The Colombian government on Monday denied the disappearances of 11 people during the 1985 Palace of Justice siege, contradicting previous court rulings that held the military responsible.
Despite widespread belief to the contrary, the government claimed before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) that the 11 individuals that remain unaccounted for after 27 years actually died in the fire which consumed the palace.
On November 6th, 1985, 35 M-19 guerrillas burst into the Palace of Justice intending to symbolically put then-President Belisario Betancur on trial. Judges, staff and civilians were taken hostage. More than 100 people later died when the military stormed the building including 11 of the country’s 25 Supreme Court justices and every one of the guerrillas involved in the attack. Also presumed dead are the 11 citizens thought to have escaped the fire but who then were reportedly disappeared. Many suspect the military was responsible for the disappearances as the 11 victims purportedly had ties to the rebels.
“The missing civilians perished in the fire under the custody of the insurgent group…The alleged violations of the rights [of the disappeared] is due, exclusively, to the actions of the third party,” wrote Rafael Nieto Loaiza, the government’s lawyer and the former deputy minister of justice. The governement’s stance is controversial because it directly contradicts previous rulings such as the conviction of Colonel Alfonso Plazas Vega. The colonel was sentenced to 30 years for his role in the forced disappearances.
“The State’s reponse to the Court is that there were no disappearances…nor was there torture, when [actually] the proof is conclusive [and was] obtained by the same organizations [who found] that yes, they were tortured,” said Rafael Barrios Mendivil, lawyer for the victims.
“To deny the disappearances is like denying that the courthouse was on fire,” said Angela Maria Buitrago, the case’s original prosecutor.
The IACHR sued Colombia in 2012 for its negligence in prosecuting those responsible and for failing to adequately search for the disappeared. In July, the Court is slated to make an official desicion. The IACHR’s press secretary told Colombia Reports that it could not comment on an ongoing case.
- Palacio de Justicia: en retoma del palacio no hubo desparecidos, segun el Gobierno ante CorteIDH (El Colombiano)
- Retoma del Palacio de Justicia: Defensa de Colombia en Corte Interamericana (El Tiempo)
- “Negar que hubo desaparecidos, es como negar que en el Palacio de Justicia hubo fuego” (Caracol Radio)
- IACHR presenta caso sobre Colombia a la CorteIDH (OAS)