International court convicts Colombia state for Palace of Justice Siege

(Photo: Semana)

While Colombia’s Supreme Court is considering absolving a military commander convicted for disappearing 11 people in the 1985 military retake of the Palace of Justice, the Inter-American human rights court convicts the country for these disappearances.

According to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights Court, based in Costa Rica, plaintiffs successfully proved that “there existed a modus operandi aimed at the forced disappearance of persons held on suspicion of participating in the taking of the palace of justice or collaborating with the M-19” rebel group that stormed and occupied the building on November 6, 1985, one day before the army violently retook the building.

At the end of the double siege, more than a hundred people had been killed, including almost half of the 25 members of the Supreme Court. Eleven people, mostly cafeteria workers, disappeared after having been rescued from the building by the military.

The state crimes

According to the court, the disappeared persons had been “separated from other hostages, taken to military compounds and in some cases tortured and/or disappeared.”

“Under the command of military officials, the authorities severely altered the crime scene and committed several irregularities in the removal of bodies” to complicate criminal investigations into the alleged series of extrajudicial executions.

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

Consequently, the Colombian state was sentenced to pay compensation to these victims, offer a formal and public apology and even produce a documentary over what really happened during the two brutally violent days.

Additionally, the court ordered Colombian judicial authorities to “without delay carry out a thorough search in which it makes every effort to determine the whereabouts of the 11 victims that are still missing.”

Convicted military commander might paradoxically be released

While the Inter-American court in its 212-page report holds the military responsible for the killings and disappearances that occurred during and after the siege, Colombia’s Supreme Court is studying a magistrate’s proposal to revoke the sentence of the army colonel convicted for the killings of the civilians, local media reported.

Magistrate Luis Guillermo Salazar, sworn in by President Juan Manuel Santos in 2011, earlier asked his fellow magistrates to nullify the conviction of former colonel Alfonso Plazas, who is serving a 30-year prison sentence for commanding the military unit responsible for the disappearance and presumed killing of released hostages.

According to Salazar, there exists no physical evidence or testimonies that indicate the former colonel was involved in the disappearing of hostages. Plazas was the commander of a military compound where the hostages were taken to, but never appeared from.

The government responds

In a response, the president said “the government has just been informed” and will study the ruling before “letting its citizens know its considerations.”

Santos asked to “recognize that the Colombian Armed Forces today are highly-appreciated institutions by the Colombian people, thanks to theyr ongoing modernization and progress in the protection of human rights. The legitimacy of the armed forces in the process of recovering Colombians’ security and the development of the constitutional policies, have converted this factor into its main asset.

The Colombian armed forces are one of the principal victimizers in Colombia’s armed conflict that has been waging between extreme-left rebel groups on one side, and extreme-right paramilitary groups and the state on the other since the 1960s.

The Santos administration is currently negotiating peace with the country’s largest rebel group, the FARC, and in the process of defining responsibility for the more than 7 million victims of the conflict.

The M-19 guerrilla group that carried out the initial assault on the justice building, taking the entire Supreme Court hostage, demobilized in 1991.


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