Press Release

IACHR refers case on Colombia to the Inter-American Court

October 2, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - On August 8, 2020, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) referred the case of Pedro Julio Movilla Galarcio and Family regarding Colombia before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The case relates to the State's international responsibility for the forced disappearance of Pedro Julio Movilla, a union leader, member of the leftist political party PCC-ML, and Colombian social activist, which occurred on May 13, 1993.

In its Report on the Merits, the Commission determined the existence of multiple circumstantial and contextual elements to attribute the victim's disappearance to the state. The Commission emphasized that, at the time of the events, there was a context of specific persecution against persons with the political and social profile of Mr. Movilla. In particular, the Commission considered that at least three relevant contexts converged for the purposes of the case: the context relating to the identification of trade unionists within the notion of the internal enemy in the state's intelligence and counter-guerrilla manuals; the political violence in Colombia, which led to alarming figures of executions and disappearances of persons linked to certain political parties with the characteristics of the PCC-ML; and the high incidence of forced disappearances in the framework of the armed conflict in Colombia.

The Commission also corroborated the existence of other elements that pointed to the persecution suffered by him and his family, such as surveillance, sightings of unknown vehicles parked outside his house, warnings from unknown persons on the street to the victim to be concerned about his safety, among others. In addition, the Commission took into consideration the existence of intelligence activities on the part of the State security forces with respect to Mr. Movilla, which identified him with details of both his union work and his political militancy, as well as an alleged link to a guerrilla group, all of which placed him in a position to be a target of the State security forces at the time of the events.

In view of the above aspects suggesting the participation of State agents in the disappearance of the victim, the Commission observed that, upon receiving news of the disappearance, there was a hasty rejection of the habeas corpus filed to establish the victim's whereabouts, based on the formality of not having identified the place of detention, an issue that resulted in a refusal to establish the detention and fate of the victim. The Commission observed that the following actions taken to locate the victim's physical location were only carried out 15 years later, which makes it possible to affirm that the failure to diligently search for the victim contributed to the cover-up of his detention and fate or whereabouts. Similarly, the Commission noted that the State was unable to explain the nature of the monitoring and intelligence notes of Pedro Julio Movilla Galarcio and the relationship between them and his disappearance, contributing to the uncertainty and cover-up of what happened. To date, his fate or whereabouts are unknown.

In view of the foregoing, and as a result of the multiple indications evaluated in light of the aforementioned contexts, the IACHR concluded that the State is internationally responsible for the forced disappearance of Pedro Julio Movilla Galarcio, and therefore, responsible for the violation of the rights to recognition of legal personality, to life, to personal integrity, and to personal liberty established in Articles 3, 4, 5, and 7 of the American Convention, in relation to its Articles 1. Likewise, taking into account that, on the date of entry into force of the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons for Colombia, forced disappearance continued to be committed, the IACHR concluded that the State also violated Article I(a) of that instrument.

In its Report on the Merits, the Commission further established that the forced disappearance of Pedro Julio Movilla Galarcio was a response to his alleged links with a subversive organization, which was derived, without a firm criminal conviction, from the victim's social leadership and his membership in left-wing trade union and political organizations. For the Commission, this correlation established by the military intelligence agencies is framed in the context in which the events took place and responds to a selective logic of the national security operations that criminalized the participation of Pedro Julio Movilla Galarcio in labor and political organizations. Taking into account the motive and selective nature of the forced disappearance, the IACHR also concluded that the State violated the right to freedom of association established in Article 16 of the American Convention, in relation to Articles 1(1) and 2.

The IACHR also found that the State did not comply with its obligations regarding due diligence in the investigation of Mr. Movilla's disappearance. In addition to the lack of effectiveness of the remedy of habeas corpus in determining what happened, the Commission took into account that during the investigation the proceedings were carried out late, and the State did not make its best efforts to identify the selective nature of the disappearance and its relationship to both the union and political activities of Pedro Julio Movilla Galarcio, as well as to the intelligence notes. Furthermore, the investigation was promoted separately by the PGN and the Attorney General's Office, and although the progress of the investigation was communicated between them, the Commission noted a fragmentation of the proceedings, leading to the repetition of many of them in both processes, with an impact on the delay of the investigations. In addition, the participation of the family members in the investigation was limited, and their attempts to become a civil party in the process were rejected for several years. The Commission noted that, despite the passage of more than 25 years, the criminal investigation is still in the preliminary stage, incurring in an unreasonable delay.

In light of the foregoing, the Commission concluded that the State violated the rights established in Articles 8(1) and 25(1) of the American Convention in relation to Article 1(1), and Article I(b) of the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons as of the entry into force of this instrument for the State.

Finally, the IACHR considered that Mr. Movilla's disappearance, the uncertainty about his whereabouts or fate, and the absence of a complete and effective investigation into the facts caused his family suffering and anguish, in violation of the right to psychological and moral integrity established in Article 5 of the American Convention in relation to Article 1(1).

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

1. Make full reparation for the human rights violations declared in the Report on the Merits, both in the material and immaterial aspects. The State should adopt measures of economic compensation and satisfaction.

2. Provide the necessary physical and mental health care measures for the rehabilitation of the family members of Pedro Julio Movilla Galarcio, if they so wish and in a concerted manner.

3. Investigate the destiny or whereabouts of Pedro Julio Movilla Galarcio and, if necessary, adopt the necessary measures to identify and deliver the mortal remains to his family members.

4. To conclude the criminal investigation in a diligent and effective manner and within a reasonable period of time in order to fully clarify the facts, identify all possible responsibilities, and impose the corresponding sanctions with respect to the human rights violations declared in the Substantive Report.

5. Provide for non-repetition mechanisms that include: (i) the repeal of military regulations and manuals indicated in the Substantive Report No. Provide for mechanisms of non-repetition that include: i) the repeal of the military regulations and manuals indicated in the Report on the Merits and others that may be identified; ii) the explicit instruction of the military and police high command to all hierarchical levels of the impossibility of applying the military regulations and manuals indicated due to their incompatibility with the American Convention; and iii) ensuring the discontinuity of the practices established by the use of such regulations and manuals and the notion of "internal enemy" through the incorporation of the present case in the human rights training that is directed at police, military, and intelligence personnel.

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. 244/20