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IFL Voices: Inter-American Court of Human Rights and Child Abduction

Janaina Alburquerque

IFL Voices: Inter-American Court of Human Rights and Child Abduction
Andersen Ross via Getty Images

Córdoba v. Paraguay is the first international child abduction case to be assessed by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The judgment was published on 13 December 2023, almost 15 years after the applicant presented his petition to the Inter-American Commission.

The procedural rules of the Inter-American System provide that all cases must firstly be examined by the Commission, which will later issue a recommendation or refer the case to the Court’s appreciation. States can only be charged if they have ratified the American Convention of Human Rights and explicitly accepted the Court’s jurisdiction.

The facts of the case date back to January 2006, when the Mother relocated with the child from Argentina to Paraguay without the Father’s consent. Administrative return proceedings were initiated by Mr. Córdoba 4 days after the abduction took place.

As the case involves two States that are parties to the Inter-American System, the 1989 Inter-American Convention on the International Restitution of Children mechanism supersedes the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

The judicial return proceedings started on 10 April 2006. The Mother claimed that there was a history of physical and psychological domestic violence that put the child in a situation of grave risk, in accordance with Article 11 of the 1989 Inter-American Convention. Nevertheless, the Paraguayan Court of First Instance decided that the child must return to Argentina, which was subsequently confirmed by the Court of Appeal on 14 August 2006 and ultimately by the Supreme Court on 18 September of the same year. Neither the Mother nor the child attended the restitution hearing, and both remained missing until 2015. INTERPOL located them at the city of Atyrá, in Paraguay, and custody was forthwith granted to the maternal aunt.

In March 2017, the Juvenile Court of Atyrá decided that the child must stay in Paraguay and a contact arrangement with the paternal family was established after the Paraguayan Central Authority appealed. In his last appearance before the Court, on May 2019, the child stated that he did not want to maintain any bond with his father.

Mr. Córdoba seized the Inter-American Commission on 30 January 2009, but the case was only referred to the Inter-American Court on 7 January 2022. He had initially included his son as a co- applicant, yet the Court refrained from analyzing the violations that affected the child as he had already reached the age of majority and expressed that he did not feel like a victim.

As regards the violations of judicial guarantees and protection, the Court found that although the judicial return proceedings were finalized within eight (8) months, the morosity and lack of diligence of the Paraguayan authorities to implement enforcement measures resulted in the consolidation of an illicit situation. Furthermore, it had not been reasonable that the State of Paraguay was not able to locate a child who regularly attended school and received care from the public health services for 9 years. In relation to the protection of the rights of personal integrity, as well as private and family life, it was concluded that the exceptional promptness required by the circumstances resulted in a rupture of paternal bonds and that the applicant was subjected to a permanent state of anguish.

Amongst the reparations, it was determined that the State of Paraguay should publish a summary of the judgment in media outlets of wide national circulation; pay a sum in compensation, as well as psychological and psychiatric treatment to the applicant; create a database to cross-reference information on internationally abducted children with all public systems that record data on people; and provide training for public servants on the issues appertaining to international child abduction.