4. Friendly setlements
REPORT N° 32/02
MANUEL CONTRERAS SAN MARTÍN, VÍCTOR EDUARDO OSSES CONEJEROS
JOSÉ ALFREDO SOTO RUZ
On 30 December, 1996, the Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights (“the Inter-American Commission ” or “the IACHR”)
received a communication from the Center for Justice and International
Law (“CEJIL”), which alleged the international responsibility of the
Republic of Chile (“the State” or “the Chilean State”) for
violations against Juan Manuel Contreras San Martín, Víctor Eduardo
Osses Conejeros, and José Alfredo Soto Ruz, who were deprived of their
liberty for more than five years due to a miscarriage of justice and
were then denied the compensation they claimed.
The three persons were arrested for the homicide of a woman and
allege that the police subjected them to physical mistreatment and
psychological pressure until they extracted a confession from them. The petitioners allege that the State is responsible for
violation of the following rights recognized in the American Convention
on Human Rights (“the American Convention”): humane treatment
(Article 5), personal liberty (Article 7), fair trial (Article 8); and
right to compensation (Article 10).
The parties signed the document entitled "Friendly
settlement proposal of the IACHR" on October 6, 1998.
Based on that document the State proposed and fulfilled a series
of concrete measures with the approval of the victims.
In the instant report, adopted under Article 49 of the American
Convention, the IACHR summarizes the alleged violations, outlines the
agreement reached by the parties, and decides to publish the report.
PROCESSING BY THE IACHR
On January 2, 1997 the Inter-American Commission transmitted the
pertinent portions of the petition to the Chilean State and requested it
to provide relevant information. After
several extensions, the State replied on November 4, 1997. The State’s reply was conveyed to the petitioners who
submitted comments on August 2, 1998.
On June 22, 1998, the IACHR placed itself at the disposal of the
parties with a view to reaching a friendly settlement of the matter. On October 6, 1998, a meeting was held with the parties at
the headquarters of the Inter-American Commission, at which the document
"Friendly settlement proposal of the IACHR" signed.
In said act, the Inter-American Commission set a period of 30
days for the parties to formalize an agreement to settle the matter.
On November 6, 1998, the Chilean State requested extensions to
present its proposal. On November 18 of that year the IACHR granted an
extension of 30 days. On
March 3, 1999, a hearing was held on the matter at the headquarters of
the Inter-American Commission. At
the request of the State, another extension was granted on May 20, 1999,
for 45 days. The petitioners sent a communication on October 6, 1999 to
urge expediency in the processing of the matter.
Finally, on October 27, 2000, the State sent the Commission a
"definitive friendly settlement proposal".
On January 11, 2001, the petitioners presented their comments to
the definitive proposal of the State.
On January 26, 2001, the Chilean State conveyed to the IACHR
additional information about the measures adopted to settle the matter,
and on February 5, 2001 requested an extension in order to reply to the
comments of the petitioners. On
April 10, 2001, the State presented the information requested by the
The IACHR wrote to both parties on April 19, 2001, in order to
express its high regard for the efforts shown and to exhort them to
finalize the friendly settlement of the matter.
The petitioners set out the issues pending in a communication of
July 25, 2001, which the State replied to on September 27 of that year.
On October 1, 2001, the Inter-American Commission requested both
parties to provide information, in due course, about the holding of the
act of public reparation pending to settle the matter.
The communication of the State of January 16, 2002, provides an
account of the act of reparation held on November 22, 2001, in the city
of Talca, Chile, and encloses press articles and the speech given by Mr.
Mario Merchak Aspe, Governor of the Region of Maule.
On June 25, 1989, officers of the Carabineros
de Chile [the Chilean police] discovered the corpse of María
Soledad Opazo Sepúlveda near La Calchona bridge, not far from the city
of Talca. On July 6, 1989,
the Police Investigations Service detained Víctor Eduardo Osses
Conejeros, and, on July 8, 1989, Juan Manuel Contreras San Martín and
José Alfredo Soto Ruz, in the course of the criminal proceeding
instituted as a result of the homicide of Mrs. Opazo Sepúlveda.
According to the petition, during their detention they were subjected to
physical mistreatment and psychological pressure until they confessed to
the deed. However, the
police did not bring them before a court and released them on July 10,
1989. They did not report
the incidents out of fear of the police threats against them.
10. On January 19,
1990, the Investigations Police again detained Messrs. Contreras San
Martín, Osses Conejeros, and Soto Ruz, even though the investigation
had yielded no further information.
As happened six months earlier, they were forced to admit their
guilt in the police station without a defense attorney present. This
time, however, they were taken before the court where, under similar
pressure, they ratified their confession. On January 25, 1990, they appeared in court again, this time
without any police officers present, and retracted their confession.
In spite of the foregoing, the three were charged with aggravated
homicide and were remanded in custody pending trial.
11. On March 28,
1994, the court delivered a judgment sentencing José Alfredo Soto Ruz
and Juan Manuel Contreras San Martín to 10 years imprisonment for
aggravated homicide, and Víctor Eduardo Osses Conejeros to five years
imprisonment for the same crime. On
March 30, 1994, the defense appealed to the Court of Appeals of Talca,
which, in a judgment of January 19, 1995, acquitted and ordered the
immediate release of the three convicted men.
12. On June 18,
1995, the defense filed a petition with the Supreme Court of Chile, in
which it requested the court to find the conviction in first instance
unreasonable and arbitrary, in order to obtain compensation for
miscarriage of justice, in accordance with Article 19 of the
Constitution of that country.
Despite a favorable brief from the government attorney, on June
27, 1996 the Supreme Court rejected the petition with the argument that
the error was not unreasonable and that such compensation is only
admissible when the innocence of the convicted persons is proven, not
when no conviction is handed down for lack of evidence.
13. The proposal
signed by the parties paved the way for reaching a friendly settlement
The State, recognizing the delicate social and
financial situation of the claimants, worsened after undergoing a long
criminal proceeding, could be prepared to explore the possibility of
contributing economic resources aimed to improve that situation, through
ongoing social programs or other programs that might be specially
created, in order that the victims, their immediate family, and the
community in which they evolve might benefit from such programs.
State, recognizing the importance of the provision on compensation
contained in the Convention, and further recognizing the importance of
having in place effective legal mechanisms to exercise that right, could
undertake to carry out the necessary studies to reform the existing
norms in the domestic sphere.
State would adopt both material and symbolic measures to restore the
good name and dignity of the victims.
14. In its
"definitive proposal", the State offered the following
award to Messrs. Juan Manuel Contreras San Martín, José Alfredo Soto
Ruz and Víctor Eduardo Osses Conejeros, a discretional annuity of three
minimum wages each;
provide to them free of charge adequate training in skills and trades in
accordance with their expectations, aptitudes and possibilities, through
the office of the National Training and Employment Service (SENCE in its
Spanish initials) in the region where they live, in order to enable them
to increase their financial incomes and enhance their quality of life;
publicly provide reparation to the victims before their community by
means by an act of the Regional Government duly disseminated by the mass
media, designed to restore their reputation and honor that had been
certainly damaged by the judicial decisions that once harmed them.
15. The State of
Chile further said that by Supreme Decree Nº 274 of January 31, 2000,
discretionary annuities were awarded to the three alleged victims, who
began to receive them from that date forward.
The State mentioned that these were the highest amounts that
could be awarded under the discretionary pensions system.
the State informed that it had managed to ensure that the 2000 Annual
Fellowship Program of the Training and Employment Corporation of Sociedad
de Fomento Fabril would finance the cost of the training courses for
which Messrs. Contreras San Martín, Osses Conejeros, and Soto Ruz had
opted. The three attended the electricity course held by Instituto
de Estudios Contables y Tributarios Ltda. from October 27 to
November 7, 2000.
The State reiterated its intention to provide reparation to the
victims in an act "duly disseminated by the mass media" that
would be held once the Inter-American Commission approved the proposed
friendly settlement measures. As
regards legal reforms, the State mentioned that the prospective
Constitutional Measures bill to be prepared by the Ministry of Justice
would propose an amendment to the constitutional provision on
compensation for miscarriage of justice.
The State considered that the carrying out of such studies
constitutes compliance with the terms contained in the "Friendly
settlement proposal of the IACHR" signed by the parties.
18. The petitioners
said in their communication of January 11, 2001 that the alleged victims
were satisfied with the annuities awarded.
As to the symbolic reparation measures, they mentioned the need
for the government to state its intention to pay for advertising space
in the radio, print, and television media with the highest ratings in
the region and the country. With
respect to legal reforms, they were dissatisfied with the lack of any
announcement from the State regarding the need for a review of the
country’s laws in order to ensure the effectiveness of the right to
compensation for miscarriage of justice.
Later, the Chilean State provided information on progress in
compliance with the second point contained in the aforesaid agenda of
theirs, and mentioned that the act of “public reparation of moral
damages for the victims” would be held in the near future.
Based on the foregoing, it requested the IACHR to adopt the
report on the friendly settlement of the matter.
20. As to the
above-mentioned comments of the petitioners, the Chilean State says that
the discretionary annuity was awarded on January 31, 2000, and,
therefore, the alleged victims have already been benefiting from said
financial compensation for more then one year. The State adds that “the nature of the discretionary
annuity is that of a special measure adopted by law, whose effects last
for the duration of the beneficiaries’ lifetimes,” and enables them
“satisfactorily to cover the costs of their upkeep and those of their
The State also stresses the importance accorded to the act of
reparation that the regional government will perform.
Finally, the State considers that the studies undertaken at the
Ministry of Justice to reform the norms in force on miscarriage of
justice are in keeping with the spirit of the proposal signed before the
Inter-American Commission on October 6, 1998.
21. In reply to a
communication from the Inter-American Commission, the Chilean State drew
attention to the acceptance of the friendly settlement proposal by the
petitioners and put forward other additional considerations connected
with the public act of reparation for Messrs. Contreras San Martín,
Osses Conejeros, and Soto Ruz. With respect to the legal reform being studied at the
Ministry of Justice, the State said that it seemed to it appropriate to
establish a reasonable time for it to “report on the progress of the
above-mentioned studies, whose commencement and progress are grounded in
the desire to comply with the friendly settlement proposal put forward
Finally, on January 16, 2002, the Chilean State reported that the
public act of reparation had been held on November 22, 2001, presided
over by Mr. Mario Merchak Aspe, Governor of the VII Region of Maule.
The communiqué issued on that date mentioned that the Governor
personally offered public apologies to Juan Manuel Contreras San Martín,
Víctor Eduardo Osses Conejeros, and José Alfredo Soto Ruz as follows:
José Alfredo Soto Ruz said on that occasion that the three of
them were there “with heads held high, with dignity, enjoying the
liberty which we should never have lost …nobody can give us back today
the hugs and smiles that we lost.”
Mr. Soto Ruz thanked his family and friends, and also the
Government for having recognized the error of justice and for publicly
restoring their honor in a “truly historic” act.
The information transmitted by the Chilean State with respect to
the friendly conclusion of the instant matter was communicated on
February 5, 2002 to the victims via their representatives, Roberto Celedón
Fernández and CEJIL. A
short time period was set in order to allow the IACHR to examine the
matter at its 114th regular session, which expired with no observations.
The Inter-American Commission has actively encouraged the
friendly settlement procedure based on the specific characteristics of
the instant case. This
report summarizes the activities of the parties and outlines both their
will to solve the case and the measures adopted to that end by the
Inter-American Commission stresses that the mechanism provided for in
Article 48(1)(f) of the American Convention enables the non-contentious
conclusion of individual petitions, as has been demonstrated in cases
involving different countries in the region.
27. As to the norms
on compensation for miscarriage of justice, the IACHR will closely
monitor the progress of the relevant studies and proposed laws in the
framework of the provisions contained in Articles 2 and 10 of the
28. Based on the
above factual and legal considerations,
THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS,
To approve the friendly settlement reached in this matter,
through the will of both parties.
To request the State of Chile to provide information to the IACHR,
within three months after the transmission of this report, about the
progress of proposed laws and the legislative process in the area of
compensation for miscarriage of justice.
To make public this report and to include it in its Annual Report
to the General Assembly of the OAS.
and signed at the headquarters of
the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in Washington, D.C., on
this the 12th day of March, 2002.
(Signed): Juan E. Méndez,
President; Marta Altolaguirre, First Vice President; Robert K. Goldman,
Julio Prado Vallejo and Clare K. Roberts, Commission members.
* Commissioner José Zalaquett Daher, a Chilean national, did not take part in the discussion or vote on the present case, in accordance with Article 17 (2) (a) of the IACHR's Rules of Procedure.
In that respect, the petitioners say:
the decision in second instance, the Court of Appeals of Talca
mentioned the absence of any evidence that might attest to the
involvement of the petitioners in the instant case, finding their
self-incriminating statements to be invalid because it believed that
they were irregularly obtained by the police and the courts in first
of the petitioners of December 30, 1996, p.
Section 7(i) of said constitutional provision provides:
the final verdict of dismissal or acquittal has been issued, any
person who might have been subjected to a proceeding or convicted at
any jurisdictional stage by a decision that the Supreme Court finds
unreasonable or arbitrary, shall be entitled to compensation by the
State for any physical and moral damages they might have suffered.
The compensation shall be determined by the courts in a brief
summary proceeding where the evidence shall be appraised in a just
and equitable manner.
The petitioners respected the wishes of the alleged victims, who
have expressed their satisfaction with the amount that was awarded
to them. However, the
petitioners consider that the amounts offered to the victims, of
three minimum wages, “are altogether insufficient compared with
the violations suffered by Messrs. Contreras, Soto, and Osses.”
The Chilean State said:
the end of September last, the Office of the Governor of the Region
of Maule contacted the regional office of the National Training and
Employment Service (SENCE), and managed to ensure that the 2000
Annual Fellowship Program of the Training and Employment Corporation
of Sociedad de Fomento Fabril
would finance the cost of the training courses that Messrs.
Contreras San Martín, Osses Conejeros, and Soto Ruz chose.
three victims chose the electricity course offered by Instituto
de Estudios Contables y Tributarios Ltda., an institution
accredited by the SENCE. The course was taught from October 23 to
November 7 last. The petitioners had a 100 percent attendance rate
and showed a “great desire to advance themselves and respect for
the teaching and administrative staff,” as certified by the
Executive Director of the aforesaid institute and shown in the
document attached. They
currently hold a steady job.
of the State of January 26, 2001, p. 2.
Communication of the State of April 9, 2001, p. 2.
Communication of the Chilean State of September 27, 2001, p. 3.
pidió perdón a jóvenes de La Calchona
[Government apologized to La Calchona men], communiqué of the
Office of the Governor of the Region of Maule, November 22, 2001.