Hastings International and Comparative Law Review


The Inter-American Court of Human Rights recently issued a series of controversial judgments in which it held States accountable for violations of the right to life, even when no one had died. The Court expanded the traditional scope of the right to life to include the right to live a "vida digna" or a dignified life. In doing so, the Court has introduced a qualitative aspect to the right to life. In certain circumstances in which vulnerable individuals or groups lacked basic necessities such as adequate food, water, sanitary facilities, and health care, the Court held that the State was liable for a violation of the right to live a vida digna. This paradigm shift arguably advances international law by integrating the traditionally separate areas of civil and political rights with economic and social rights, at least within the interpretation of the right to life. A problem, however, is that the Court's jurisprudence is not yet developed to the extent necessary to identify the parameters of the justiciability of the right to live a dignified life. Considering the abject poverty in many parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, the Inter-American system could be flooded with applications alleging a violation of this right. This article formulates a multi-part test to determine when an applicant has established a prima facie case for a violation of the right to a vida digna. It then proposes affirmative defenses available to the State, and suggests an allocation of the burden of proof between the applicant and the State.