(Translated by Costanza Generali, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Just short of thirty years of an incessant search by relatives of those who were disappeared during the Palacio de Justicia holocaust, yesterday the Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Science publicly identified the skeletal remains of three of these missing people: CRISTINA DEL PILAR GUARÍN and LUZ MARY PORTELA LEÓN, were workers in the courthouse cafeteria; and LUCY AMPARO OVIEDO, an occasional visitor. All three disappeared during the events that occurred on November 6th and 7th of 1985 in the city of Bogotá.
To the families of Cristina, Luz Mary, and Lucy Amparo, we express our immense solidarity, for the thirty years they have in anguish, lacking any information regarding the victims’ whereabouts.
We join the families and all who have accompanied them in this search, in requesting investigative operations to provide a comprehensive clarification of the circumstances of time, manner, and place in which the victims died, as well as how the remains were moved to the place in which they were found.
The work being done by the Fiscalía General de la Nación (National District Attorney) in the search and identification of bodies is the result of both orders from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and the tireless fight of relatives and their representatives. In November 2014 the international organization deemed the Colombian state responsible for the grave human rights violations committed by the Colombian Army while regaining control of the Palacio de Justicia.
In its decision, the I/A Court included in the recognition of the state’s accountability: lack of rigor in the handling of cadavers and safeguarding of the scene at which the events occurred; improper handling of evidence; methods used to preserve the chain of custody; and other offenses. The Final Report of the Truth Commission on the Palacio de la Justicia Events (2010), as well as national courts, had already established the existence of conclusive evidence of alteration of the crime scene and irregularities in body removal.
In addition, the I/A Court determined that a group of people that had been classified as “suspicious” or “special”—in other words, marked as being part of guerrilla forces—were forcibly taken from the Palacio de Justicia by the army, led to the Casa del Florero, and subsequently taken to military grounds where they were tortured. Some of the victims of torture were later freed and provided brave testimonies from which judicial authorities were able to reconstruct the modus operandi of the army forces. However, another group of victims, including the cafeteria workers, were desaparecidos (forcefully “disappeared” by the government).
There exists video footage showing various people being taken alive into military custody – among them the cafeteria manager Carlos Augusto Rodríguez, who disappeared; the M-19 guerrilla fighter WILLIAM ALMONACID, who was later found executed; and the Assistant Judge to the State Council CARLOS HORACIO URÁN ROJAS, who, after being taken from the building, was disappeared and later found executed inside the Palacio – constituting irrefutable evidence of the state’s violations. Within the penal process it was demonstrated with certainty that CARLOS AUGUSTO RODRÍGUEZ and IRMA FRANCO PINEDA were taken alive from the Palacio de Justicia and forcibly disappeared, events for which Colonel Alfonso Plazas Vega was later convicted.
It has already been established that the Colombian army knew in advance that the M-19 guerrillas would take over the Palacio de Justicia; and that despite of this knowledge, military security was removed one day before the takeover – facts for which the state was further condemned by the Inter-American Court. In this setting, the Colombian state took responsibility for the unlawful manipulation of the crime scene and the irregular handling of cadavers.
A year after the Inter-American Court handed down the judgement, governmental compliance is minimal, particularly regarding its obligations to: investigate the truth surrounding instances of torture, forced disappearance, and extrajudicial executions; provide immediate medical and psychological services to the relatives of victims; and publicly recognize its international responsibility for the human rights violations declared in the I/A Court sentence – all efforts that should be led President of the Republic Juan Manuel Santos.
The commemoration of the thirtieth anniversary of these events should be a loud call of alarm for the Colombian state to settle its historical debt of truth, justice, and reparation with the Palacio de Justicia victims.
As representatives of the victims we request:
- Further investigation based due diligence so as to establish the truth of: the circumstances of time, manner, and place in which Cristina del Pilar Guarín, Luz Mary Portela, and Lucy Amparo Oviedo lost their lives; the way in which their bodies arrived at the site in which they were found and identified; and the criminal responsibility of the perpetrators.
- We call upon the Fiscalía General de la Nación to make all necessary efforts to find the bodies of all persons forcibly disappeared in the events at the Palacio de Justicia, and hand over the remains to their families, so that they may honor them according to their beliefs and values; and to investigate and try all those responsible for forced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and any violation of human rights committed while taking back control of the Palacio de Justicia.
- We request that the authorities comply with the obligation to make restitution to victims’ rights and to provide transparency in judicial inquiries, while relying on forensic experts to join in search operations, analysis, and the identification of remains. This should be done under the supervision the United Nations-Human Rights, to the effect of producing a comprehensive analysis of skeletal remains from the Palacio de Justicia.
- We representatives of victims consider it in the interest of truth and transparency of judicial inquiries to rely on experts of forensic matters to accompany – as in the past – in search operations, analysis, and identification of remains.
- We demand that judicial and administrative authorities immediately comply with the Inter-American Court’s ruling in the case of desaparecidos at the Palacio de Justicia, victims of torture, and the execution of Magistrate Carlos Horacio Urán, along with other crimes committed by agents of the police force.
The Lawyer’s Collective, Jose Alvear Restrepo
Interfaith Commission of Justice and Peace
Network of Non-Institutional Defenders of Colombia