IACHR refers case on Colombia to the Inter-American Court

June 8, 2021

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Washington, D.C. - On May 25, 2021, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed the case of Oscar Iván Tabares Toro, regarding Colombia, before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The case refers to the forced disappearance of Oscar Iván Tabares Toro, as well as the subsequent failure to investigate the facts and clarify the circumstances surrounding his disappearance.

Mr. Tabares, who was a soldier attached to the General Artillery School, disappeared on the night of December 28, 1997, while he was camping with the "Tiger" Company of the Counter-Guerrilla Battalion No. 20 in the department of Meta, as an active member of the Colombian National Army.

In its Report on the Merits, the Commission concluded that the elements are present to qualify what happened to Mr. Tabares as a forced disappearance. The IACHR considered it sufficiently proven that the victim was under the control of State agents the last time he was seen, after which his whereabouts or fate are unknown. The Commission also found that there are versions in the case file that indicate that what happened to Mr. Tabares was the result of the action of State agents whose purpose was to punish him for having thrown a grenade at his superiors' tent. The Commission observed that the State has not offered any evidence to justify a version other than the one indicated. Although some soldiers said that the victim had fled after throwing the grenade, the Commission noted that these versions were contradictory to others and that they came from persons who were involved in the same events and who, as soldiers, were subject to a chain of command. The Commission noted that, sometime later, the Special Prosecutor's Office for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law highlighted the implausibility of the National Army's account and the seriousness of the inconsistencies and contradictions.

Regarding the third constituent element of forced disappearance relating to the refusal to acknowledge the detention and to reveal the fate or whereabouts of the person, the Commission noted that, from the moment of Mr. Tabares' disappearance, the Colombian National Army has refused to acknowledge his detention and to reveal his true fate and whereabouts. The Commission found that the National Army not only failed to initiate a search for Oscar Tabares after his alleged flight, but also failed to alert his next of kin of his disappearance or to assist them in their search. On the contrary, it is on record that proceedings were initiated against the victim for having thrown a grenade, informing the victim's mother that her son had withdrawn money from his bank account after the events, which in the end proved to be untrue.

On the other hand, the Commission considered that the actions carried out in the proceedings at the national level have been ineffective and have not been shown to be aimed at an active, serious, impartial and effective search for the truth of what happened or at locating the whereabouts or remains of the disappeared person. The Commission observed that during the first months following the disappearance, that is, between January and September 1998, the facts were only known by the military criminal justice system, which, in addition to lacking guarantees of independence and impartiality to hear this type of case, was pursuing a proceeding against Oscar Iván Tabares. When the matter was already in the ordinary jurisdiction, the victim's mother repeatedly requested the inspection of the place where she alleged to have seen remains of a military uniform in the area where her son was seen for the last time. However, the Prosecutor's Office excused itself from carrying out the inspection, alleging lack of police authorization, public order problems, lack of resources, among other circumstances. It was only in September 2001, almost three years after the events, that the Prosecutor's Office ordered the search, finding pieces of camouflaged cloth and the appearance of holes having been dug.

The Commission noted that, although the Prosecutor's Office had the file of the trial against Oscar Tabares by the military justice system, which was sent to it in 1998, the lines of investigation that arose from that process were not exhaustively explored, nor were all the soldiers who could have known about or been involved in the events summoned to testify in a timely manner. Although the Prosecutor's Office finally decided to open an investigation against the superiors who were in the camp, the Commission observed that the investigation had not made much progress. In view of the foregoing, the Commission concluded that the investigation conducted by the ordinary justice system did not constitute an effective remedy and was not undertaken with due diligence, exceeding a reasonable period of time. Finally, the Commission established that the State violated the right to humane treatment to the detriment of the next of kin of Óscar Tabares.

Based on these findings, the Commission concluded that the State of Colombia is responsible for the violation of the rights to juridical personality, to life, to personal integrity, to personal liberty, to judicial guarantees and to judicial protection, as established in Articles 3, 4.1, 5.1, 7.1, 8.1 and 25.1 of the American Convention in relation to Article 1.1.

In its Report on the Merits, the Commission recommended that the State:

  1. Investigate, through an adequate search plan with measurable results over time, the fate or whereabouts of Oscar Iván Tabares Toro and, if necessary, adopt the necessary measures to identify and deliver his mortal remains to his next of kin.
  2. Continue with due diligence the internal procedures aimed at an effective investigation, pursuit, capture, prosecution and eventual punishment of those responsible for the disappearance of Oscar Iván Tabares Toro and conduct the investigations impartially, effectively and within a reasonable time in order to clarify the facts completely, identify the intellectual and material authors and impose the corresponding sanctions, in accordance with applicable international standards.
  3. Make adequate reparations for all human rights violations recognized in the report, including measures of satisfaction, payment for material and non-material damages, the implementation of a rehabilitation program, and adequate psychological and psychosocial care for the relatives of the disappeared victim.
  4. Adopt the necessary measures to prevent similar events from occurring in the future, through i) the implementation of permanent training programs on human rights in the training schools of the Armed Forces, in particular with respect to the existing prohibition in international law regarding the crime of enforced disappearance; and ii) the implementation of adequate investigation protocols by the Prosecutor's Office to diligently investigate such crimes.

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. 144/21