Inter-American Court Newly Condemns the Colombian State
and Calls into Question the Demobilization Process
June 8, 2007
For the sixth time in the last three years, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has ruled against the Colombian State. On this occasion, the Colombian State was condemned for its collaboration with paramilitary groups in the commission of a massacre against judiciary officials. Today, the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) and the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (CCAJAR), representatives of the victims and their family members, were notified by the High Court of this ruling on the case of the massacre of La Rochela, which established that the paramilitary group “Los Masetos”, responsible for this crime, acted with support and collaboration from State agents.
Furthermore, the Court determined that the Colombian State violated the rights to personal liberty, physical safety, and life –in addition to the judicial guarantees and protection- of the victims and their family members, which are established in the American Convention on Human Rights. As a result of these violations, the Court ruled that the Colombian State must conduct and finalize the investigation into the massacre so as to try and punish all of the material and intellectual authors. This ruling by the Inter-American Court constitutes a significant contribution to the search for truth, justice, and reparation for the survivors and family members of the La Rochela massacre.
The case of La Rochela concerns a massacre committed in January 1989 in the township of La Rochela (Department of Santander), in which 12 persons died and 3 survived. The victims, all of them judiciary officials, had been investigating –among other crimes- the massacre of 19 merchants, a case also analyzed by the Inter-American Court in July 2004. The Court considered that the massacre occurred in a context of violence committed against judiciary officials (and under laws that permitted the creation of self-defense groups that later became paramilitary organizations).
Even though the Colombian State recognized its responsibility (and testimony was provided implicating the active participation of State agents in these acts), no progress has been made toward investigating and punishing the responsible parties of this massacre.
The Inter-American Court established that the Colombian State failed to diligently investigate the relationship between the paramilitary group AGDEGAM and senior military commanders. Specifically, the Court mentions the failure to investigate such senior commanders as General Farouk Yanine Díaz, General Carlos Julio Gil Colorado, and Colonel Jaime Fajardo Cifuentes.
Currently, several of the paramilitaries implicated in this massacre are also beneficiaries of the demobilization process (concerning which the Inter-American Court has already issued pronouncements). In this respect, the Court established that the right to truth must be guaranteed “as adequate, participatory, and thorough as possible”, granting the victims the chance to participate “in all of the stages of the respective processes.” Moreover, the Court established that the sentences imposed on the demobilized persons must be proportional, “in function of the diverse nature and gravity of the acts,” and that “the State has the certain duty of making reparations directly and principally for those human rights violations for which it is responsible.” Lastly, the Inter-American Court insisted that the granting of amnesties under Decree 128 “demands the utmost diligence paid by the corresponding authorities to determine if the beneficiary actually participated” or not in grave human rights violations.
The Inter-American Court also called attention upon the total lack of protection provided to the judicial commission that was victim of the massacre, as well as deprotection of the judiciary officials, witnesses and family members, which has affected the efficacy of the investigation. Consequently, the Court insisted in the importance of “an effective system of protection of judiciary officials, witnesses, victims and their family members.”
“Colombian political and judicial authorities should pay close attention this ruling since it gives guidelines for the Colombian State to bring its conduct in the demobilization process into line with international standards insofar as the protection of human rights.” stated Viviana Krsticevic, executive director of CEJIL. Non-compliance to this judicial decision by the Colombian State brought the Inter-American Court to newly condemn the Colombia for not guaranteeing the rights of the victims in the demobilization process.
Rulings issued by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights must be complied to by the member countries of the Organization of American States (OAS) –such as Colombia-, which have accepted its jurisdiction and binds all branches of State power.
Contact at CEJIL:
Contact at José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective: