Chilean judge Karen Atala was a panelist at the Global Arc of Justice conference hosted by the Williams Institute at the UCLA Law School campus in March of 2009

Photo Courtesy of Blabbeando

In a precedent setting decision, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled Tuesday in favor of Chilean lesbian judge Karen Atala Riffo, saying that the Supreme Court of Chile’s 2004 ruling that separated the mother from her three daughters was in violation of her right to equality and non-discrimination as stipulated in the American Convention on Human Rights.

It is the first time the Court has ruled on a case of discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Additionally, the court affirmed that in regards to the right to equality and non-discrimination, “sexual orientation and gender identity are protected categories in the American Convention under the phrase ‘other social condition’ established in article 1.1 of the Convention.” and that no legal decisions — whether made by governmental authorities or not — can “diminish or restrict, in no way, a person’s rights because of their sexual orientation.”

The Court also found the Chilean State, through its Supreme Court ruling, “internationally responsible” of violating other principles found in the Convention, including the right to privacy, the protection of family, and the right of children to be heard.

In 2002, Karen separated from her then husband, Jaime López Allende. A custody battle ensued over their three daughters. In 2004, after two appellate courts ruling in Karen’s favor, the Supreme Court of Chile intervened and overturned the lower courts’ rulings, giving custody of their three children to her ex-husband, arguing that Karen had placed her interests above those of her daughters when she decided to live with another woman. In its ruling, the Court argued that allowing the children to stay with their mother would leave them in in a “situation of risk” and turn them into “objects of social discrimination.”

In its decision, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered the Republic of Chile to provide psychological or medical attention, free of charge, should the victims request it and to pay $60 thousand for damages and reimbursement of costs and expenses.

Furthermore, Chile must internationally recognize its responsibility for the acts in the case, publish the Court’s decision in print, on the web, and in official State communications, and continue to implement programs and trainings for regional and national public officials, especially officers of all ranks in Chile’s judiciary branch.

In response to the ruling, the Movement of Gay Integration and Liberation (MOVILH) celebrated.

“Here justice has been served against a brutal case of discrimination that Atala and her daughters faced, and thanks to [Atala's] persistent struggle, the rights of everyone can obtain better guarantees for respect in Chile,” said the organization via press release.

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