(Sent and translated by the  Alvear Restrepo Collective)

José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective
Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo
October 25, 2007
Bogotá, Colombia  
On the September 29, 2007, the delegate prosecutor before the Supreme Court of
Justice took the unprecedented decision of certifying copies for the
Indictment Commission of the Chamber of Representatives to investigate former
president Belisario Betancur Cuartas’s involvement in the disappearance of
eleven persons, among them cafeteria employees, Palace visitors, and a
guerrilla member. The prosecutor delegate also sent copies to the Office the
Attorney General to investigate General Rafael Samudio Molina, commander of
the national army, and General Jesús Armando Arias Cabrales, commander of the
XIII Brigade, who were then a part of the armed forces chain of command. This
decision is vitally important for the right to truth and justice of the
victims, their relatives, Colombian society, and the international community
as a whole. Since these violations occurred in the very heart of the Republic,
this may be the most significant case in the legal history of Colombia from
the last century.
The indictment was also issued against Colonel (Ret.) Edilberto Sánchez Rubiano,
chief of the XIII Brigade’s B-2 Unit, Major (Ret.) Oscar William Vásquez
Rodríguez, his immediate subordinate in the Casa del Florero, as well as three
noncommissioned intelligence officers, for the punishable offenses of
aggravated kidnapping and forced disappearance for the disappearance of eleven
persons who were alive when they left the Palace of Justice.
Up to now, Colonel (Ret.) Luis Alfonso Plazas Vega, former commander of the
Cavalry School and presently under preventive detention, has been linked to
the investigation given he commanded the operation to take back the Palace of
Justice, carried out intelligence work on the persons removed, and considered
them “suspects” or “special”. In the tactical unit under his command, grave
human rights violations were committed, including forced disappearances, acts
of torture, extrajudicial executions, and other cruel, degrading and inhumane
treatment. Colonel (Ret.) Luis Carlos Sadovnik Sánchez, second-in-command and
chief of staff of the XIII Brigade, has also been linked to the investigation.
However, copies still need to be certified concerning Generals Rafael
Hernández López and Carlos Fracica Naranjo, members of the Artillery School,
as well as other commanders from such tactical units as the Marine School,
Presidential Guard and Military Police Battalions, due to the role carried out
by their units in the handling of the hostages and other persons who left the
building. This would be in accordance with the “doctrine of the chain of
command” or co-authorship, which international criminal courts interpret as
all actors sharing a common plan consisting of attempting to take part in a
joint criminal enterprise and favoring -individually and jointly- the criminal
For the first time in Colombia, a prosecutor certified copies for the civil
courts to investigate the practice of torture that may have been committed
against disappeared persons’ relatives, who are also victims. Insofar as cases
concerning the forced disappearance of persons, jurisprudence of the
Inter-American Court allows understanding the violation of the right to the
psychic and moral integrity of the victims’ relatives as a specific, direct
consequence of this phenomenon. This situation causes them to severely suffer
from the act itself, which, among other factors, increases when State
authorities continually do not provide information on the whereabouts of the
victim or initiate an effective investigation to achieve the clarification of
the acts.
It should not be forgotten the progress achieved up to now is the result of
the insistence and perseverance of the relatives of the persons disappeared
from the cafeteria at the Palace of Justice. On June 29, 2001, these relatives
requested the Colombian Attorney General to open a judicial investigation for
the disappearance of their loved ones. On November 2005, twenty years after
the acts were committed, Attorney General Mario Iguarán Arana especially
appointed the Fourth Delegate Prosecutor before the Supreme Court of Justice
to pursue the investigation to its end.
As a part of the investigation, it has been proven intelligence agencies from
the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the military forces, senior army, navy and air
force intelligence officers, senior national police intelligence officers, and
senior DAS intelligence officers, had been informed –since October 16, 1985-
M-19 was going to take over the headquarters of the Supreme Court of Justice.
The authorities also knew members of the Council of State were under threat,
since the latter had received death threats in October 1985.
Nonetheless, days before the takeover, the public force withdrew the police
guard at the Palace of Justice, a decision not intervened by any magistrate
from the high courts, which presumably violated the State’s obligation of
preventing the commission of the act. To the contrary, this act was
facilitated with the purpose of both eliminating the guerrilla command as well
as the magistrates of the Supreme Court of Justice and the Council of State,
who inconvenienced them with investigations.
The investigation also dismissed the possibility members of the cafeteria or
the regular or chance visitors could have any link with the members of the
guerrilla group. Additionally, the investigation determined the fire at the
Palace of Justice resulted from a projectile shot by the national army from the
outside towards the library and that this fire began at five in the afternoon
on November 6, 1985.
The investigation also reaffirmed the irregular inhumation of the bodies in a
common grave as ordered by Judge 78 of the military criminal proceedings, who
did not posses any file relating to the preliminary proceedings of the
investigation and issued the extra procedural order to bury a group of 25
bodies in a common grave, 17 of which had still not been identified and thus
interrupting the process being carried out by the relatives to recognize the
In this regard, we demand the Indictment Commission of the Chamber of
Representatives to seriously investigate the participation of then president
Belisario Betancur for the disappearance of these persons -not as a mere
formality or in a manner meant to fail- as required by international human
rights standards. Likewise, we also expect the Office of the Attorney General
to initiate investigations against Generals (Ret.) Rafael Samudio Molina and
Jesús Armando Arias Cabrales.
The criminal judges of the Specialized Circuit Court in Bogotá (who must try
Colonels (Ret.) Luis Alfonso Plazas Vega and Edilberto Sánchez Rubiano, and
their subordinates, for the forced disappearance of eleven persons at the
Palace of Justice) have an immense responsibility with the victims’ relatives,
Colombian society, and the international community, who are waiting for the
results. The Supreme Court of Justice is also not divested of responsibility,
which has issued important decisions this year on political crime and
para-politics and should also investigate or try senior officials of the
military command.
As requested by the victims’ relatives, the case of the persons disappeared at
the Palace of Justice is presently being studied by the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights, which should issue a decision this next year on if
it sends the case to the Inter-American Court, concerning which it will bear
in mind the behavior of Colombian judicial bodies.

Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI  53701-1505
phone:  (608) 257-8753
fax:  (608) 255-6621
e-mail:  csn@igc.org

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