BESSY MARGARITA MARTÍNEZ ALVAREZ
AND BLANCA ROSA RODRÍGUEZ
February 27, 2002
By communication submitted to the Inter-American Commission on
Human Rights (hereinafter “the Commission” or “the IACHR”) on
September 3, 1998, by Mr. Gonzalo Rafael Chávez (hereinafter the
“petitioner”), in representation of María Cristina Alvarez Lanza
and Ramona Martínez, it was denounced that the Republic of Honduras
(hereinafter “Honduras,” “the State,” or “the Honduran
State”) violated Articles 4 (right to life) and 8 (right to a fair
trial) of the American Convention on Human Rights (hereinafter “the
Convention”) in conjunction with the generic obligation of the State
to respect and ensure the aforementioned rights, established in Article
1(1) thereof, all to the detriment of Bessy Margarita Martínez Alvarez
and Blanca Rosa Sánchez Rodríguez.
The Honduran State alleged that the petition was manifestly
groundless, and that it was obviously out of order; accordingly, it
asked the Commission to declare it inadmissible under Article 47(b) and
(c) of the Convention.
The IACHR, on February .27, 2002, decided that the petition was
inadmissible pursuant to Article 47(b) and (c) of the American
Convention. The Commission also decided to give notice of this
determination to the parties, and to publish it and include it in its
Annual Report to the OAS General Assembly.
PROCESSING BEFORE THE COMMISSION
The petition was submitted to the IACHR on September 3, 1998. On
January 25, 1999, the petitioner forwarded the certifications of the
records in the proceedings in this matter. On March 1, 1999, the
Commission decided to open petition 12.109, and forwarded the pertinent
parts of the complaint to the Honduran State, asking that it answer
within 90 days. The State responded on June 1, 1999 (official note dated
May 21, 1999). From June 1999 to June 2001, both parties submitted more
information to the IACHR, and their respective comments and
III. POSITIONS OF
The petitioner indicated in his initial communication
that on December 12, 1988, the residents of the Divanna neighborhood of
Comayaguela, municipality of the Central District, sent a note to the
manager of the National Water and Sewerage Service (SANAA: Servicio Nacional de Acueductos y Alcantarillado), a decentralized
state institution, in which they described the poor conditions of one of
the walls that is the property of the SANAA in the “Callejón de
los filtros del SANAA” (Alley of the SANAA filtration plants),
requesting that they be repaired to prevent the loss of human lives and
On October 14, 1991, at approximately 2:55 p.m., the wall
collapsed, killing Bessy Margarita Martínez Alvarez, who was 20 weeks
pregnant, and Blanca Rosa Sánchez Rodríguez, who were walking through
the alley. The two-year-old daughter of Ms. Martínez Alvarez, Mayra
Alejandra Izaguirre Martínez, suffered a fractured arm.
After the accident, the mother and daughter of Bessy Margarita
Martínez Alvarez, along with the mother of Blanca Rosa Sánchez Rodríguez,
appointed Enrique Flores Lanza as their legal representative to claim
compensation from SANAA. On December 18, 1991,
the legal representative submitted a brief to the water company in which
he requested “Payment of Compensation because of Death.” That brief
was sent to the office of legal counsel of SANAA, in response to which
it did not issue any resolution, according to the petitioner. On January
8, 1992, the same legal representative sent a new brief to SANAA
requesting, on behalf of his clients, “Amount of Assistance because of
Death” in the amount of 16,800.00 lempiras, alleging that:
virtue of the initiatives vis-a-vis
the SANAA for payment of compensation for wrongful death of the
assignors of my clients, we were told by the SANAA counsel of the
decision by the board of directors, which, while not acknowledging
SANAA’s liability for the deaths described, indicated that the company
was willing to pay their beneficiaries a sum of money as assistance
because of death, for humanitarian reasons....
The petitioner indicates that in response to that brief, SANAA
did not issue any resolution, although the company did make payment of
16,800.00 lempiras, which, according to the petitioner, corresponded to
the request for assistance because of death. Nonetheless, according to
petitioner, the voucher for each check cashed by his clients bears the
legend “to make payment of compensation for the death of persons who
died in the collapse of the SANAA wall...” and a similar legend
appears in the memorandum that ordered that the checks be issued.
The petitioner emphasized, however, that the brief that led to
the issuance of the checks was the one in which the amount of assistance
because of death was requested, and not that in which compensation for
death was requested, meaning, therefore, that the latter was still
The petitioner indicated that he had exhausted administrative
remedies before the SANAA, as the company refused to pay compensation
for the deaths of the persons who lost their lives when the wall
He also reported that his clients recurred to the courts, filing
a contentious-administrative claim, which was resolved in their favor in
the first instance; the company was ordered to pay compensation for the
death of Bessy Margarita Martínez Alvarez and Blanca Rosa Sánchez Rodríguez.
The SANAA appealed that decision, and, on appeal, the Court of
Appeals for Contentious-Administrative Matters for the City of
Tegucigalpa ruled favorably, overturning the judgment by the court
below, and releasing the company of any liability.
In response to that decision, a motion for cassation was filed
before the Supreme Court of Justice, which found the motion admissible,
but ruled against the complainant’s claim for compensation.
The petitioner indicated that the way in which the
contentious-administrative and regular jurisdictions of Honduras
proceeded constituted a violation of Article 8(1) of the Convention.
According to the complainant, the Court of Appeals based its decision,
on overturning the judgment of the court of first instance, on the
objection to payment filed late by SANAA before that judge.
In the view of the petitioner, that objection had to have been
raised in respondent’s first brief, i.e. in the same brief in which it
set forth its objection on the basis of complainant’s lack of
standing. As the respondent
raised the objection to payment later, the judge of first instance acted
lawfully in finding it inadmissible, not even issuing an opinion in this
respect. Nonetheless, the
appellate court took into account respondent’s objection to payment,
and, based on it, overturned the judgment appealed, exonerating SANAA of
liability, holding that it had already made the compensatory payment,
and that, accordingly, its reparatory obligation had been extinguished
by that act. For the
petitioner, the appeals court lacked jurisdiction to hear an objection,
the objection to payment; it could have only been considered, had it
been raised in a timely fashion, by the judge of first instance.
The petitioner indicates that the Supreme Court of Justice, on
not overturning the appellate ruling, violated Article 8 of the
Convention, denying justice, and that its failure to pay compensation to
the complainants for the arbitrary deaths of their family members also
constituted a violation of Article 4 of the Convention.
The State’s position
The State alleged that the complainant had exhausted all remedies
afforded by Honduran legislation. It also indicated that on December 18,
1991, a brief was submitted to SANAA entitled “Payment Sought as
Compensation for Death” (“Se Solicita Pago de Indemnización por
Causa de Muerte”), which was not mentioned by the complainant in
the brief filed before the contentious-administrative jurisdiction on
September 5, 1995. The
State also referred to the brief submitted to SANAA by the legal
representative of the complainants entitled “Request for an Amount to
be Set for Assistance because of Death” asking for the sum of
15,000.00 lempiras for assistance because of death, in a broad reading
of clause 58 of the collective bargaining agreement between the company
and its workers, and 1,800.00 lempiras for funeral costs, for a total of
The State also reported that on January 20, 1992, by memorandum
AL-018-92, the company ordered the payment to the mothers of 16,800.00
lempiras as “payment of compensation for the death of persons who died
in the collapse of the SANAA wall in the Divanna neighborhood.”
That order was made effective through checks numbered 032862 and
032863, dated January 24, 1992, and cashed to the satisfaction of each
of the complainants, as shown by their signatures on the respective
The State alleged in the contentious-administrative proceeding
instituted by the complainants that they were the same persons who had
made a claim to SANAA and received and agreed on the checks for
16,800.00 lempiras, each. Consequently, when answering the complaint
filed against it, the State objected that payment had already been made,
as provided for in the Honduran Civil Code.
In addition, the State notes that the ruling of the court of
first instance, recognized the right of complainants María Cristina
Alvarez and Ramona Martínez to receive compensation from SANAA for
their daughters’ deaths. That same judgment ordered the company to pay
the damages suffered in the amount determined through expert opinions,
to execute the judgment.
The State added that, as a result of the appeal of the judgment
of first instance filed by SANAA, the Court of Appeals, in its judgment
of February 7, 1997, in one of its conclusions of law, making reference
to Article 1421 of the Civil Code, which had been invoked by the State
before the judge of first instance and before the appellate court,
indicated that “obligations are extinguished by payment or
the Court of Appeals ruled favorably on the appeal, thereby overturning
the judgment of the court below, and absolving SANAA of all liability.
The judgment on appeal was challenged in a motion for cassation
filed by the complainants. The Supreme Court was of the view that the violation of law
invoked by the appellant had not been violated, and, accordingly, ruled
declaring “inadmissible the motion for cassation on the merits,”
ordering that the matter be sent back to the court from which it came.
Finally, the State, in its initial communication and in later
communications to the IACHR, denied it had violated Article 4 of the
Convention, as none of the entities denounced in the petition, i.e.
SANAA, the Court of Appeals for Contentious-Administrative Matters, or
the Supreme Court of Justice, had arbitrarily deprived Bessy Margarita
Martínez Alvarez and Blanca Rosa Sánchez Rodríguez of their lives. It
also indicated that, as the compensation requested had been paid, any
obligation the State might have had with respect to those deaths had
been extinguished. Moreover, the Honduran State denied that it had
violated Article 8 of the Convention, as the complainant had enjoyed the
full guarantees established in the Constitution of the Republic of
Honduras and its secondary laws applicable to the case, and specifically
those established at Articles 1 and 8(2)(h) of the Convention.
Competence of the Commission
ratione personae, ratione loci, ratione temporis and ratione materiae
The IACHR is competent ratione
temporis, as the facts alleged in the petition took place when the
obligation to respect and ensure the rights established in the American
Convention had already entered into forced for the Honduran State.
The Commission is competent ratione
materiae because the petition alleges violations of human rights
protected by the American Convention.
The Commission is competent ratione
loci to take cognizance of this petition as it alleges violations of
rights protected in the American Convention in the territory of a State
party to that Convention.
The Commission is competent ratione
personae to take cognizance of this petition, as the conditions set
forth in Articles 44 and 1(2) of the Convention are met.
Other Admissibility Requirements of the Petition
Exhaustion of domestic remedies
Article 46(1)(a) of the American Convention establishes that in
order for a petition to be admitted, it is necessary “that the
remedies under domestic law have been pursued and exhausted in
accordance with generally recognized principles of international law.”
The State, in its communication dated May 21, 1999, indicated
that “the complainant, in its contentious-administrative action, has
exhausted all the remedies provided by Honduran law, there being no
motion for review (recurso de
revisión) in this area....” Accordingly, the Commission considers
that the requirement set forth in Article 46(1)(a) of the Convention has
been met, with the express recognition of the Honduran State.
Time period for submission
Article 46(1)(b) of the American Convention indicates that in
order for a petition or communication to be admitted by the Commission,
it must be submitted within six months of the date on which the party
whose rights are alleged to have been violated has been given notice of
the final decision. In the
instant case, the final judgment was handed down by the Supreme Court of
Justice on May 14, 1998. The petitioner then submitted the complaint to
the Commission on August 17, 1998, i.e. three months after the Supreme
Court ruling. Accordingly, the IACHR considers that the requirement set
forth at Article 46(1)(b) of the Convention has been met.
Duplication of procedures and res
The record of the petition does not contain any information that
would lead to a determination that this matter is pending settlement
before another international organization or that it has previously been
decided by the Inter-American Commission. Accordingly, the IACHR
concludes that the exceptions provided for at Article 46(1)(d) and
Article 47(d) of the American Convention do not apply.
Characterization of the facts alleged
Article 47 of the Convention indicates that:
Commission shall consider inadmissible any petition or communication ...
the petition or communication does not state facts that tend to
establish a violation of the rights guaranteed by this Convention;
the statements of the petitioner or of the state indicate that
the petition or communication is manifestly groundless or obviously out
of order; or ....
With respect to Article 8 of the Convention
In the present matter, the petitioner alleged that the Honduran
State violated his clients’ right to a fair trial due to the fact that
the appellate court heard and ruled favorably on the peremptory
objection of payment (Article 1421 of the Civil Code), raised by SANAA
after the time for doing so had expired, according to complainant, on
not having invoked it in its first brief, in which it alleged the
preliminary defense of complainant’s lack of standing, but only in the
brief in which it later answered the complaint.
The State, for its part, backed the decision of the Supreme Court
of Justice, which, in its final judgment, indicated that it was:
that the court [Court of Appeals] has not unlawfully applied Article
1421 of the Civil Code, considering that from the background seen and
examined it appears that the complainant, in its brief answering the
complaint ... raised the objection of payment, since the underlying
claim that the obligation to pay on the amount sought had been
The Commission notes that the debate in this matter is focused on
a procedural issue referring to the timeliness with which the objection
of payment was raised. The Commission notes that this matter has characteristics
similar to another in which this same organ noted: “What the
petitioner has brought before the IACHR is his disagreement with the ...
courts’ interpretation of certain domestic procedural rules.” On
that occasion, the Commission noted that “national courts are
responsible for interpreting national procedural laws, and the IACHR is
not competent to determine the correct interpretation of local
provisions unless the interpretation in itself constitutes a violation
of the Convention.”
As in the case cited, the Commission considers that in this
matter, the interpretation rendered by the Honduran judicial authorities
of the procedural provisions in question does not constitute a violation
of the American Convention.
Similarly, the Commission considers that in the domestic
proceeding, each party enjoyed extensive and equal opportunities to
argue its position within a process that was in keeping with the
guarantees set forth in Article 8(1) and 8(2), as pertinent, of the
Convention. Accordingly, in
keeping with Article 47(d) of the American Convention, the IACHR
concludes that the facts alleged by the petitioner with respect to a
violation of Article 8 of the Convention does not tend to establish
violations of the right to a fair trial protected by that provision.
In relation to Article 4 of the Convention
The petitioner also alleged violation of Article 4 of the
American Convention for the death of the persons who lost their lives
when the SANAA wall collapsed, and for failure to compensate for those
The State alleged before the Honduran courts that the only fact
of those adduced by the complainant that it accepted was that
October 14, 1991, there was an accident in the Divanna neighborhood of
Comayaguela, in the place known as the alley of the SANAA filtration
plants, where the following persons died: Bessy Margarita Martínez
Alvarez and Blanca Rosa Sánchez Rodríguez, when a brick wall collapsed
that was the property of the Servicio
Autónomo Nacional de Acueductos y Alcantarillado (SANAA), due to
force majeure, due to heavy rains in the capital at that time, causing
the death of the aforementioned persons.... In that regard, that
circumstance is accepted, since in no way was an effort made to endanger
the life of the persons who were passing by that place.
In addition, before the Honduran courts, and before the
Commission, the State acknowledged having paid the sum of 16,800.00
lempiras as compensation for the death of the persons who perished when
the wall collapsed. The Supreme Court of Justice of Honduras, in a final
from the review of the ruling challenged it is evident that the court
[Court of Appeals] has not unlawfully applied Article 1421 of the Civil
Code, considering that from the background seen and examined it appears
that the complainant, in its brief answering the complaint ... raised
the objection of payment, since the underlying claim that the obligation
to pay on the amount sought had been extinguished, which it showed with
The international protection of human rights, as indicated in the
preamble of the American Convention, “reinforc[es] or complement[s]
the protection provided by the domestic law of the American states.”
The inter-American system for the protection of human rights has
a domestic ambit and an international ambit.
If a specific case is not resolved domestically, the Convention
provides that the second one can be set in motion, with the principal
organs being this Commission and the Inter-American Court of Human
In addition, the Commission is mindful that both domestically and
internationally, there are various ways of making reparation for human
rights violations. The
appropriateness of those many different forms of reparation depends on
the special circumstances in which the alleged violations take place,
and, especially in the domestic sphere, of the type of jurisdiction set
in motion to attain the reparation.
In the instant case, the complainants set in motion the
contentious-administrative jurisdiction, through which they asked the
State to pay compensation for a non-criminal act liability for which was
imputed to it.
In addition, the petitioners, presented their claims at every
level of the domestic legal system, and the Commission is of the opinion
that the judicial guarantees, set forth in article 8 of the Convention,
had not been violated. These
special circumstances lead the IACHR to conclude that, in the matter
under examination, the claim and its dispute were resolved at the
domestic level. Accordingly,
in conformity with article 47(c) of the American Convention, the
Commission finds the alleged violation of the right protected by article
4 of the Convention, to be groundless.
The Commission has established that the petition falls under the
provisions at Article 47(b) and (c) of the American Convention, and
therefore concludes that it is inadmissible.
Based on the arguments of fact and law set forth above,
INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS,
To declare the petition in this matter inadmissible.
To give notice of this decision to the petitioner and to the
To publish this decision and include it in its Annual Report to
the OAS General Assembly.
and signed at the headquarters of the Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights, in the city of Washington, D.C., the 27th day of February 2002.
(Signed): Juan Méndez,
President; Marta Altolaguirre, First Vice-President; José Zalaquett,
Second Vice-President; Robert K. Goldman, Julio Prado Vallejo, and Clare
K. Roberts, Commission members.
September 3, 1998.
That letter appears in the record before the Commission.
The petitioner supported all this information with a copy of the
respective medical certificates.
The original petition submitted by the petitioner was accompanied by
the brief submitted to the SANAA, on May 4, 1995, by which Ms.
Alvarez Lanza and Ms. Rodríguez requested, as compensation for
death, endangering another’s life, and damages, payment of the sum
of 11,430,747.89 lempiras.
The SANAA resolutions appear in the record before the Commission.
In its communication dated May 21, 1999 (received at the IACHR on
June 1, 1999).
The two payment vouchers were submitted to the IACHR by the
petitioner in his initial communication. Each document includes the
respective complainant’s signature, and the legend “For payment
of compensation for the death of persons who died in the collapse of
the SANAA wall in the DIVANNA neighborhood of Comayaguela, MCD,
according to memo AL-018-92.”
Article 1421 of the Honduran Civil Code indicates that obligations
are extinguished, inter alia,
by payment or performance.
Judgment of May 14, 1998.
Honduras ratified the American Convention on September 8, 1977.
Judgment of May 14, 1998.
Report No. 120/01, Petition 0122/01 Atanasio Franco Cano (Paraguay),
October 10, 2001, para. 4, in http://www.cidh.org/annualrep/2001sp/ParaguayPO122.01.htm.
Brief in answer to the contentious-administrative complaint, filed
by SANAA before the judge of first instance for
Judgment of the Supreme Court of Honduras of May 14, 1998.