A Bogota court ruled that the civilian deaths caused by M-19 guerrillas in the November 1985 Palace of Justice siege are crimes against humanity and therefore not subject to a statute of limitations, Colombian media reported on Friday.
The long awaited decision allows for the prosecution to reopen the investigation, and could determine possible liability for the attack. The decision appealed an earlier determination by a lower court to end the judicial proceedings against members of M-19, who had received general amnesty in the 1990s for their reintegration into civilian life.
Gustavo Petro, a former M-19 leader and past presidential candidate, claimed that the decision was “innocuous” as all the members of M-19 who entered the palace are now dead. Petro also argued that the real crimes against humanity took place after the palace was taken over by the military, “The soldiers who participated are not judged by the fact that they overtook the palace, but for the acts they committed at that time, like the disappearance of people.”
In June 2010, Colombian army colonel Alfonso Plazas Vega was sentenced to 30 years in prison for his role in the disappearance of civilians following the takeover over the palace.
Political analyst Rafael Nieto stated that the deaths should not be considered crimes against humanity, and that the ruling was a “Colombian justice mechanism” used to “avoid prescription of the these crimes.” Nieto added that this ruling is “no guarantee” of future effective administration of justice.
The Palace of Justice siege was an attack by the leftists rebel group M-19 against the Supreme Court of Colombia, with the goal of holding a trial against president Belisario Betancur. The occupation and the following siege led to more than 100 deaths including all the members of M-19 and 11 of 25 Supreme Court Justices. Eleven civilians disappeared.