Inter-American Court on Human Rights condemns Brazil
On the 17th of August 2006, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights condemned Brazil for the death of Damião Ximenes Lopes, which occurred on the 4th of October 1999 in the Clínica de Repouso Guararapes, a psychiatric clinic, in Sobral, in the state of Ceará. This is the first time the Inter-American Court makes a decision on Brazil, and this is also the first ever pronouncement of the Court on a human rights violation related to people with mental disabilities. Damião Ximenes Lopes, who was suffering from a psychiatric disorder, was placed in the care of the Clínica de Repouso Guarapes by his mother in October 1999. Three days after his admission, he died after being subjected to ill-treatment and violent attacks from the clinic personnel. His family tried to obtain justice, denouncing the events to the responsible authorities. However, the case was not opened before March 28, 2000 only, and the investigation procedure was marred with numerous irregularities: the autopsy protocol was not adequately followed, the investigation was not immediately initiated, there has been no inspection in the Clínica de Repouso Guararapes, etc. The criminal lawsuit against members of the clinic personnel is still being processed in the 3ª Circuit of the district of Sobral, Ceará, and the civil lawsuit is only in the fact-finding phase of the procedure.
The case was brought to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights by Ximenes Lopes' sister in November 1999. The Commission identified Brazil as responsible for violating the right to life and physical integrity, access to justice and due legal process, and forwarded the case to the Court for consideration. Subsequently, FIDH's member organisation in Brazil, Justiça Global, teamed up as co-petitioner with Ximenes' sister on the case before the Inter-American System.
The Court decided in its sentence that, according to Articles 1, 4, 5, 8 and 25 of the American Convention on Human Rights, Brazil was guilty of violating the rights to physical integrity and to life of Damião Ximenes, and the rights to access to justice and due process of his family.
The Court stated that Brazil “has an international responsibility to fulfill, in this case, its requirement to look after and prevent the vulnerability of life and personal integrity, as well as its requirement to regulate and monitor medical healthcare». The Court also concluded that, «the State did not provide the family members of Ximenes Lopes effective recourse to guarantee access to justice, determination to the truth of the facts, investigation, identification, due process and [...] punishment of those responsible for the violation of due process and to judicial protection.” As a reparatory measure, the Court ordered Brazil to pay compensation to the family.
The Court's judges also decided unanimously that the State should guarantee the swiftness of the Brazilian justice system in investigating and sanctioning those responsible for the torture and death of Damião Ximenes Lopes.
FIDH, jointly with its member organisations in Brazil, the National Movement of Human Rights (MNDH) and Justiça Global, welcomes this unprecedented ruling of the Inter-American Court against Brazil which is an important step for public policy on mental health in Brazil where, despite advances over many years, cases of violence continue to be registered against psychiatric patients and investigation mechanisms are insufficient.
FIDH recalls that Brazil, having voluntarily recognised the competence of the Court in 1998, has a legal obligation to comply with this decision. FIDH therefore calls upon Brazil to put into practice the necessary mechanisms to receive and investigate accusations of ill-treatment and violations of the rights of people with mental disabilities and to fulfil its legal obligations to permanently regulate and monitor the provision of quality public healthcare.