Page last updated at 10:37 GMT, Wednesday, 7 April 2010 11:37 UK

Chile court custody ruling 'violated' lesbian's rights

Karen Atala (left) and her partner Emma de Ramon: Photo courtesy Las Otras Familias
Karen Atala (left) was not seeking to regain custody of her children

Chile's Supreme Court has been rebuked for a ruling in which a woman lost custody of her children because she was living with her lesbian partner.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) said the ruling was a violation of the woman's human rights.

In 2004, the court ordered Karen Atala to hand over her three daughters to her estranged husband.

The court argued that the girls could be psychologically damaged if they stayed in a same-sex household.

Karen Atala lost custody of her children in May 2004.

She took her case to the IACHR in November the same year.

In its findings, which have now been made public, the commission said that "the Chilean state had violated Karen Atala's right to live free from discrimination".

The IACHR, which is an autonomous body of the Organisation of American States (OAS), called on the Chilean state to make reparations.

It also urged the government to take steps to adopt "legislation, policies and programmes" to prohibit and eradicate discrimination based on sexual orientation.

'Less conservative'

One of Ms Atala's lawyers, Jorge Contesse, said she had not been seeking to regain custody of her children.


"She doesn't want her daughters to go through everything they went through six years ago," Mr Contesse told the BBC.

Ms Atala's aim, he said, was to make sure the government took steps towards ending discrimination against sexual minorities.

"Chilean society is much less conservative than we think," Mr Contesse said. "It is the Chilean authorities, the Chilean elites that sometimes think that this is a very conservative, a very Catholic country."

The government of Sebastian Pinera, who took office in March, has indicated that it will accept the IACHR's recommendations.

"The government is not going to discriminate against anyone based on their ethnic origin, religion, or sexual orientation," said spokeswoman Ena von Baer.

During the election campaign, Mr Pinera said that the rights of all people should be protected, "whatever their sexual orientation".

Gay rights groups in Chile say the IACHR's findings are an opportune moment for the president to make good on this promise, says BBC Mundo correspondent Rodrigo Bustamante.

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