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IACHR hearing on discrimination due to sexual orientation.

At a session in Bogota, Colombia, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights heard the case of Chilean judge, Karen Atala Riffo. A 2003 ruling by Chile's Supreme Court deprived Judge Atala of the custody of her daughters on the basis of her sexual orientation as a lesbian. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has the final say in all matters of human rights in the Americas, and the Court's decisions are based on the principles enshrined in the American Convention on Human Rights.

In the 2003 ruling, Chile's Supreme Court argued that Judge Atala was not a fit mother able to raise her daughters because of her sexual orientation, which implied that the girls would be at risk of "social discrimination." Judge Atala therefore resolved to seek justice from the inter-American human rights system for what she considered a serious act of discrimination committed against her.

As a result, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reviewed her case and, in early 2011, ruled in favor of Atala's request, referring the case on to the Inter-American Court. After hearing the allegations, this judicial body will issue its ruling, with which the Chilean State must comply. The ruling should be issued during the first quarter of 2012.

During the hearing, the judge's lawyers argued that the Chilean State violated their client's right to freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation, as well as the right to due process, the privacy of the family and the protection of the family. Attending the hearing were Jorge Contesse from the Centro de Derechos Humanos of the Universidad Diego Portales, Macarena Saez, of Libertades Publicas, and Helena Olea and Catalina Lagos, of Corporacion Humanas.

When presenting her testimony, Karen Atala said, "When my daughters were taken from me, my personal identity and dignity were destroyed." She stressed that she had not seen her children grow up and that the youngest has no memory of having lived with her mother, which is a pain that cannot be described. She added that "having been stigmatized within the judiciary as 'the lesbian judge' really hurts, because undermines my status as a professional, as a mother and as a woman."

Karen Atala and daughters vs. the State of Chile is the first case of discrimination based on sexual orientation that has been filed with the Inter-American System of Human Rights, and it is therefore expected to set an important precedent in the Americas.

Various organizations in the field of human rights have been monitoring this case, in Chile, in the region and internationally, including the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), the International Women's Human Rights Law Clinic at the City University of New York (CUNY), MADRE, etc.


However, in Chile, at the official level and especially in the judiciary, there has been no sign of greater openness or recognition of the violation committed against the human rights of Karen Atala.

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Title Annotation:KAREN ATALA AND DAUGHTERS VS. THE STATE OF CHILE; Inter-American Court of Human Rights
Publication:Women's Health Journal
Geographic Code:3COLO
Date:Jul 1, 2011
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