Essex lawyer plays part in landmark legal judgment in Latin America

  • Date

    Thu 9 Apr 20

An Essex lawyer has helped win a landmark judgment at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, supporting the human rights of LGBTI people across the continent.

***Trigger Warning: this report contains a description of sexual violence.

Professor Clara Sandoval, from the School of Law and Human Rights Centre, has been litigating for over ten years on behalf of Azul Rojas Marín, a transgender woman, who was beaten, stripped naked and subjected to torture and rape by Peruvian police in February 2008.

Rojas Marín (who at that time self-identified as a gay man and now self-identifies as a woman) was arrested arbitrarily. Throughout the process, the police officers made derogatory remarks about her sexual orientation.

On 6 April, The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), the ultimate authority on human rights in the Americas, found Peru responsible for torture and sexual violence against an LGBTI person. It is the first time in its history that the IACtHR has considered a case of discriminatory torture.

The Court found Peru responsible for the violation of a range of rights in relation to Rojas Marín, in breach of its obligations to respect and ensure those rights without discrimination.

Peru was also found responsible for the violation of the right to personal integrity of Rojas Marín’s mother, who died in 2017. 

On learning of the ruling, Azul Rojas Marín said: “I am very grateful to all the people who have made this possible. I have no words to describe how I feel. I thank God above all. After all that I have been through, finally a court believes me. I only wish I could have been able to share this joy with my mother, who was always alongside me in my efforts to report the crime and find justice.”

In its ruling, the IACtHR determined that the State of Peru did not act with due diligence in its investigation of the sexual torture of Rojas Marín and its violation of the rights to judicial guarantees and judicial protection. The Court found that the process was riddled with discriminatory stereotypes and the Peruvian authorities should have investigated whether there were reasonable indications that the violence had been motivated by discrimination.

The Court ordered Peru to adopt a series of measures to redress the damage to Azul Rojas Marín, and to prevent these crimes from being repeated. They reaffirmed that a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression are categories protected by the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights.

Professor Sandoval, whose recent work includes focusing on reparations for gender-based violence, said: “This is a landmark judgment where the Court develops, for the first time, the concept of torture as a result of discrimination because of sexual orientation, and where the tribunal tries to address some of the structural causes of these violations, including discrimination, by ordering Peru to implement significant reparation measures to prevent recurrence of the violations. This judgment paves the way in fundamental ways for the future protection of members of the LGBTI community in the Americas and around the world.”

Rojas Marín brought her case before the Interamerican System of Human Rights with the legal assistance of the Center for the Promotion and Defense of Sexual and Reproductive Rights (Promsex), the National Coordinator of Human Rights (CNDDHH) and REDRESS, an international organisation that fights against torture. Professor Sandoval has been part of the REDRESS team litigating the case.

Jorge Bracamonte, Executive Secretary of the CNDDHH, said: “This ruling represents a historic opportunity for the Peruvian State to eradicate systematic violence against LGTBI people from its institutional practices and is a precedent of great importance for the protection of LGTBI people throughout the region.”