The Inter-American Court of Human Rights opened today in Bogotá, Colombia with the discrimination case of a Chilean judge who lost custody of her three daughters in 2004, after the Supreme Court of Chile ruled that allowing them to stay with their mother would leave them in a “situation of risk” and turn them into “objects of social discrimination.”
This case may set a precedent in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, since it has never before ruled on case of discrimination based on sexual orientation.
In 2002, Karen Atala Riffo separated from her husband, Jaime López Allende. Despite two appellate courts ruling in Atala’s favor and giving her custody of their daughters, the Supreme Court of Chile intervened and ruled on May 31, 2004 that custody of their three children should go to her ex-husband, arguing that Atala had placed her interests above those of her daughters when she decided to live with another woman.
Having exhausted all her options in Chile, a suit was filed against the Republic of Chile, on behalf of Atala, in September 2010 by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), after recommendations made by the IACHR during the original suit went unheeded.
In the suit, IACHR argues that the “rights of Ms. Karen Atala and her three daughters were arbitrarily and abusively abridged when the Supreme Court of Justice of Chile revoked from Ms. Atala custody of her three daughters based exclusively on discriminatory prejudices by reason of her sexual orientation.”
During the hearing, Atala gave her testimony, saying, “Being a woman, being a mother is part of my identity,” and lamenting that due to the separation, two of her daughters have no memories with her.
The Court will continue to listen to testimony until tomorrow, however, it may take months before a decision is reached. In the meantime, Atala’s daughters remain in the custody of their father.
Karen Atala is aware of the precedent she may set for Latin America. “I don’t want, ever again, for a tribunal to decide what is or isn’t a normal family.”