Washington D.C., 11 de December, 2014.- Colombia has been found responsible for serious violations of human rights committed during the siege and capture of the Palace of Justice – headquarters for Colombia’s Supreme Court and Council of State -, on November 6 and 7, 1985.
In a ruling made public yesterday, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights (Inter-American Court), stated that the event constituted a "pre-announced siege" and that the Army had prior intelligence information about the imminent takeover of the Palace by the M-19 guerrilla group. In spite of this prior knowledge, two days before the siege, security for judges and staff who worked at the courthouse was withdrawn, leaving nearly 250 people unprotected.
In its decision, the Inter-American Court determined that Colombia is responsible for the forced disappearance of a member of the M-19, seven cafeteria workers operating at the headquarters of the Palace, and two visitors. Additionally, the Court determined that two people were deprived of their right to life. Similarly, the Inter-American Court considered proven the fact that four people left the courthouse alive: three of them were illegally detained and tortured by members of the military and one of them was subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment. In the case of the Assistant Judge Carlos Horacio Urán, the Court concluded that he exited the courthouse alive, was tortured and extra-judicially executed by members of the security forces, and then his lifeless body was returned to the Palace.
The Court ruled in favor of the victims of the case and their families, who fought against the "pact of silence" and impunity that surrounded the facts of the Palace of Justice for nearly 30 years.
For Viviana Krsticevic, Executive Director of CEJIL, "This decision provides an answer to the victims and Colombian society, which for three decades have demanded to know the truth of what happened at the Palace of Justice." However, she adds that, "The complete truth will be ensured only through the implementation of this decision by Colombian institutions: investigating all of the guilty, finding the remains of the victims still missing, and clarifying what happened on November 6 and 7, 1985 ."
To date there are only two firm sentences for some of the disappearances. One is against General (r) Arias Cabrales for the disappearance of five victims and another against Colonel (r) Plazas Vega for the disappearance of Irma Franco and Carlos Augusto Rodríguez Vera. Both are serving their respective sentences of 35 and 30 years of imprisonment in military installations. However, an appeal on the case of Colonel (r) Plazas Vega is currently pending. It is expected that the Supreme Court will issue a decision in the coming days.
Considering the limited justice achieved with regards to the case of the missing persons and the existing impunity experienced by the other victims, the IA Court ordered Colombia to conduct a thorough investigation and to punish those responsible.
This ruling is of great relevance to the current Colombian context, where several projects to expand military jurisdiction are pending. Within the ruling, the Court reiterated that military jurisdiction lacks the competency to investigate cases of serious violations of human rights.
Due to the fact that the State has only managed to identify one of the disappeared victims, the Court required the State to conduct all actions necessary to locate the remains of the victims immediately.
"For years, my daughters and I lived deceived by the Colombian State, which made us believe that my husband had died in the crossfire," said Ana Maria Bidegain, widow of Assistant Judge Carlos Horacio Urán. "We now know that he was executed and we will not cease until the Colombian justice system prosecutes all perpetrators. We will also not cease to support those who, overcoming fear and pain, demand that truth is a prior and essential step towards seeking justice and achieving peace.”
Link to the sentence (Spanish only): goo.gl/D8JUH1