IACHR Takes Cases Involving Colombia, El Salvador and Honduras to Inter-American Court
March 25, 2011
Washington, D.C. — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed applications with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Case 12.658, Luís Gonzalo "Richard" Vélez Restrepo and Family, with respect to Colombia; Case 10.720, The Massacres of El Mozote and Neighboring Locales, with respect to El Salvador; and Case 12.680, Pacheco Teruel et al. (Deaths from fire at San Pedro Sula Prison), with respect to Honduras.
Case 12.658, Luís Gonzalo "Richard" Vélez Restrepo and Family, Colombia, has to do with an attack suffered by journalist Vélez Restrepo on August 29, 1996, at the hands of soldiers of the Colombian National Army. At the time of the attack, Vélez Restrepo was filming a protest in which soldiers from that institution beat several protesters, incidents documented by the journalist. These events were followed by death threats against Vélez Restrepo and his family, which intensified when he tried to move the judicial proceedings forward. In this context and after he had suffered a kidnapping attempt, Vélez Restrepo left Colombia in exile on October 9, 1997; he is currently unable to practice his profession as a journalist. The events remain in impunity, as the State did not conduct serious, effective investigations to identify those responsible. The attack and subsequent acts of harassment, which were motivated by the journalist's determination to document and denounce the abuses by the Colombian armed forces, violated his rights to physical integrity and to freedom of thought and expression, and also had a chilling effect on other journalists and on Colombian society in general. The case was sent to the Inter-American Court on March 2, 2011, because the Commission deemed that the State had not complied with the recommendations contained in the report on the merits.
Case 10.720, The Massacres of El Mozote and Neighboring Locales, El Salvador, has to do with successive massacres committed between December 11 and 13, 1981, in the context of a military operation carried out by the Atlacatl Battalion, along with other military units, in seven localities in the department of Morazán. The massacres, committed indiscriminately and with extreme cruelty, left around a thousand people dead, including many children, and constituted one of the most aberrant manifestations of crimes against humanity committed at that time by the Salvadoran military. These events took place during the bloodiest period of the so-called "counterinsurgency" operations that were deployed on a massive scale against civilians by the Salvadoran army during the armed conflict, in open disregard of the most basic principles of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. These types of actions, committed in a systematic and generalized manner, were intended to sow terror among the population. Due to the application of the General Amnesty Law for Consolidation of the Peace, as well as repeated omissions on the part of the Salvadoran State, these grave acts remain in impunity. To this day, the massacres have not been clarified judicially, nor have appropriate sanctions been imposed, despite the fact that a significant number of the persons responsible have been identified through various sources. Some exhumations were performed in subsequent years, but these did not lead to a reopening of the investigations, despite repeated requests made to the relevant authorities. The case was sent to the Inter-American Court on March 8, 2011, because the Commission deemed that the State had not complied with the recommendations contained in the report on the merits.
Case 12.680, Pacheco Teruel et al. (Deaths from fire at San Pedro Sula Prison), Honduras, is related to the May 17, 2004, deaths of 107 individuals who were deprived of liberty in Cellblock 19 at San Pedro Sula Prison. These deaths were a direct consequence of a series of structural deficiencies in the prison which were known to the relevant authorities. The victims were persons accused of belonging to maras (gangs), who were kept isolated from the rest of the prison population and confined to an unsafe and unsanitary area. The State has failed to diligently conduct an investigation into the reported events and punish those responsible, as an inherent legal obligation. The case falls within a general framework of public security policies and prison policies designed to combat gangs. The case was sent to the Inter-American Court on March 11, 2011, because the Commission deemed that the State had not complied with the recommendations contained in the report on the merits.
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in a personal capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.