Velásquez Rodríguez v. Honduras
Systemic Practice | State/Non-State Agents | Effective Remedy | Duty to Investigate | Burden of Proof | Evidence | Judicial Protection | Juridical Personality
The Court established for the first time that enforced disappearances are a complex, multiple and continuous violation of the ACHR, constituting a radical breach of multiple provisions of the Convention and showing an abandonment of the values underpinning human dignity. The Court stated that domestic remedies must be "adequate", suitable to address an infringement of a legal right – and "effective" – meaning capable of producing the result for which it was designed. In terms of evidence, it stated that the standard of proof allows for reliance on circumstantial and presumptive evidence, the former being particularly important in cases of enforced disappearances, which are characterised by an attempt to suppress all information about it. Regarding the burden of proof, the Court held that if the complainant could prove that there had been an official systematic practice of enforced disappearances in the state, and that the disappearance of the victim could be linked to said practice, the burden shifts to the state to disprove the allegation. As for the obligation to investigate, the Court held that this may not be a mere formality, but must be taken on by the state as its own legal duty and which must not depend on the initiative of the victim, their family or upon their offer of proof.
July 27, 1988
Article 1(1) [ACHR], Article 4 [ACHR], Article 5 [ACHR], Article 7 [ACHR]
Facts of the Case
In September 1981, Mr. Manfredo Velásquez Rodríguez, a university student, was abducted in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, by armed state agents dressed in civilian clothing and driving a car without licence plates. The disappearance took place in the midst of a systematic practice of enforced disappearance perpetrated by state agents using this modus operandi. The victim’s family filed several writs of habeas corpus and criminal complaints; none were accepted or acted upon by the state.