Press Release

IACHR Takes Case involving Colombia to the Inter-American Court

November 11, 2015

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed an application with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Case 12.462, Nelson Carvajal Carvajal, with regard to Colombia.

The case has to do with the killing of journalist Nelson Carvajal for reasons related to the practice of journalism. The case also refers to the lack of a serious, diligent, and timely investigation into what happened, in a context of serious threats and harassment of relatives of the victim—a context which led them to leave Colombia. The Commission found that the repeated threats and harassment of witnesses and relatives of the victim, in addition to the absence of protection measures and guarantees for an independent investigation, had a chilling and intimidating effect that discouraged the participation of relatives of Nelson Carvajal as complainants in the case and hampered the investigations and the criminal cases. The Commission determined that these events affected the psychological and moral integrity of the journalist’s relatives, who more than 16 years after his murder have been unable to learn the truth about what happened and have not obtained justice. The IACHR considered that the departure of Nelson Carvajal’s relatives from the country was a consequence of the threats they had endured, the lack of State protection, and the impunity that has characterized this case, all attributable to the State.

In its Merits Report, the Commission recommended that the State of Colombia conduct a thorough, impartial, and effective investigation, within a reasonable period of time, to shed light on the circumstances surrounding Nelson Carvajal’s murder and to identify the perpetrators, including where such undertaking might involve reopening closed investigations or reexamining cases adjudicated by the local justice system. The IACHR also recommended that Colombia take all necessary measures to ensure the safety of Nelson Carvajal’s relatives and of the witnesses over the course of these investigations and proceedings. It also recommended that Colombia continue implementing effective protection measures to guarantee the safety of journalists who are particularly at risk on account of the practice of their profession, whether the threats come from State agents or private individuals, especially for journalists working in rural parts of the country. Finally, the IACHR recommended that Colombia provide appropriate redress for the human rights violations laid out in the Merits Report, in both pecuniary and non-pecuniary aspects, as well as the vindication of Nelson Carvajal’s work as a journalist with a local media outlet, with special attention to the impact that leaving the country has had on his family members.

On October 22, 2015, the Commission took the case to the Inter-American Court after determining that there is sufficient and consistent prosecution evidence—evidence held by the very government bodies responsible for the investigation and the criminal case—to conclude that Nelson Carvajal was killed to silence his work as a journalist, in exposing illicit acts committed under the protection of local authorities, and that there were a series of indications pointing to the involvement of State agents, evidence that was not investigated with due diligence. The failure to comply with the due diligence requirement in conducting the investigation was evident in the failure to take the necessary measures to protect relatives and witnesses in view of the threats made during the investigations; the lack of adequate procedures in the collection of evidence; the undue delay and lack of substantial progress in the investigations; and the ineffectiveness of the criminal proceedings in identifying all the perpetrators.

This case offers the Inter-American Court the opportunity to develop its case law with regard to States’ obligation to diligently investigate crimes against journalists who cover news about local corruption and organized crime, and to analyze the mechanisms of impunity at work in such cases. Among many other factors, the Court will be able to issue an opinion on the State’s obligations with regard to the undue pressure brought to bear on the local judicial system through the intimidation of witnesses and family members and, in some cases, the complicity of police, prosecutors, and judges. In addition, the Court will be able to rule on the consequences of the lack of protection measures and the lack of an adequate investigation into the threats and acts of intimidation by individuals linked to the investigation.

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 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. 129/15