Case of the Street Children ”(Villagrán-Morales et al.) v. Guatemala

Petition related to the death of five street children. Interpretation of right to life as including minimum conditions for a dignified life. The States' obligation to adopt special measures aimed at children. Interpretation of American Convention based on International Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Date of the Ruling: 
Nov 19 1999
Inter-American Court of Human Rights
Type of Forum: 

A petition was filed with the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) against the State of Guatemala alleging the kidnapping, torture and death of four minors and the murder of a fifth one in 1990, in the city of Guatemala, by members of the security forces, and the State's failure to provide adequate judicial protection to the victims' families. The IACHR submitted the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which found the State had been responsible for the death of the children and stressed the fundamental nature of the right to life, as enshrined in the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR). The Court stated that the right to life comprises not only the right of all persons to not being deprived of life arbitrarily, but also the right to having access to the conditions needed to lead a dignified life. The Court found violations of the rights to personal freedom and integrity, as well as of standards in the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Sanction Torture. The Court also concluded the State had failed to comply with its obligation to adopt special measures to protect children whose rights are under threat or violated (cf. Art. 19 ACHR), resorting to several standards in the International Convention on the Rights of the Child to define the scope of the “protection measures” mentioned in the said article. The Court ordered the State to pay damages to the victims' families and to take the necessary measures to adjust domestic regulations to article 19 of the Convention. The Court also ordered the State to give an educational institution a name referring to the young victims, and to investigate the facts, identify and sanction those found responsible, as well as to adopt in its domestic law the regulations needed to ensure compliance with such obligation.

Keywords: Case of the Street Children ”(Villagrán-Morales et al.) v. Guatemala, Life, Right

Enforcement of the Decision and Outcomes: 

In its decision dated November 27, 2003, the Court considered the State had complied with most of the measures ordered. The Court also decided to maintain a supervision process open to follow up on the enforcement of the obligation to investigate the facts, try and sanction those responsible for human rights violations. The Court asked the State to submit a compliance report by April 1, 2004.

Groups involved in the case: 

Petitioners: Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional ( and Casa Alianza de Nicaragua (

Significance of the Case: 

This was the first time the Inter-American Court referred to the States' obligation to adopt special measures to protect children, basing its interpretation on the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, its interpretation did not include a precise scope of the legal framework. Furthermore, the Court defined the right to life in a comprehensive way including not only the right to not being deprived of life arbitrarily, but also the access to conditions guaranteeing a dignified life (see below: Mary Beloff, “Cuando un caso no es “el caso”. Comentario a la sentencia Villagrán Morales y otros (Caso de los “Niños de la calle”).