El ESPECTADOR, November 24, 2020
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
In March of this year, after an attempt at a revolt, 24 inmates were killed and another 76 were injured in a violent night of protest in the La Modelo Prison in Bogotá. After eight months, a report by Human Rights Watch indicates that the guards acted intentionally.
“The majority of the bullet wounds described in the autopsy reports are consistent with a conclusion that they were inflicted with intent to kill.” That was one of the conclusions reached by forensic experts in an investigation led by the international organization Human Rights Watch, on the violent night of protest that took place Saturday last March 21, in the La Model Prison in Bogotá. According to the National Institute of Forensic Medicine, 24 inmates lost their lives and another 76 were injured in that night of anarchy.
Intending to investigate the causes of the inmate deaths, Human Rights Watch hired a group of independent forensic experts (IFEG) and also the International Council of Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture (RCT) to analyze the 24 autopsy reports issued by Colombian authorities. The evaluation, based on their experience, is devastating. “The autopsy reports contain no indication of bullets being fired with only the intention of inflicting injury, in place of intending to kill.”
According to the forensic physicians James Lin, Duarte Nuno Viera, and Morris Tidball-Blinz, 14 of the autopsies show that the deaths were homicides. That’s to say, that we could be talking about a massacre within La Modelo Prison. “In addition, the reports don’t show any sign of bullet injury with only the intention to injure, instead of to kill (for example, shooting someone in the leg to keep him from running away),” added the experts in their report to Human Rights Watch.
The report also establishes that, using the autopsy reports, it’s not possible to determine whether some of the prisoners were subjected to torture or mistreatment. Nevertheless, in some cases, the bodies show non-fatal contusions that were inflicted close in time to the moment of death, but are not related to the bullet wounds. “These injuries generally result from attempts to ward off a physical attack by another person,” stated the forensic physicians.
José Miguel Vivanco, Americas Director at Human Rights Watch, underscored that the 24 deaths in the La Modelo Prison show a high probability of having been intentional, and that, even so, there has been no significant progress in the criminal investigation in the case. “The authorities in the Attorney General’s Office are obligated to go ahead with investigations that are appropriate, impartial, and exhaustive, and to guarantee that those responsible for the use of excessive and unjustified lethal force are held responsible for their actions” According to Attorney General Francisco Barbosa, all of it was a plan orchestrated by ring-leaders of the ELN and the FARC.
Going along with Francisco Barbosa’s comments, the former Justice Minister, Margarita Cabello, insisted in video statements that the night of the revolt was planned in order to destabilize the penitentiary system. “We have verified that this had nothing to do with the coronavirus, but was just a cover for them to carry out a criminal prison break. We have received audios where we were informed of the plan put together by dark forces to create a massive prison break.” According to the authorities, the protests did not just take place in La Modelo but they also happened in 12 other prisons in the country.
The videos made by the inmates themselves, (they were not allowed to have cell phones in the prison) showed a horrifying situation. Burned mattresses alerted the authorities and the neighbors. Dozens of inmates were scrambling up the gray walls of the prison and the guards, trying to maintain order, were firing their weapons and shooting off stun guns. The inmates started with a “cacerolazo” (banging on pots and pans), because they wanted effective measures to combat the coronavirus, which had just arrived in Colombia. Everything spun out of control.
On the night of the revolt, March 21, 2020, Colombia’s prisons were overcrowded by 58%. According to the allegations by the inmates, the coronavirus was predicted to be a serious threat to some citizens who could not isolate, and who were experiencing overpopulation in subhuman conditions, as had been established by the Constitutional Court in three decisions: in 1998, 2013, and 2015. According to data from the National Institute of Health, at the time, one out of every1,000 persons living at large are infected by Covid-19; however in the prisons, the figure multiplies to 7.6 persons out of every 1,000.
Human Rights Watch concludes its report by explaining that in August of this year their delegates met with Attorney General Francisco Barbosa to talk about the investigation of the 24 deaths in La Modelo Prison. “Barbosa stated that his agency had not charged anyone in relation to those events. He claimed that the prosecutors were moving on three different lines of investigation of the revolts, the deaths and injuries, and whether the prison guards had used excessive force,” reported the organization. Two months after that conversation, the Attorney General’s Office still had not filed any charges.