Press Release

IACHR Takes Case Involving Colombia to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

July 25, 2018

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed an application before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (I/A Court H.R.) in Case 11,227, Officials and members of the Patriotic Union (Unión Patriótica, UP by its Spanish acronym), with regard to Colombia.

The case concerns successive serious human rights violations perpetrated against more than 6,000 victims who were officials or members of the political party Patriotic Union in Colombia, for over 20 years starting in 1984. Those events were described as extermination in the Merits Report, and the Commission established that they were extremely serious and large-scale.

They involve forced disappearances, threats, forced displacements and homicide attempts against officials and members of the UP, which were perpetrated either by State agents or by non-State actors with the tolerance and acquiescence of State agents. The IACHR therefore established the State’s responsibility for those events, concerning both respect for rights and the protection of rights. The State only acknowledged its international responsibility for non-compliance with its obligation to enforce rights by protecting them, for failing to prevent murders and other acts of violence against members of the Patriotic Union despite the evidence that a persecution was ongoing against them.

The Commission further established that some victims in this case had been subjected to an unjustified criminalization or an arbitrary use of criminal law and to torture in several instances. The IACHR therefore concluded that the State had violated victims’ rights to personal liberty, to a fair trial, to privacy and to judicial protection.

The Commission further concluded that the State had violated victims’ political rights, their rights to freedom of thought and expression and to freedom of association, and the principle of equality and non-discrimination, given that the motive behind such serious human rights violations and behind victims’ extermination and their sustained persecution was the fact that they belonged to a political party and expressed their ideas through that party.

The IACHR considered it proved that victims in this case had been constantly stigmatized through statements by public officials and non-State actors, which included branding them “terrorists” and “FARC’s political wing,” and that such stigmatization had affected the serious violence that was unleashed against them. The Commission therefore determined that the State had violated those persons’ right to privacy.

Regarding the investigation of events in connection with this case, the IACHR established that all investigations launched by the State have been insufficient and have failed to reach beyond their early stages. Such investigations have failed to find out the truth about who was responsible for the extermination of officials and members of the Patriotic Union for the benefit of surviving victims, for the families of dead victims and for Colombian society as a whole. The Commission therefore concluded that the State had violated the rights to a fair trial and to judicial protection. Finally, the Commission concluded that the State had violated the right to humane treatment of victims’ families in this case, taking into account the scale and the gravity of violations and the impact they had on those families.

In the Merits Report, the Commission recommended that Colombia adequately compensate the victims and/or their families for the human rights violations declared by the IACHR; investigate the fate or the whereabouts of missing victims and, if applicable, adopt any measures necessary to identify the victims and to hand over their bodies to their families; and launch, pursue further or reopen any criminal or disciplinary investigations relevant to all the human rights violations declared in this Merits Report. Such investigations should be carried out in a diligent, effective and timely fashion, with a view to completely shedding light on those events, identifying anyone who may have been responsible for them and imposing the relevant sanctions in proportion to the seriousness of those events. Investigations will need to satisfy the due diligence standards described in the Merits Report. In particular, beyond establishing the criminal responsibilities of the various State and non-State actors involved, the State will need to ensure that the investigation’s internal mechanisms contribute to completely solving the case concerning the extermination of the Patriotic Union. The IACHR further recommended that the Colombian State implement measures to compensate victims both individually and collectively and design such measures with victims’ participation and approval. Among such compensation measures, the Colombian State will need to hold a public event to acknowledge its own international responsibility, as well as any measures that the victims and their families deem appropriate to restore historical memory and to provide compensation for the stigmatization they have been subjected to. The Commission further recommended that the State provide any physical and mental healthcare necessary for the rehabilitation of the victims who request it, in agreement with those victims.

The IACHR also recommended implementing non-repetition mechanisms. Given the current context, with the implementation of Colombia’s peace agreement, the Commission believes that the State must set up suitable mechanisms to ensure that such serious human rights violations against individuals or political groups who wish to be involved in political life never happen again. Without prejudice to the transitional justice instruments that are applicable in each case, the State must take measures to ensure that those people can engage in political activities with full guarantees for the exercise of such activities without being subjected to the stigmatizing discourse of State agents. The State must further provide mechanisms to protect their lives, integrity and other rights, so that their involvement in politics does not once again become a threat to them.

Finally, the IACHR recommended the creation—in agreement with victims and their representatives—of a mechanism to identify the families of executed or missing persons whose relatives are not on the Lists of Victims of the human rights violations held in this Merits Report. This mechanism does not seek to expand the number of victims in this case, but rather to complete the lists of families of persons who have already been declared victims of human rights violations in the IACHR’s Merits Report, specifically victims of executions and disappearances, who will have to be considered beneficiaries of the compensation granted in the Merits Report.

The Inter-American Commission submitted the case to the Court’s jurisdiction on June 29, 2018, in the understanding that Colombia had failed to comply with the recommendations held in the Merits Report.

Beyond the need to attain justice, the Commission highlights the fact that this case involves issues related to Inter-American law and order. First, this case is mainly related to extermination through multiple successive violations of the right to life, forced disappearances and displacements that are particularly serious and large-scale, and it holds symbolic significance for Colombia. All those issues pertain to Inter-American law and order for their contextual relevance and their importance for truth and historical memory. Second, and also linked to the previous point, the case puts forward, in terms of assigning responsibility to the State, the convergence of a failure to fulfil the obligation both to respect rights and to protect them, in instances involving direct actions, acquiescence, tolerance, collaboration and also a flagrant and sustained failure to comply with the obligation to prevent such events. Third, this case involves fundamental issues regarding the scope and content of the obligation to investigate and punish concatenated events that must be addressed using strategies and lines of investigation suitable for specific contexts and for criminal action patterns by various State and non-State actors.

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. 162/18