Inter-American Court of Human Rights Recognizes Discrimination on Basis of Sexual Orientation

Inter-American Court of Human Rights Recognizes Discrimination on Basis of Sexual Orientation

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights for the first time has recognized unlawful discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, in a decision released two weeks ago, Atala v. Chile (here is the decision, in Spanish).  Congratulations to Macarena Saez, a Chilean lawyer who teaches at my school (Washington College of Law, American University), for leading a team of public interest lawyers to achieve this decision.  As WCL’s associate dean, Mary Clark, summarizes:

[T]he Atala v. Chile decision marks the first time that the Inter American Court has recognized discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. This case began in 2004 when the Chilean Supreme Court denied Judge Karen Atala the custody of her three minor children because she was living with her lesbian partner. Macarena and her team of attorneys from Public Liberties (an association of Chilean attorneys) took the case to the Inter American Commission of Human Rights and, last year, the case made it to the Inter American Court of Human Rights. Macarena argued the case before both the Commission and the Court.

It was a long battle, but the case has come to a very successful end, with a decision that declares sexual orientation a condition protected by the American Convention on Human Rights. The decision also declares that all individuals regardless of sexual orientation enjoy the right to family. Finally, it declares that the best interest of the child cannot be used as an excuse to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

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Benjamin Davis
Benjamin Davis

Big news and congrats to the lawyers and the successful parties.

Sameera Daniels
Sameera Daniels


See you at Brookings this week. Can’t wait to hear what you have to say.

Stephanie Farrior
Stephanie Farrior

Interested readers can listen to a fascinating and informative discussion of the Atala case as well as the larger context of work on LGBT issues in the inter-American system via ASIL recording of a panel I organized for this year’s ASIL Annual Meeting, Developments in UN and Regional Bodies Addressing the Human Rights of LGBTI People. The panel description and speakers:

There has been significant recent activity at the UN and in regional human rights bodies regarding human rights violations that target people because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Ban Ki-moon has also spoken out: “I understand that sexual orientation and gender identity raise sensitive cultural issues. But cultural practice can not justify any violation of human rights.” This panel will brief participants on the latest developments at the UN and regional rights bodies and address some of the complex issues raised.
Moderator: Makau Mutua, SUNY Buffalo Law School
Rosa Celorio, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
Anissa Hélie, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
Scott Long, Harvard Human Rights Program, Harvard Law School