INFOBAE[1], May 13, 2021

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The decision is one that forbids the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó (Antioquia Province) to complain about the Armed Forces unless there is a criminal conviction.

In the midst of the dozens of complaints about alleged government repression and about attacks on the press, the Colombian Constitutional Court affirmed a decision that, according to international human rights organizations, could affect freedom of expression throughout the country. The decision forbids the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó (Antioquia Province) to complain about the Armed Forces unless there is a criminal conviction.

“If Colombian organizations can’t complain about suspected violations of human rights, how can investigations be commenced? In the current context of the national strike, where civil society organizations are complaining about nearly 40 cases of murder by the government’s Armed Forces and a whole lot of other human rights violations, just imagine if we weren’t allowed to complain about that,” said Fernanda Doz Costa, Director of the Investigations Unit for the Americas in Amnesty International.

Even one of the Justices, Jorge Enrique Ivañez, who is in favor of vacating the decision, stated that it’s “disproportionate”.

“To demand as a requisite for being allowed to make a complaint that there be convictions filed by a court before free expression can be permitted, exceeds jurisprudential standards and is an excessive and unjustified burden,” said the Justice in delivering his opinion.

Furthermore, there have been arguments in favor of the group for the work that it’s doing. The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó was created more than 20 years ago and since then it defends the rights of the campesinos who were caught in the middle of the violence carried out by the paramilitaries and the guerrillas since 1997.

“The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó is a benchmark in the defense of human rights in Colombia. Its complaints about violations of human rights , and its refusal to collaborate with any armed actor, have resulted in the killing of more than 300 people in the community, besides threats, false positives, tortures, and attempted murders. Free expression is the cornerstone of a democratic society, and if that conflicts with a public official’s right to a good name, what we know of international jurisprudence is that the former prevails,” stated the International Human Rights Network (RIDH in Spanish), headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, in several communications.

We have to remember that this case commenced several years ago, when in 2018, the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó accused the 17th Brigade of the Colombian Army of “acting in complicity with illegal organizations,” specifically, the paramilitaries. Faced with the accusation, Colonel Carlos Alberto Padilla, Commander of the Brigade, decided to file a civil rights action against the Community.

At the trial court and first appeal levels, the Judges sided with the Colonel. The court in 2021 even concluded that, since the Peace Community had violated the Brigade’s right to honor and a good name, it would have to retract its statements.

“It’s beyond reproach that the defendant, seeking protection by claiming to be making a public complaint, presents assertively and repeatedly events, without naming individuals or describing circumstances of time, place, and manner, transmits the idea that the complicity and acquiescence of the plaintiff with paramilitary organizations is fully established,” reads the decision.

[1] INFOBAE is a human rights web site.

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