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I/A Court H.R. closes the hearing of human rights violations in Colombia


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (I/A Court H.R.) closed, on Wednesday (13), the hearing of  the Vera Rodriguez and others v. Republic of Colombia case which deals with the disappearance of 13 people in a military operation to retake the Palace of Justice, in Bogotá, in 1985, after the occupation of the site by  the April 19 Movement guerrillas. The session took place at the Superior Labor Court (TST) in Brasilia.

The first witness heard in the morning was the Colombian Jaime Castro. His participation was proposed by the State of Colombia in order to provide information about the activity of the Colombian President and the Minister’s Office  during the assault and the recapturing of the Palace of Justice. Castro was Government Minister (currently the Ministry of Interior) at the time of the facts, and later was mayor of Bogotá. According to his testimony, despite the democratic opening promoted by the Belisario Betancur's administration, the goal of M-19's action was to seize power, and the Palace of Justice's occupation was a terrorist attack funded by drug trafficking.

The expert Federico Andreu-Guzmán was summoned by the Court to report on the legal framework in force at the time of the incident, its implementation, the security forces' structure and operation and the existence of human rights violation practices in order to clarify doubts as to the chain of command. He also answered questions about the role of military criminal justice in the investigation and offenses' prosecution which could constitute human rights violations under military operation. The expert also made a comparative analysis with similar experiences at an international level.

The last presentation in the morning session on Wednesday was the medical Max Alberto Duque Piedrahita, former director of the National Institute of Legal Medicine. He answered several questions about the permanence, management, gathering, burial and exhumation of the conditions of the victims from the Palace of Justice and on the difficulties on the identification and conservation of human remains from the site and on the forensic evidence that led to the identification of magistrate Carlos Horacio Urán, a headshot victim.

Final oral arguments

In the afternoon,  the victims' representatives and the State of Colombia's final oral arguments were presented to the Court, and the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights' observations, which, in February 2012, submitted this case to the I/A Court R.H. Then there were rebuttals and rejoinders from the defense and Colombian state agents.

The representatives of families of those who disappeared talked about the victims' expectations regarding the pronouncement of the Inter-American Court. "We hope the I/A Court R.H. will listen to us," they afirmed. Among the requests presented, they asked the Court to declare direct international  responsibility upon Colombia's state authorities. They also claim that the alleged victims should receive adequate reparation.

According to the representatives, the Court must take into account both the  physical and psychological torture declaration, claiming that there are ample evidence that the Palace of Justice's victims were interrogated, subject to torture - electric shocks, blows, drowning - and have disappeared. The group noted that the missing persons were workers who were between 24 and 33 years old. They claimed that the crime was intentional and that at the time of the facts, there was a previously established order as the victims were taken to military installations. They also asked that the Colombian state agents account for concealment of corpses. According to the victims' representatives, the I/A Court R.H. is before clear evidence of human rights violations, a fact that has caused serious damage to the families."At that time everyone's life changed forever," they said when they remembered that their spouses died without answers. "The reparation cannot wait any longer."

Representative of Colombia

On behalf of the State of Colombia, Julio Andres Sampedro Arrubla argued that the protection policy of the victims' rights has been Colombia's constant concern in recent years. The Colombian case law, he said, is being developed, especially in the criminal field. In 2011, Law 1448 was amended which establishes a set of measures which benefit victims of violations of international human rights standards. “With this law, the country introduced an integral policy of full reparation for the care of victims," he said.

In his analysis of the evidence contained in the trial, Arrubla argued that in some cases there are no elements of evidence which demonstrates that the state knows the location of those missing. The attorney argued that many statements are incoherent and contradictory, and that some recognitions were made only through photos or in the presence of relatives who are not sure whether or not a certain corpse is their family memebers.

"The evidence lacks credibility. The set of inconsistencies are evident," he said. According to him, the evidence shows situation of widespread violence in the country, and not what happened at the Palace of Justice. Julio Arrubla stressed that none of the documents has any relation with what happened." There is no evidence that allows the I/A Court R.H. to declare the existence of international illicit enforced disappearance," he concluded.

Brazilian judge

In an interview given at the end of the session, the only Brazilian I/A Court R.H. judge, Roberto Caldas, evaluated the both day's sessions."  The environment has allowed us to work steadily, so that a historical case and  of serious violations, at first, took place in an atmosphere of much tranquility and of well qualified technical presentations," he highlighted.

The final written arguments must be submitted by the 15th of December. The expectation is that the sentence is handed down in the first semester of 2014.

CF, EC/CF

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