Did 90, and not just 11, disappear in Colombia’s 1985 Palace of Justice Siege?

(Photo: Semana)

Colombia’s Prosecutor General’s Office is investigating the remains of 92 people who could have been among those allegedly disappeared during the 1985 Palace of Justice siege in Bogota in which at least 100 people were killed.

According to deputy Prosecutor General Jorge Fernando Perdomo, his office is investigating several mass graves in the central states of Boyaca, Meta and Cundinamarca, where bodies of those disappeared during the siege of the Palace of Justice are presumably buried.

The official told national television network Caracol that the graves contain 92 bodies that could possibly all relate to survivors of the siege.

Perdomo made the claim only days after the Inter-American Court of Human Rights convicted the Colombian state for the disappearance of eleven released hostages and it’s failure to adequately investigate the tragedy and the role of the army in the presumed extrajudicial execution of the survivors.

Fact sheet

The 1985 Palace of Justice Siege

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights convicted the Colombian state for the following crimes:

  • Disappearing and executing a supplement Supreme Court magistrate
  • The illegal detention, torture and killing of citizens suspected of being M-19 guerrillas
  • The failure to clarify what happened during the siege
  • The failure to prevent the death of civilians

According to Perdomo, the renewed activity of the prosecution in the 29-year-old case is not only because of the international court order.

“It’s a matter of honor to establish what really happened at the Palace. We have to solve this historical and judicial riddle. The latter one is more complicated cause those found responsible will have to be punished,” said the official.

The Deputy Prosecutor General said that army officials suspected of the torture and murder of siege survivors may soon be called to court.

According to Perdomo, his office even is investigating if the army wasn’t aware of the occupation of the building by guerrillas of the now-defunct leftist M-19 group before it took place.

“One of the circumstantial evidences is that tanks were present in the vicinity of the Palace already minutes after the take, while such operations usually take much more time,” affirmed the Justice official.

During the 29 years of investigations, the Prosecutor General’s Office has managed to disprove some of the testimonies behind the official course of events in the Palace of Justice on November 6, 1985. Perdomo reminded that “the evidence suggests that the bodies of victims were tampered with” by the military.

“We have utmost confidence in the fact that certain people left the Palace alive only to reappear dead inside the building later on,” the deputy Prosecutor General said.

The Palace of Justice process has been a complicated one since the beginning, as “the judicial investigators were denied access to bodies, the evidence, the crime scene,” and couldn’t perform autopsies, as Military Intelligence feared another attack by the M-19.

Relatively new technologies like DNA should help the prosecution establish whether the remains of the 92 people in the mass graves correspond to those allegedly disappeared in the military siege.

“Through identification, and individualization of the 92 people found in mass graves, we expect to advance the truth about what really happened in the Palace of Justice,” concluded Perdomo.


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