IACHR refers case on Colombia to the Inter-American Court

September 20, 2021

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Washington, D.C. - On September 5, 2021, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed the case of Arles Edisson Guzmán Medina regarding Colombia before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The case refers to the disappearance of Arles Edisson Guzmán Medina that occurred in Medellín on November 30, 2002.

In its Merits Report, the Commission determined that it was a forced disappearance, considering that he was taken from a restaurant by two persons identified as paramilitaries, supposedly to be interrogated by a commander. Regarding the element of direct intervention by State agents or their compliance, there is a series of evidence that proves that the paramilitary groups operated with the permission of State agents, such as the link already established by the IACHR and the Inter-American Court between paramilitary groups and members of the security forces in Colombia, the specific context of collaboration in Comuna 13 where the events took place, as well as the actions of the prosecutor's office and State agents in this case.

The Commission considered that the control of the area by paramilitary groups in that year was made possible precisely through the execution of Operation Orion, which took place at the end of October 2002, a few weeks before of Mr. Guzmán Medina's disappearance, and in which serious human rights violations were perpetrated. National organizations, including judicial authorities of the justice and peace jurisdiction, indicated that the operation was a clear demonstration of the existing relations between paramilitary groups and the national Army. Finally, with respect to the refusal to acknowledge the detention, the IACHR observed that, in this context of acquiescence, there is no evidence that the State took any steps to provide an answer on the victim's whereabouts.

Consequently, the Commission concluded that the State violated the right to judicial personality, life, personal integrity and liberty recognized by the American Convention, in relation to its Article 1(1), as well as Article 1(a) of the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons.

On the other hand, given the lack of due diligence in the investigation, the IACHR concluded that the State violated the right to judicial guarantees and protection in relation to Articles 1(1) and 2 of the American Convention and Article I(b) of the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons. The Commission noted that the investigation was not undertaken ex officio, but only based on the complaints filed by the Ombudsman's Office and the victim's brother. However, the authorities did not activate an immediate search for the victim after learning of the disappearance on December 6, 2002, nor from the formal initiation of the first investigation. This occurred, despite the indications of an enforced disappearance, which required a speedy and exhaustive response in the first hours after the disappearance became known.

The Commission noted that, although the complaints filed were eventually consolidated, they were declared suspended in November 2004 without having been diligently investigated and without designing or exhausting any lines of investigation. On the other hand, although the Commission became aware of an investigation regarding the participation of paramilitary groups in the disappearance of other persons in Comuna 13, it did not have information indicating that the victim's case was originally included.

The Commission took note of the information provided by the State regarding the conviction of an individual as an indirect perpetrator of the victim's disappearance. However, the Commission did not have information indicating that this conviction effectively contributed to the clarification of the facts or to the investigation of other responsible individuals, including State authorities.

Finally, the Commission concluded that the State did not investigate the facts within a reasonable timeframe, since to date almost 17 years have elapsed, and very few steps have been taken to judge those responsible and determine the whereabouts of the victim. In addition, the IACHR concluded that the State violated the right to personal integrity of the victim's family, considering the profound feeling of pain, anguish, and uncertainty that the forced disappearance causes them.

Based on these findings, the Commission concluded that the State of Colombia is responsible for the violation of the rights to recognition as a person before the law, to life, to personal integrity, to personal liberty and judicial guarantees and protection established in Articles 3, 7, 5, 4, 8(1) and 25(1) of the American Convention, in relation to Article 1(1), as well as Articles I(a) and I(b) of the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance.

In its Merits Report, the Commission recommended the State:

  1. To fully, impartially and effectively investigate the whereabouts of Arles Edisson Guzmán Medina, and if applicable, to take the necessary measures to identify and deliver the mortal remains to his family, according to their wishes.
  2. Carry out the internal procedures related to the human rights violations declared in the report and conduct the corresponding proceedings for the crime of forced disappearance of Arles Edisson Guzmán Medina, in an impartial, effective manner and within a reasonable timeframe, in order to clarify the facts completely, identify all those responsible and impose the corresponding sanctions.
  3. Make adequate reparation for the human rights violations declared in the report, both materially and morally, including fair compensation, the establishment and dissemination of the historical truth of the facts, a public act of acknowledgement of responsibility and the implementation of an adequate program of physical or mental health care for the family members, in consultation with them.
  4. Adopt the necessary measures of non-repetition to prevent similar events from occurring in the future. The measures of non-repetition in the present case should include legislative, administrative, or other measures to ensure that investigations into the forced disappearance of persons in Colombia, including criminal investigations and prosecutions, as well as the search for the remains of disappeared persons, meet the standards described in the report.

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate derives from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The IACHR is composed of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacity, and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 245/21

11:49 AM