Press Release

IACHR Takes Case involving Colombia to the Inter-American Court

April 27, 2016

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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 10.737, Victor Manuel Isaza Uribe, regarding Colombia.

The case concerns the forced disappearance of Víctor Manuel Isaza Uribe since November 19, 1987, while he was detained in the prison of Puerto Nare, Antioquia.  Víctor Manuel Isaza Uribe was a member of the Union of Workers of the Construction Materials Industry (Sindicato Único de Trabajadores de la Industria de Materiales de la Construcción, SUTIMAC) in Puerto Nare and a sympathizer of the Unión Patriótica political party.

The Commission took into account that whenever an individual is under State’s custody, it is the State’s obligation to provide a satisfactory explanation for what happened, which did not occur in this case. Rather, the State only validated the official version of an escape, without conducting a thorough and exhaustive investigation of the facts, taking into consideration the possibility of a forced disappearance. These facts took place within a framework of violence against people connected to the Unión Patriótica political Party on the part of State agents; within a framework of persecution and even extermination of union members of the same entity that Víctor Isaza Uribe belonged to, specifically in the Municipality of Puerto Nare; and the existence of patterns of joint actions between public forces and paramilitary groups in the area. In addition, the Commission determined that the State kept in force regulatory frameworks related to the paramilitary phenomenon, as well as the identification of union members within the concept of internal enemy.

The Commission established that the State also has international responsibility for the internal process followed in this situation. Specifically, the Commission determined that the State has not provided information regarding immediate actions that might have been taken to establish the whereabouts of Víctor Isaza Uribe and to protect his life and integrity. Moreover, the Commission noted that the criminal process has been subjected to unjustifiable delays and that more than 27 years after the occurrence of the facts, these are still not clarified and the penal investigation remains in the stage of preliminary investigation. The Commission also concluded that lines of investigation were neither developed nor followed in respect to the multiple contexts operating jointly in the area, which were clearly important to the investigation on what happened to the victim.

In the Merits Report, the Commission recommended the State of Colombia to conduct a thorough, impartial, and effective investigation to determine the whereabouts of Víctor Manuel Isaza Uribe and, if applicable, to take the necessary steps to identify his remains and return them to his family. Moreover, the IACHR urged Colombia to carry out domestic proceedings in connection with the violations of human rights shown in this report and conduct the necessary criminal proceedings for the offense of forced disappearance of Víctor Manuel Isaza Uribe in an impartial, effective manner and within a reasonable time, with a view to fully clarifying the facts, identifying those responsible, and imposing the appropriate penalties. In addition, Colombia must make adequate reparation for the human rights violations shown in the report, both materially and morally, including just compensation, the establishment and dissemination of the historical truth of what happened, and implementing an adequate program of assistance to his family. Finally, the IACHR urged the State to adopt the necessary measures of non-repetition to prevent such acts from occurring in the future, including strengthening protection mechanisms for trade unionists so that they may pursue their activities freely and without fear of reprisal.

The Inter-American Commission submitted the case to the Court’s jurisdiction on April 3, 2016, because it found the State of Colombia had not complied with the recommendations contained in the Merits Report. The Commission submitted the entirety of the facts in that report to the Court.

This case will allow the Court to build up its jurisprudence regarding the analysis of contexts of collaboration or acquiescence between State agents and non-state agents, as well as the implications in the determination of the State’s international responsibility. Moreover, the case presents a context of persecution against union members in the context of the Colombian armed conflict, under a regulatory framework and institutional practices that allow the identification of this social group under a concept of internal enemy.

A principal, autonomous body of the 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. 055/16