Press Release

IACHR Urges Colombia to Investigate Human Remains Found at Las Mercedes Cemetery

December 30, 2019

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urges the State of Colombia to continue to investigate the mass grave found at Las Mercedes cemetery in the Dabeiba municipality, in the department of Antioquia. The Commission further urges Colombia to take any action necessary to exhume and identify the human remains found at the site.

The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP, by its Spanish acronym) said on December 14, 2019 that a mass grave had been found at Las Mercedes cemetery, in Antioquia. The grave is believed to hold the remains of at least 50 individuals, allegedly victims of extrajudicial killings during the Colombian armed conflict, in cases that are known as “false positives.” According to the Colombian government, the JEP believes that these are the remains of individuals who were thought to have gone missing during the armed conflict.

The bodies were reportedly found in investigations conducted by the JEP in Case 003, “Deaths that were illegitimately presented as individuals killed in combat by officers of the State.” The JEP launched exhumation efforts at the cemetery on December 9, 2019.

The Commission highly commends the JEP for its search for truth concerning the events that happened in the context of Case 003 under its jurisdiction, and for all the precautionary measures granted in favor of several bodies that are in custody, so they may be preserved. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has established that adequately collecting and presenting human remains is essential to find out what happened to victims, and consequently to investigate, prosecute, and punish anyone responsible, if appropriate.
The IACHR also commends the government for its public support for the JEP’s ongoing investigations, which led to this mass grave being found.

“In cases of extrajudicial killings or forced disappearances, the State has an obligation to conduct prompt, serious, impartial, and effective ex officio investigations, a crucial element to protect certain rights that are violated in those conditions,” said IACHR President Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño. Commissioner Francisco Eguiguren, the IACHR’s Rapporteur for Colombia, noted that “the fact that these bodies have been found is a major step toward identifying victims of the internal armed conflict in Colombia.”

“The State must verify whether these bodies correspond to victims of extrajudicial killings that happened in the context of the internal armed conflict, known as ‘false positives,’ and, if so, ensure—beyond the investigation—that the exhumed remains are handed over to their families in a dignified manner. These families have a right to reparation, in compliance with the standards of international human rights law,” said Commissioner Antonia Urrejola, head of the Commission’s Unit on Memory, Truth, and Justice.
The IACHR encourages the Colombian State to keep taking any action necessary to exhume these human remains using various forensic identification methods, to ensure that any information available at the site is collected and to make sure that these remains are identified, recorded, and protected, so they may be preserved in compliance with the country’s applicable international obligations.

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 and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 344/19