Deciding body (English)
Deciding body (Original)
Type of body
Type of Court (material scope)
Type of jurisdiction
Type of Court (territorial scope)
Outcome of the decision
The plaintiff (prisoner) filed a protective action (tutela) against the General Institute of Penitentiary Facilities (INPEC) and a public prison, alleging a violation of his fundamental rights to equality, to family, to health, and to human dignity. He argued that, although the national government had ordered lifting of Covid-19 restrictions with regard to family visits, the prison had not followed these orders and did not allow his family to visit him. The Court found that while the fundamental rights of the inmate had been violated the violation had been overcome as the restrictions were lifted during the trial. According to the Court, people deprived of their freedom were in a vulnerable condition which created special duties for the state to protect them and guarantee their rights. As there was a constitutional right to rehabilitation and, according to the Court, family visits have a positive impact towards this end, these visits must be guaranteed (albeit within certain constitutional restrictions). As authorities had already ordered reinstatement of family visits, the penitentiary authorities acted arbitrarily by not lifting such restrictions in the prison.
Facts of the case
In March 2020 Colombia declared a national emergency due to Covid-19 establishing certain penitentiary restrictions related to family visits. In 2021 the national government ordered penitentiary facilities to regulate family visits, following sanitary rules to mitigate the spread of Covid-19. The plaintiff alleged that he had only been allowed one family visit (on March 10, 2021) since the declaration of the emergency. The plaintiff alleged that a lack of family visits had caused numerous psychological problems and lack of appetite. The plaintiff filed a protective action and on August 9, 2021, a lower court declared there to be a violation of fundamental rights. The penitentiary facility appealed the decision and on September 16, 2021, the higher court confirmed the decision. On August 30, 2022, the Court reviewed the decision and found that the fundamental rights of the plaintiff had been violated. However, the violation was no longer an issue as the restrictions on family visits had been lifted.
Type of measure challenged
Measures, actions, remedies claimed
- Declare that Plaintiff's fundamental rights had been violated
- Order penitentiary authorities to reinstate Plaintiff's visitation rights
Individual / collective enforcement
Nature of the parties
Type of procedure
Reasoning of the deciding body
The Court reasoned that family visits were part of the fundamental right of the inmate to rehabilitation. According to the Court, there was a positive impact on the inmate who can see and interact with his/her family. According to the Court, while this right can be restricted, particularly during a national emergency like the Covid-19 pandemic, these restrictions must follow the law and be narrow, to protect the mental well-being of prisoners. Public authorities, in the present case, had not followed national orders in this regard and were thus acting arbitrarily.
Conclusions of the deciding body
The Court concluded that public authorities had violated the fundamental rights of the plaintiff, although during the trial, the violation had ceased as the restrictions were lifted.
Fundamental Right(s) involved
Fundamental Right(s) instruments (constitutional provisions, international conventions and treaties)
- Human dignity, Art. 1, Colombian Constitution
- Equality, Art. 13, Colombian Constitution
- Right to a family, Art. 42, Colombian Constitution
- Right to health, Art. 49, Colombian Constitution
Rights and freedoms specifically identified as (possibly) conflicting with the right to health
General principle applied
Balancing techniques and principles (proportionality, reasonableness, others)
The Court emphasized that every penitentiary authority must duly follow the orders provided for by the national government concerning family visits. According to the Court, the authorities had failed to comply with these orders and acted arbitrarily, violating the fundamental rights of prisoners. Implicitly, the Court stated that no penitentiary authority was above the law.
On the type of procedure: Special procedures (protective action – tutela, art. 86 of the Colombian Constitution)