A Venezuelan woman who was kidnapped and abused as a teenager nearly two decades ago asked the top Americas human rights court Tuesday to declare Venezuela responsible for failing to protect her in the first case of its kind.
In an emotional testimony, Linda Loaiza Lopez told the Inter-American Court on Human Rights how she was held captive for nearly four months by a stranger who repeatedly raped and tortured her.
The case aims to determine if the Venezuelan state was responsible for failing to properly investigate her abduction or punish her kidnapper.
It is the first time the Costa Rica-based court has considered a case about gender-based violence in Venezuela, according to the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), one of two groups representing Lopez.
Lopez was 18 when she was abducted near her home in the Venezuelan capital Caracas in March 2001.
Held under death threats, Lopez said she was raped daily, beaten and tortured.
Her captor tied her up, handcuffed her and stubbed cigarettes out on her face and body, she said.
Lopez, now 35, said she had undergone about 15 operations, including surgeries to reconstruct her face and vagina.
"My process of recovery has been very difficult and traumatic," Lopez told the packed courtroom, her voice shaking.
She was rescued after she managed to shout for help through a window in a room where she was being held.
Her captor Luis Carrera Almoina, the son of a former university rector, was sentenced to six years in prison in 2006 for kidnapping and grievous bodily harm.
Lopez told the court that prosecutors investigating her case had called her a liar and did not believe her.
She also said the authorities had failed to secure convictions on rape and torture charges, resulting in a sentence that was too lenient.
"I ask the court to declare the state of Venezuela responsible for human rights violations," Lopez said.
Violence against women
Activists say the case puts the spotlight on the lack of justice women face, and hope it will allow the court to outline the state's responsibility in preventing gender-based violence.
"The Inter-American Court has the opportunity to issue a ruling that will make the state of Venezuela acknowledge the problem of gender-based violence and take significant steps toward ensuring that such an atrocious crime never happens again," Elsa Meany, CEJIL senior attorney, told Reuters.
Violence against women in Venezuela is rarely punished. Of the nearly 71,000 cases of gender violence reported in 2014, less than one percent went to trial, government figures show.
Rights groups first brought Lopez's case to the court's sister organization, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, in 2007.
It ruled the Venezuelan government had failed to protect Lopez, did not investigate the case with "due diligence" or provide proper care to her as a rape survivor.
The commission later decided Venezuela had failed to act on its recommendations, including improving health care for rape survivors and setting up protocols to investigate violence against women, and in 2016 sent the case to the Inter-American Court.
The court is expected to rule on the case within a year and issue binding orders to Venezuela.