Paolo Carozza testifies before Inter-American Court of Human Rights in case of Beatriz v. El Salvador

Author: Denise Wager

Professor of Law Paolo Carozza

Notre Dame Law Professor Paolo Carozza testified last week in a landmark human rights case before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica. The plaintiffs in the high-profile case, Beatriz et al. v. El Salvador, are asking the court to declare the right to an abortion to be an internationally recognized human right.

Beatriz was a 21-year-old woman from El Salvador who sought an early abortion because she had lupus and some of her doctors advised her that pregnancy could exacerbate her health condition, and because her unborn child was anencephalic. She was prevented from terminating the pregnancy because abortion is illegal in El Salvador. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights filed an application last year before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights arguing that the absolute ban on the elective termination of pregnancy in El Salvador violated that country’s obligations under the American Convention on Human Rights.

Carozza served on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights from 2006 to 2010 and was the commission’s president in 2008-09. He is recognized as a leading expert in comparative constitutional, human rights and international law. He was asked by the court to testify as an expert witness about which international legal standards should be applied in the case. His 50-page written report and oral testimony addressed how the principle of human dignity is relevant in this case; the importance of the right to equal protection of all humans without regard to their development, capacities, sex or other condition; and the obligations and discretion of states under international human rights law to adopt measures to protect human life prior to birth.

In his testimony, Carozza said that international human rights law confirms without exception that the recognition and protection of the equal dignity of every human being is the cornerstone of all universal human rights and that the principle of human dignity on which all international human rights law rests consists of four essential qualities: universal, equal, inherent and inalienable.

“These four dimensions of human dignity have clear implications for the rights at stake in this case. They entail that a mother and her child, born or unborn, including both Beatriz and her daughter, are equal bearers of human dignity,” said Carozza. “That cannot change because one of them is ill or disabled or less developed or more vulnerable, any more than it could change because one human being is of a different gender or race or sexual orientation or social class than another. That equal human dignity in turn requires States to respect and protect the equal human rights of every human being.”
He further said, “The right to life, as noted frequently in this Court’s jurisprudence, is the first of those rights because without it all other rights are rendered null and meaningless. The text of Article 4.1 of the American Convention on Human Rights places it beyond any reasonable dispute that in Inter-American human rights law, human beings are holders of the right to life even before birth, from the moment of conception.”

In conclusion, Carozza urged the court “to affirm unequivocally that the duty of States is to protect equally the human rights of both women and children, born and unborn.”

Carozza currently serves on the European Commission for Democracy through Law (the Venice Commission) and is a member of the Oversight Board, an independent expert body created by Meta. He was previously a member of the U.S. State Department’s independent, nonpartisan advisory Commission on Unalienable Rights. Carozza founded and directs the Notre Dame Constitutionalism and the Rule of Law Lab. For over a decade he served as director of Kellogg Institute for International Studies and of Notre Dame Law School’s J.S.D. program. His scholarly books and articles in the areas of comparative constitutional law and human rights law have been published widely in four languages.

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A video of Carozza’s testimony is embedded below. Watch a video of the full hearing here.


Originally published by Denise Wager at on March 30.