied with even greater rigor, since the norm should be measures that are alternatives to preventive imprisonment. The purpose of these alternative measures is to ensure that children are dealt with in a manner appropriate to their well-being and proportionate both to their circumstances and the offence.


The primary purpose of international protection of human rights is to defend the individual against the arbitrary exercise of State power."


Any violation of an international obligation that has caused damage creates a new obligation, which is to adequately redress the wrong done.




On 20 May 2002, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights filed an application with the Court against the State of Paraguay for the Court to decide whether the State had violated, in relation to its obligation under Article 1.1 ACHR (Obligation to Respect Rights), Article 4 ACHR (Right to Life) by virtue of the deaths of inmates who perished as a result of a fire at a juvenile reeducation center, and by virtue of the death of Benito Augusto Adorno, who died of a bullet wound sustained at the center. The Commission also asked the Court to decide whether the State had violated Article 5 ACHR (Right to Humane Treatment), in relation to its obligation under Article 1.1 ACHR, by virtue of the injuries and smoke inhalation that minors sustained in three fires at the center. The Commission also petitioned the Court to find that the respondent State had violated Article 5 ACHR (Right to Humane Treatment), Article 7 ACHR (Right to Personal Liberty), Article 19 ACHR (Rights of the Child), Article 8 ACHR (Right to a Fair Trial) and Article 25 ACHR (Judicial Protection), all in relation to Article 1.1 ACHR, to the detriment of all juveniles incarcerated at the center at any time in the period between 14 August 1996 and 25 July 2001, and those juvenile inmates subsequently remanded to the country's adult prisons. The Commission's contention was that the center embodied a system that was the antithesis of every international standard pertaining to the incarceration of juveniles. Specifically, those conditions involved a combination of: overpopulation, overcrowding, lack of sanitation, inadequate infrastructure, and a prison guard staff that was both too small and poorly trained. The Commission also alleged that children were remanded to adult prisons and that the vast majority of the juveniles transferred to adult prisons were in pretrial detention.


The Court analyzed the issues pertaining to a life with dignity, health, education and recreation in its considerations with regard to Articles 4 and 5 ACHR, in relation to Article 19 ACHR and 1.1 ACHR and Article 13 of the Protocol of San Salvador.


In its judgment of 2 September 2004, the Court held that the State violated the rights to life and to humane treatment, recognised in Articles 4.1, 5.1, 5.2 and 5.6 ACHR and, where the victims were children, also in relation to Article 19 ACHR, to the detriment of all the inmates at the center between 14 August 1996 and 25 July 2001; the right to life, recognised in Article 4.1 ACHR and, where the victims were children, also in relation to its Article 19 ACHR, to the detriment of the 12 deceased inmates; the right to humane treatment, recognised in Articles 5.1 and 5.2 ACHR to the detriment of the children injured as a result of the fires; and the right to humane treatment recognised in Article 5.1 ACHR to the detriment of the identified next of kin of the deceased and injured inmates. Additionally, the Court declared that the State failed to comply with its duty to adopt domestic legislative measures and violated the right to a fair trial recognised, respectively, in Articles 2 and 8.1 ACHR to the detriment of all the children interned at the center in the period from 14 August 1996 to 25 July 2001; violated the right to judicial protection, recognised in Article 25 ACHR to the detriment of the 239 inmates named in the writ of generic habeas corpus, and ordered the State to pay for costs and reparations to the beneficiaries identified in the same.