THE RIGHT TO LIFE
The right to life, which protects and defends a human being's
very existence, is doubtless the basis of all other rights.
Hence, any increase in the number of violations of this right
is indicative of a truly serious human rights situation in a country.
With the violence that Colombia is experiencing, the right most
often violated, as the figures contained in this report show, is
precisely the right to life. To
illustrate the severity of this problem, most national and
international agencies that study the Colombian human rights situation
have emphasized in their reports that in 1989, for example, political
violence was so extreme that in that one year alone, there were as
many deaths as had occurred in the sixteen years of Chile's cruel
military dictatorship, which according to figures from the Vicaría
de la Solidaridad of Chile, totaled 929 disappearances and 2,059
murders. However dramatic
the example cited here is, the Colombian situation is still worse.
In 1988, there were 4,204 politically motivated killings; in
other words, higher by 1,000 deaths.
In 1991 there were 3,742 politically motivated killings.
The situation does not seem to have improved: in the first half
of 1992, the number registered from January to June was 1,870.
And so, violations of this right have reached atrocious levels
and reveal one very painful fact:
how little worth is given to the right to life and how very
vulnerable and threatened it is in Colombia.
The Commission does not pretend that its study of the
violations of the right to life in Colombia is an exhaustive one that
covers all the facts in all cases; nevertheless, it will discuss a
number of cases that illustrate the problem.
PROVISIONS IN FORCE IN RESPECT OF THE RIGHT TO LIFE
The international provisions of the American Convention on
Human Rights and the national provisions of the new 1991 Constitution
of Colombia which protect and defend the right to life and punish
violations thereof, are as follows:
WAYS IN WHICH THE RIGHT TO LIFE IS VIOLATED
Members of the Antioquia Commission for the Defense of Human
Rights described for the IACHR's Special Committee, during its visit
to Colombia in May 1992, the situation of the right to life in
Colombia, as follows:
There is not a day that passes when the right to life is not
workers, students, judges, journalists, civil servants, parents,
youth, the elderly, soldiers, police, professionals, clergy,
communists, the poor, criminals, liberals, conservatives and people
with no party affiliation whatsoever.
No one is safe from the assassin's bullet.
At any time, at any place, indiscriminate massacres occur.
Men and women are unlawfully taken from their homes and will
eventually be found dead, somewhere in our city.
We find again that barbaric and criminal practice of mutilating
the bodies of victims to make them unidentifiable, who have been
tortured, had limbs cut off, had their skin burned and every other
torture that no sane mind could ever begin to imagine.
RECEIVED RELATIVE TO THIS RIGHT
For an organized discussion of the right to life in Colombia,
this chapter has been divided into 4 sections:
a) arbitrary and
extrajudicial executions and/or selective assassinations; b) mass
murders and/or massacres; c) acts of genocide, and d) enforced
The petitions that the Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights has received, considered or processed in accordance with the
provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights, the
Commission's Statute and Regulations, in which agents of the Colombian
Government are alleged to have violated the right to life either
directly or indirectly, to have collaborated in such violations, or
for which it somehow bears responsibility, are as follows:
Arbitrary and extrajudicial executions and/or selective
Case 10,454: Martín
On August 11, 1989, the Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights received the following petition:
On October 8, 1988, Mr. Martín Calderón Jurado, President of
the Asociación Nacional de Usuarios Campesinos de García Rovira,
Legal Counsel to the Human Rights Solidarity and Defense Committee of
García Rovira and Chairman of the Cerrito Town Council was travelling
on the road from Cerrito to Chitagá when, at the fork in the road
leading to Cácota (Norte de Santander), his car was stopped by a
paramilitary group that killed him, shooting him 50 times.
Also killed was Primitivo Silva, the driver of the vehicle.
Martín Calderón Jurado's political leanings were liberal.
Mr. Martín Calderón Jurado and his cousin Valentín Bastos
Calderón had received death threats at a human rights meeting held in
Málaga on August 6 and 7, 1987; the individuals named as the authors
of those threats were associated with the police and the army.
There is a tape of the charges they made.
Later, Valentín Bastos Calderón was murdered.
Martín Calderón Jurado took an active part in the
investigation that the Office of the Attorney General of the Nation
conducted into the murder of his cousin Valentín Bastos Calderón
and, as a result, was threatened yet again.
Corroborating his complaint, the petitioner sent to the
Commission the following incriminating testimony which Mr. Jairo
Alberto Carvajal Tarazona, the "El Cerrito" Municipal
Magistrate, sent to the Attorney General of the Nation:
Lt. Col. Plinio Rodríguez Villamil was in the jurisdiction of
the Municipality of Cerrito on the day of the murder.
He was in a grey two-door Toyota, with a short-wave telephone
that he used to call Sgt. Second Class Jiménez César Augusto with
the battalion in the city of Pamplona.
He ordered him and Sgt. Second Class Puentes Ramírez David,
from the second section of the García Rovira Battalion, to take two 9
mm Madsen machine guns and their accoutrements and to use a black
four-door Toyota truck, Venezuelan license plate XAS-910, which was
the property of INCAL, driven by Pedro Rueda, alias Zapatoca.
They were to take the road to Chitagá and near the town of Cácota
they were to stop the vehicle of Mr. Martín Calderón Jurado to kill
him and whomever was with him. This
was how Mr. Martín Calderón Jurado and Mr. Primitivo Silva died.
I was able to get this information because of some unusual
circumstances that occurred the day their bodies were to be brought in
and the day of their burial. At about 7:00 p.m. on the day the bodies
were brought in, Lt. Col Plinio Rodríguez Villamil held a meeting in
El Cerrito's main square. He
said he was going to bomb Tabeta and Mortiño (places in this
district). That same
night some ten people were taken to the jail of the National Police,
myself included; I identified myself but they did not acknowledge
anything and we spent that night in jail.
The next day, following the burial of the men who had been
murdered, that same colonel stood up in the main square and for no
reason ordered anyone he considered suspect to be taken to the Police
Station. That was how I
learned that several people who went to bring the body of Mr. Martín
Calderón Jurado had been mistreated by that lieutenant colonel.
Near Puno Romeritos (Páramo del Almorzadero), he made five
people walk barefoot for some forty minutes.
A few days later I went to the city of Pamplona.
I visited a place called El Camellón, and this Sergeant Second
Class Puente Ramírez David was there talking about things he had
done. He was drunk, and
that was how I came to have this information.
The Commission believed that in this case it was obvious that
the petitioners had been unable to secure effective protection from
the domestic jurisdiction agencies; those agencies had discarded the
evidence available to them and had failed to bring charges against the
members of the military who were directly named as the responsible
parties. Because the
internal investigation of this case had been unduly delayed and since
the case files had been with the Technical Corps of the Criminal
Investigations Police since November 1989, the only conclusion
possible was that the criminal investigations police had suspended the
investigation, pursuant to articles 347, 347 bis and 348 of the Code
of Criminal Procedure of Colombia.
Apart from these considerations, the Commission also took into
account the fact that the investigations conducted by Colombian
Government authorities via the Office of the Attorney General, the
Office of the Attorney Delegate for the Military Forces and the Office
of the Regional Prosecutor of Bucaramanga, found, based on the
evidence made available to them, that active members of the army
attached to the García Rovira Battalion were responsible for the
facts; it was established--and the government did not deny--that
agents of the Colombian armed forces participated in the assassination
of Martín Calderón Jurado and Primitivo Silva, the driver of the
vehicle in which Martín Calderón Jurado was riding.
Exercising its authorities, at its 81st session, on September
26, 1991, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concluded the
That the Government of Colombia has failed to comply with its
obligation to respect and guarantee articles 4 (the right to life), 5
(the right to humane treatment),
7 (the right to personal liberty) and 25 (on judicial
protection) in respect of Article 1.1, recognized in the American
Convention on Human Rights, to which Colombia is a state party, in the
assassination of Mr. Martín Calderón Jurado and Primitivo Silva, the
individual driving the vehicle in which Mr. Calderón Jurado was
To recommend to Colombia that it pay compensatory damages to
the victims' next of kin; that it order that the investigations into
the murder of Mr. Martín Calderón Jurado and the driver of the
vehicle, Mr. Primitivo Silva, be completed and that those responsible
for this heinous crime be punished; to request the Government of
Colombia that it guarantee the security and give all necessary
protection to Mr. Jairo Alberto Carvajal Tarazona, Municipal
Procurator of El Cerrito and the other witnesses who have helped
establish the facts; to include this report in the Annual Report to
the General Assembly of the Organization of American States, should no
reply be received within 90 days of the report.
The Colombian Government requested reconsideration of the
report. Nevertheless, at
meeting 1160 on September 25, 1992, the Inter-American Commission on
Human Rights decided to confirm the report and publish it in its
Case 10,456: Irma
On August 11, 1989, the Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights received the following petition:
On February 5, 1987, in the village of Piedra Azul, in the
Municipality of Concepción, 18 peasants were arrested by the García
Rovira Battalion and were mistreated and harassed.
One of these peasants, Delfín Torres, lived only a few meters
from the place where they were held prisoner, and the soldiers did not
allow him to return to his home until the next day (February 6).
There, Delfín reported that the Army was still in the vicinity
and had killed 4 people, among them his wife, Irma Vera Peña, age 17
and pregnant at the time. Their nude bodies were lying beside the road.
Upon learning of this, the peasants banded together to demand
that the Army turn over Irma's body.
The military refused the request, arguing that she was "a
guerrilla fighter". Finally,
the body was turned over, and the peasants were forced by the Army to
dig a grave in which to bury the other three persons killed.
Two months after these events, Delfín Torres was arrested by
the army in the same region and severely beaten.
This petition was forwarded to the Colombian Government on
September 20, 1989. It
reported that the information had been brought to the attention of the
proper national authorities and that in due course it would inform the
Commission of the status of the investigations.
This note was followed by others requesting information and
During the processing of this case, the petitioner informed the
Commission that on June 9, 1992, Mr. Delfín Torres Castro, Irma's
husband, and the complainant and witness in the present case, was
killed by members of the García Rovira Battalion, according to
statements made by peasants from the region who witnessed the event.
Having seen the background information, the Commission
considered that in the instant case, it was obvious that the
petitioners had been unable to secure effective protection from the
domestic jurisdictional organs, which despite the irrefutable evidence
made available to them, exonerated the members of the military of all
responsibility; that the remedies under domestic law had been
exhausted and that, whether or not they were exhausted, they could not
be invoked to the Colombian Government's advantage to suspend the
action that the Commission was taking on this case, given the
unwarranted delay of the internal investigation into this case; the
investigations conducted by Colombian Government authorities through
the Norte de Santander Criminal Investigation Section, the
Twenty-fifth Military Criminal Court, the Office of the Prosecutor of
Norte de Santander, the Office of the Attorney Delegate for Human
Rights, the Office of the Attorney Delegate for the Public
Prosecutor's Office and the Office of the Attorney General of the
Nation should have compiled the evidence contained in the present
report. That evidence
would have been sufficient to indict and convict active members of the
Colombian Army's García Rovira Battalion for the crimes in this case,
had it not been for the egregious error that can be neither explained
nor justified: the investigation conducted was based on an aberrant
court proceeding wherein the judge hearing the case was himself the
intellectual and material author of the facts in question.
To allow the authors of a punishable act to go unpunished was
also a serious violation of the basic human rights and principles of
justice under domestic law and international law.
For these reasons, the Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights concluded the following:
That the Government of Colombia has failed to comply with its
obligation to respect and guarantee articles 4 (right to life), 5
(right to humane treatment), 7 (the right to personal liberty),
8 (right to a fair trial), and 25 (on judicial protection), in
respect of Article 1.1, upheld in the American Convention on Human
Rights, of which Colombia is a state party, by virtue of the unlawful
arrest and subsequent murder of the minor Irma Vera Peña.
To recommend to the State of Colombia that it pay compensatory
damages to the victims' next of kin; that it prosecute and expand the
investigations into the facts denounced until those responsible for
the extrajudicial execution of Irma Vera Peña are punished, thereby
avoiding the consummation of acts of serious impunity that strike at
the very foundation of the legal system; that it guarantee the safety
and grant the necessary protection to Mr. Crisanto Peña and other
witnesses to the events who have helped ascertain the facts.
As horrible as the massacres and acts of collective genocide
described below are, selective assassination is still the most
frequent violation of the right to life in Colombia and has claimed
the greatest number of victims. Although
not detailed in this report, selective assassinations also include the
many murders committed by the guerrillas to retaliate against any
civilians considered to be army sympathizers, loyal to the army, army
collaborators or informants; the murders committed by the armed forces
against those same people because it suspects them of ties with the
guerrilla movement; the many cases of persecution and assassination of
union, university, religious, judiciary and other leaders, the
vengeance killings committed by gangs and groups of hired gunmen and
even the murders regarded as the product of what has come to be called
the culture of violence, committed by individuals in retaliation for
some offense or insult.
Mass murders and massacres
The Honduras and La Negra farms:
On March 4, 1988, at approximately 1:00 a.m., in the Currulao
district of the jurisdiction of Turbo, Department of Antioquia, along
the Golfo de Urabá, Colombia's banana region, 20 armed men in
civilian dress went to the "Honduras" farm, where they
pounded on the door of the sleeping quarters where the farmhands and
their families were sleeping. Calling
each by name, the armed men forced them to come out and ordered them
to lie down on the ground. The
women, children and other workers were told to stay in their rooms and
to turn out the lights. With
the workers utterly defenseless, the assailants fired their long- and
short-range weapons, killing all 17 workers they had summoned out.
Having committed this crime, the assailants then headed in the
direction of La Negra farm, not far from the Honduras farm.
There they killed another three workers.
The Honduras farmhands who were murdered were all members of
the Antioquia Agrarian Labor Union, SINTAGRO and were:
1) PEDRO MIGUEL GONZALEZ MARTINEZ, 20; 2) JOSE BIENVENIDO
GONZALES MARTINEZ, 20; 3) JOSE MESA SANCHEZ, married; 4) JOSE JOAQUIN
MENDOZA, 30; 5) IVAN DARIO MOLINA, 30; 6) RODRIGO GUZMAN ESPITIA, 35;
7) MANUEL ESPITIA COGOLLO, 44; 8) ENRIQUE GUIZAO GIRALDO, 47; 9) RITO
MARTINEZ REYES, 28 and a member of the Sintagro Labor Committee; 10)
SANTIAGO ORTIZ CAUDO, 40; 11) NESTOR MARIÑO GALVEZ, 45; 12) JOSE
INDOVEL PINEDA, 29; 13) NATANIEL ROJAS RESTREPO, 48; 14) OMAR OCHOA;
15) GUILLERMO LEON VALENCIA; 16) MANUEL DURANGO and 17) JOSE FRANCISCO
BLANCO. The workers
murdered at La Negra ranch were:
1) JULIAN CARRILLO; 2) ALIRIO ROJAS, AND 3) ADEL MENESES
PINEDA. In all, 20
workers were murdered.
On February 24, 1988, eight days before these events occurred,
a military patrol from Voltígeros Army Battalion under the command of
Lt. PEDRO VICENTE BERMUDEZ LOZANO from B-2 (military intelligence) had
conducted searches on the Honduras, La Toyosa and La Agripina farms,
all in the Currulao district of the municipality of Turbo, Department
of Antioquia. During
those search operations, they threatened the banana workers and said
they would kill anyone who voted in the elections scheduled for March
13. They also ordered them to leave Urabá within 14 days and
took into custody PASCUAL FUENTES RAMOS, JOSE ALBERTO GARCIA
FERNANDEZ, JESUS PALACIOS ASPRILLA and OLGA LUCIA RESTREPO
(age 16). The three were
taken to Voltígeros Battalion Garrison where interrogation using
pressure and threat succeeded in getting the minor Olga Lucía and
then the other two to make statements to the effect that a number of
workers on the Honduras and La Negra farms were members of the
guerrilla group Ejército Popular de Liberación (EPL); when they took
her to the farm they even got Olga Lucía to show them where the
workers, alleged members of the EPL, lived.
At the garrison, the individuals in custody saw two individuals
whom they identified as "Lenín" and "Zacarías",
former members of the EPL, and discovered that they were Army
informers. These two
people took part in the interrogation and offered the three money if
they would work for the Army and turn in their co-workers.
The three in custody recalled how at one point during the
interrogation Lenín told a corporal with B-2 that Honduras, La Negra,
La Toyosa and Oro Verde farms were guerrilla nests; the corporal told
him not to worry, that they'd soon be paying those farms a visit.
On March 2, two days before the massacre, troops from Voltígeros
Battalion under the command of Captain Luis Felipe Becerra came to the
Zumbadora farm near the Honduras and La Negra farms, with an
individual wearing a mask. The
latter pointed to certain workers.
Six workers were then arrested and beaten by the Army in the
presence of their co-workers. The
captain told them that he would not kill them personally, since he had
someone to do that for him. He
again warned them not to vote in the elections.
On April 16, 1988, the Administrative Security Department (DAS)
prepared a report wherein it concluded that in the Honduras and La
Negra massacres the Army had used, as guides, former guerrillas who
were EPL deserters. It
included them in its patrols to locate, identify and eliminate the
alleged subversives. It
also used hired gunmen (paramilitary) in the pay of ACDEGAM (the
Association of Farmers and Cattlemen of Magdalena Medio).
The DAS corroborates this finding by examining those who
participated in the events and the witnesses thereto.
The judicial inquiry was assigned to the Second Public
Order Judge, Dr. Martha Lucía González whose finding was that
members of the Army were responsible inasmuch as they had collaborated
in the genocide under investigation; they knew the hired gunmen who
came from Magdalena Medio to Urabá to kill the people on those farms
who were suspected of being members of the extreme left; they went
along with those criminals on the February 24 operation when PASCUAL
FUENTES and OLGA LUCIA RESTREPO were arrested; they allowed the gunmen
into the Battalion Garrison, permitted them to carry long- and
short-range weapons that only the Armed Forces are authorized to use,
and consented to and aided and abetted the genocide of March 4, 1988,
thereby making themselves ACCOMPLICES to it inasmuch as they were
instrumental in carrying it out.
It was obvious that the gunmen had the Army's help for the
multiple homicide at Honduras and La Negra farms.
One of the gunmen, EULISES BARRERO, corroborated this for the
court, adding that members of the Army sometimes collaborated with the
organization by providing it support, coordinating their Army
activities with the organization's, and allowing them to move about,
even carrying weapons. Prominent
leaders of the paramilitary movement in Magdalena Medio were
implicated and found responsible by the court, among them GONZALO
PEREZ, HENRY PEREZ, MARCELO PEREZ, FIDEL CASTAÑO, CESAR CURE, ALAN
ROJAS, HERNAN GIRALDO. Those
found responsible for the massacres at Honduras and La Negra farms
were GONZALO PEREZ, HENRY
PEREZ and MARCELO PEREZ. These three had hired the 8 "bosses" to go to URABA
with some 30 men, some of whom, once the killings in that region had
been carried out, went to Montería, Córdoba, where they were
received by FIDEL CASTAÑO at its JARAGUAY farm.
Once she handed down her ruling, Dr. Martha Lucía González
had to leave the country because of the constant death threats she was
receiving, warning her that she would be killed if she continued this
investigation. On May 4,
1989, even though the judge had withdrawn, her father, attorney
Alvaro González, was killed as a reprisal.
To replace Dr. González, the Criminal Investigations Bureau
referred the case to Medellín, where its investigation was assigned
to María Elena Díaz, Third Public Order Judge.
She continued to take evidence on the massacre and, on June 17,
1989, confirmed the arrest warrant against Lieutenant Bermúdez, and
on June 22, the arrests of Major Becerra and Corporal Ochoa.
Immediately after taking over the case, Judge María Elena Díaz
received a death threat and on July 26, 1989, was assassinated.
The Office of the Attorney General of the Nation, in investigating the responsibility of Colombian Army
Captain (promoted to Lieutenant Colonel) Luis Felipe Becerra
Bohórquez; Lieutenant (promoted to Captain) Pedro
Vicente Bermúdez Lozano; and Corporal (promoted to Sergeant
Second Class) Felipe Ochoa Ruiz, concluded that:
1) Acting as an officer of the National Army attached to the
10th Brigade, where he was serving as Commandant, Captain Felipe
Becerra Bohórquez had conducted the operation at the La Toyosa and
Honduras farms in the municipality of Turbo (Antioquia) on February
24, 1988, in the company of a number of heavily armed hired gunmen,
who on the night of March 4 of that year killed 20 farmhands who were
working at the Honduras and La Negra farms; 2) On February 24, 1988,
his conduct vis-a-vis the people who worked and lived at the La Toyosa
and Honduras farms was vulgar and inappropriate; 3) On March 2, 1988,
he threatened the workers at the Sumadera rural holding with death,
telling them they would be killed if they were not out of the region
within 14 days; 4) As commandant of Voltijeros Battalion, he allowed
Olga Lucía Restrepo, who had been in custody since February 24, 1988,
to be taken from one place to another in the region to force her to
identify people who were sympathetic to or members of subversive
groups, particularly at the Honduras farm.
Having considered the charges and the evidence against the
accused, the Prosecutor Delegate RESOLVED:
1) To punish Army Captain (now Lieutenant Colonel) Luis Felipe
BECERRA with DISMISSAL (complete separation from the Armed Services)
as he was found guilty of the charges brought against him and without
prejudice to any criminal action that may be brought against him;
2) To punish Army Lieutenant (now Captain) Pedro Vicente
BERMUDEZ with DISMISSAL (complete separation from the Armed Services)
as he was found guilty of the charges brought against him and without
prejudice to any criminal action that may be brought against him; 3)
To punish Corporal (now Sergeant Second Class) Félix Antonio OCHOA
RUIZ with DISMISSAL (absolute separation from the Armed Forces) as he
was found guilty of the charges brought against him and without
prejudice to any criminal action that may be brought against him.
This RULING was appealed by the military men involved.
The Office of the Attorney Delegate handed down its decision on
the appeal in February 1993, DISMISSING the petitioners' appeal and
confirming the decision appealed.
On April 20, 1993, the new Attorney Delegate for the
Military Forces, in decision No. 221, revoked decision No.
255 of August 19, 1992, which had been upheld in decision No. 093 of
February 8, 1993. The
latter two decisions had found that the military men in question were
at fault and had therefore ordered their dismissal.
The new ruling released them from any form of punishment on
the grounds that the evidence in the various proceedings had been
inconsistent. The new
ruling also stated that the statute of limitations for disciplinary
action had expired.
Thus far, the investigations have not established the
responsibility of the accused military men; instead of being punished
they have been promoted, and no compensatory damages have been awarded
to the victims' next-of-kin.
Case 10,738: the
Holocaust at the Palace of Justice (94 killed)
In Bogota on December 3, 1990, in a special hearing with
relatives of those who disappeared
in the Palace of Justice holocaust, the IACHR's Special
Preparatory Committee received a petition from Attorney Enrique Rodríguez
Hernández, President of that association, concerning the following
October 16, 1985, the Minister of Defense reported the following: "...the General Command of the Military Forces received
an anonymous letter stating the following:
'THE M-19 PLANS TO TAKE OVER THE SUPREME COURT BUILDING ON
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 17, WHEN THE JUSTICES ARE IN SESSION, AND TO TAKE
THEM HOSTAGE, AS WAS DONE IN THE TAKE-OVER OF THE DOMINICAN EMBASSY;
THEY WILL MAKE STRONG DEMANDS OF THE GOVERNMENT, CONCERNING VARIOUS
MATTERS, AMONG THEM THE EXTRADITION TREATY"; on October 16,
1985, "...special reinforcements were immediately called up
for the Palace of Justice, consisting of a 1-1-20" (1 is an
officer, 1 is a noncommissioned officer, 20 are agents armed with
Galils), to be on duty from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. every work day; on
October 18, 1985, four Bogota newspapers --"El Siglo",
"Diario 5 P.M.", "El Tiempo" and "El
Bogotano"-- reported this fact; on October 21, 1985,
"the original order had been that the reinforcements for the
Court were to have been withdrawn on the 21st (of October).
But the Command of the Bogota Police Department, as a
precaution, ordered that the reinforcement continue until after
November 5, 1985..."; on October 23, 1985, "...the
M-19 attempted to kidnap or assassinate the Commandant of the Army,
General Samudio Molina... That
same day, October 23, a tape recorded message was sent to a radio
station where a man whose alias is Oscar ...stated that (THE M-19)
WOULD PULL OFF SOMETHING SO SPECTACULAR THAT IT WOULD SHOCK THE ENTIRE
WORLD"; as November 5, 1985 began, there were no guards
posted at the Palace of Justice. An undated note, allegedly written by General Vargas Vilegas
because he was the Commandant of the Bogota Police, stated the
gave my authorization for the reinforcement guard service to be
withdrawn..."; on November 6, 1985, 35 M-19 guerrillas
seized the Palace of Justice at 11:40 a.m.; in two trucks loaded with
weapons, they entered the building without difficulty, by the parking
garage door, where no policeman was on guard.
On Wednesday, November 6, 1985, using long-range automatic
weapons, bombs, grenades, bazooka, rockets and explosives, an M-19
terrorist commando under the command of Luis Otero Cifuentes, launched
a surprise and bloody attack on the Palace of Justice Building,
located in downtown Bogota. At
the time one solitary National Police agent and poorly armed private
guards were the only persons charged with the building's protection
and security; for reasons unknown, the then Commandant of the Bogota
Police, General Vargas Villegas, had withdrawn the reinforced police
guard service five days earlier.
The chronology of events was as follows:
at 11:40 a.m., a covered truck and a pick-up parked in front of
the Palace of Justice parking garage on Carrera 8; some 30 heavily
armed guerrillas jumped out of the trucks, entered and took over the
building, taking as hostage the justices, employees and any members of
the public who did not manage to escape in the confusion.
At noon, F-2 agents attempted to get into the basement amid a
heavy exchange of fire that lasted several minutes.
At 12:55 p.m., four tanks and two armored cars from the Cavalry
School entered Bolivar Plaza. At
around 1:05, an armored car managed to get through the entrance to the
parking garage, but the soldiers that accompanied the armored car did
not make much headway because of the guerrillas' return fire.
At 2:00 p.m., four large explosions were heard, one after
another, in the basement of the Palacio.
The gunfire was very heavy at the time; moments later, a tank
made its way up the front steps of the Palacio and began to ram the
main entrance. At 2:23
p.m., two police helicopters came around the east side of the building
and 16 GOES agents jumped out. There
was another explosion inside the Palace, apparently produced by the
impact of the rockets that the military fired to overcome guerrilla
resistance at key points; a half hour later a huge fire broke out in
the east wing of the building, and ten minutes later three fire trucks
were battling the blaze amid a barrage of bullets.
According to what the petitioners report, when the armed forces
entered and took the building, eight workers and three visitors in the
building cafeteria were taken into custody and disappeared, suspected
of having collaborated with the guerrillas in the take-over of the
Palace of Justice and of having prepared enough food supplies to hold
out for a number of days. Disputing the version to the effect that
their relatives had been killed in the operation to retake the
building, the petitioners testified that in a news video shown on
television, they had seen a number of them leave the building alive;
according to the petitioners, one of the copies was in the possession
of the Office of the Attorney General of the Nation.
The petition noted that the case concerned only the 8 people
who disappeared from the cafeteria, and they provided a list as
Augusto Rodríguez Vera, manager; Cristina del Pilar Guarín
Cortés, cashier; David Suspes Celis, chef; Bernardo
Beltrán Hernández and Hector Jaime Beltrán Fuentes, waiters; Gloria
Estela Lizarazo, self-service employee; and Luz María Portela
León and Ana Rosa Castiblanco Torres, assistants.
Since the petitioners requested that their identity not be
withheld, the text, including its references to the names of the
petitioners, was sent to the Government of Colombia.
Processing of the case began on December 26, 1990; on April 2,
1991, the Colombian Government requested a 90-day extension to reply
to the petition forwarded by the Commission, stating that in the
Colombian Government's view, the nature of the facts denounced and the
number of files warranted an extension.
That extension was granted.
On July 25, 1991, the Government of Colombia replied to the
Commission stating that:
Colombia considers the terms and content of the petition
presented to the Commission to be an insult to national dignity... the
Government of the Republic of Colombia reiterates its rejection of
said petition, believes any examination of its content to be
unacceptable and respectfully requests that the petition be dismissed.
In response to the Colombian Government's statement, the
petitioners stated that they regretted the fact that the Colombian
Government had not supplied information and that the Government's
reply did not contain any information that would disprove the report
sent to it. As an
appendix, they attached the report of the Attorney General of the
Republic on the holocaust at the Palace of Justice, dated May 31,
1986. That report
corroborates the petitioners' complaint and blames not only the
members of the M-19 Commando that attacked and held hostage the
justices, employees, attorneys, and members of the public who were in
the Palace of Justice at the time, but also public officials who
played some part in these events.
The report asks for sanctions against then President of the
Republic Belisario Betancur and the Minister of Defense who was
responsible for what transpired when the Armed Forces attempted to
retake the Palace of Justice.
When notified of the petitioners' observations, on November 15,
1991, the Colombian Government repeated its request that the case be
dismissed on the grounds that its content and language were
Members of the Special Commission that went to Colombia in May
1992 discussed this case with officials attached to the Foreign
Ministry's International Organizations Unit.
The Commission's idea was to settle some of the problems that
had developed in processing the case and get the necessary information
from the Colombian Government. At
the time, the Special Committee repeated what had been said in the
formal note sent by the Commission to the effect that the request for
information did not constitute a prejudgment or endorsement of the
petitioners' statement; that the note sent was a photocopy of what the
petitioners had delivered to the Special Preparatory Committee during
the hearing at the Hotel Tequendama in December 1990. At that time they requested that their identity not be
withheld and stated that the text of their petition had already been
brought to the attention of the Colombian Government authorities,
which had not given it the proper attention.
The Special Committee also made it clear that the petitioners
were not referring to events that occurred under the administration of
The Commission should again point out the following:
the fact that the Commission processes a petition does not mean
that it is necessarily endorsing the petitioner's statements or
accepting as true the facts under investigation.
The Commission disapproves of any offensive statements made by
petitioners, but it cannot exclude the facts denounced by the
petitioners from this report. The
Colombian Government is fully aware of these facts.
The Commission regrets that no reply was given and that the
case of the individuals who disappeared from the Palace of Justice has
still not been clarified or settled once and for all.
Since then, there have been new developments, one of them being
the fact that a Public Order Judge, one of the "jueces sin
rostro" [faceless judges] recently ordered that the Palace of
Justice case be reopened and that the M-19 leaders who had just been
reassimilated under the peace agreements, be arrested for the events
that occurred at the Palace of Justice.
His argument was that the events at the Palace of Justice were
of such extreme gravity as to constitute crimes against humanity and
were therefore not eligible under an amnesty law.
Some of those affected by this ruling are M-19 leaders now
actively participating in democratic government and working with the
government of President Gaviria.
Mention should also be made of the inquiry made in May 1992 by
President Gaviria of the Attorney General of the Nation, Dr. Carlos
Arrieta, concerning the implications of the court's decision and the
position that the Public Prosecutor's Office should take vis-a-vis
prosecution of this case, in spite of the amnesties that had been
decreed for all those who participated in those events.
Finally, in connection with this same case, it should be noted
that the executive and legislative powers reached a political
agreement to stop the proceedings ordered by the Public Order Judge,
so as to enact a special law declaring that all of the events at the
Palace of Justice were, without exception, subject to an amnesty and
were, therefore, res judicata. Therefore, all investigations and sanctions against those in
the M-19 who participated in taking the Palace of Justice and those in
the Armed Forces who participated in its retaking were canceled.
The Commission does not know whether, based on the scope of
this new law, the courts will definitively close the specific case of
those who disappeared from the Palace of Justice, to which this report
refers. It must, however, point out that it agrees with the Public
Order Judge's ruling that no political amnesty can be ordered in the
case of such egregious crimes and crimes against humanity; enforced
disappearance is among those crimes for which there can be neither an
a statute of limitations.
OFFICIAL REPORT OF THE "DAS" ON MASSACRES
What follows are excerpts from the official report that the
Administrative Security Department (DAS) supplied to the Special
Committee of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that
visited Colombia. The report was delivered on May 7, 1992, during the meeting
that the Special Committee had with Mr. Fernando Brito Ruiz, Director
of DAS, and with his senior officers.
It summarizes some of the most serious incidents of violence in
Colombia between January 1990 and February 1992, showing the date,
scene of the events, geographic location, number of persons killed,
where the massacre took place and the name of the entity responsible
for the massacre.
The events surrounding this massacre, which were widely
publicized in the national and international press, are also being
examined by the IACHR, pursuant to the provisions of the American
without making any value judgment, the Commission is confining
itself to recounting those facts that are public knowledge or that
figure in public documents and whose veracity the Colombian
Government has not challenged.
from the remarks by the Minister of Defense, General Miguel Vega
Uribe, to the House of Representatives (Dec. 1985), published in the
pamphlet "Las Fuerzas Armadas de Colombia y la defensa de las
version by journalist Manuel Vicente Peña.
Las Dos Tomas, Centro de Estudios Vida, Bogota, Fourth
After the terrible events at the Palace of Justice, some
members of the Armed Forces tried to blame Dr. Alfonso Reyes Echandía,
President of the Supreme Court and one of the victims in this
incident, for removing the security personnel guarding the building.
This version was immediately refuted by eyewitnesses closest
to the President of the Supreme Court, among them his personal
secretary Herminda Narváez de Tello, Secretary of the Office of the
President of the Supreme Court, a woman by the name of Janet, Dr. Inés
Galvis de Benavides, Secretary General of the Supreme Court, and Dr.
Carlos Betancourt Jaramillo, Chairman of the Council of State, which
also had its offices in the Palace of Justice.
The son of the President of the Supreme Court filed an action
against the State and the Army, which is pending settlement.
There is a report on the holocaust at the Palace of Justice
by the Special Examining Tribunal, page 59.
Official Gazette No. 37509, June 17, 1986.
The Commission had already been warned of the following:
... In Colombia the governments and officials are reluctant
to give explanations for their official conduct, and much more so in
the case of the Palace of Justice... "the authorities are so
sensitive and the fever in our democracy is running so high that
whatever is seen as less than unqualified support for the
Government's actions is construed as being sympathy for the M-19
terrorists" ... any questioning of the Armed Forces, however
reasonable it may be, draws a defensive and angry response from the
upper echelons of command. Idem.