Lowenstein Clinic and CRR Submit Brief on Sexual Violence to Inter-American Court


On April 13, 2022, the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School and the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) submitted an amicus brief to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in a case alleging that Bolivia had failed to prevent, investigate, or punish someone who had repeatedly raped a child. The brief set out states’ obligations to build children’s capacities to exercise their sexual and reproductive liberties free from any type of gender violence by providing educational and health services that address gendered power dynamics and enable children to take steps to protect themselves from sexual assault.

The case, Angulo Lozada v. Bolivia, was first brought before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on Jan. 20, 2012. The petitioners alleged that Brisa Liliana De Angulo Lozada had, as a child, been sexually assaulted and raped repeatedly by her cousin and that Bolivia had failed to meet its human rights obligation to prevent, investigate, or punish these crimes. The petitioners highlighted similarities between Angulo Lozada’s case and the 2020 landmark case Paola Guzmán Albarracín v. Ecuador, which involved a student who was repeatedly sexually abused by a school official. The court in that case established binding regional standards to prevent sexual violence and harassment in schools.

In its 2019 Merits Report, the Inter-American Commission found Bolivia responsible for violating Angulo Lozada’s rights and ordered the state to provide reparations and health care, conduct investigations and criminal proceedings, and adopt measures to ensure that such violence would not be repeated. On July 17, 2020, the Commission submitted the case to the Inter-American Court.

“Brisa’s case is a paradigmatic opportunity for the Inter-American Court to urge the states of the region to guarantee access to comprehensive sexual education as an essential tool for developing the capacities of girls and adolescents to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights without gender violence,” said Catalina Martinez, CRR’s Senior Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “As in the Paola Guzmán Albarracín case, Brisa’s case reflects the need to provide comprehensive sexual education that allows girls and adolescents to fully understand the implications of sexual and affective relationships and the importance of consent. This is essential for them to have the tools necessary to prevent, identify and denounce sexual violence.”

The amicus brief supports and supplements the petitioners’ allegations and the commission’s Merits Report by asking the court to consider states’ obligations to combat sexual violence against children. In particular, the brief calls on the court to require states to take steps that go beyond the criminal law obligations to prevent, investigate, and punish such violence. The brief focused specifically on obligations to provide the educational and health services that would enable children to recognize sexual violence, to minimize risks, and to seek help.

“One of our main goals was to emphasize the interdependence of civil and political rights and economic, social, and cultural rights,” said Jessica Tueller ’21, a clinic student and co-author. “Comprehensive sex ed, universal health care, robust social and economic assistance programs, and other, similar policies are crucial, not only for repairing harm done to individuals, but also for achieving the kind of transformative cultural change that will prevent sexual violence in the future.”

The brief emphasizes the harm of gender stereotyping, which makes women and girls vulnerable to sexual violence and impinges on their rights to access education, health care, and justice.

“Harmful gender stereotyping combined with social constructions of childhood have traditionally undermined girls’ ability to act, heightening their vulnerability to sexual violence,” said clinic student and co-author Megan Pearson ’21. “The gender stereotyping of girl children and adolescents often leads to situations where even if they do take action to report sexual violence, they are either not believed or are blamed for what happened.”

The brief also emphasizes that its arguments’ focus on children’s progressive autonomy does not and should not displace the framework of protection at the core of the arguments of the petitioner and the Commission. Instead, the brief frames autonomy and protection as mutually reinforcing principles.

The amicus brief was drafted by Alex Miskho ’22, Megan Pearson ’21, and Jessica Tueller ’21, under the supervision of Ryan Thoreson ’14, former Robert M. Cover-Allard K. Lowenstein Fellow in International Human Rights at Yale Law School. The submission followed a March 29 public hearing and a second public hearing on March 30.

The Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School undertakes projects on behalf of human rights organizations and individual victims of human rights abuses. The goals of the Clinic are to provide students with practical experience that reflects the range of activities in which lawyers engage to promote respect for human rights, to help students build the basic knowledge and skills necessary to be effective human rights advocates, and to contribute to efforts to protect human rights through assistance to organizations and individuals.