Human Rights Watch has asked Colombia’s Supreme Court to proceed to an “urgent and exhaustive” investigation of Alvaro Uribe after yet another witness against the former president was assassinated.
The court said in February that it would open a preliminary investigation into alleged intimidation of witnesses who have testified that the hard-right former president, his brother and political allies helped form death squads in the 1990s.
One of the three witnesses the court had asked to protect was assassinated near Medellin earlier this month. Multiple other witnesses and critics have been murdered over the past few years.
“The Criminal Chamber of the Colombian Supreme Court has shown remarkable courage in initiating this investigation into Uribe, but the truth may never be discovered if the government does not guarantee maximum protection for witnesses,” said HRW Americas director Jose Miguel Vivanco.
The international human rights organization also urged Colombia’s Prosecutor General’s Office to investigate the murder of Carlos Enrique Areiza, who was shot down weeks after a second witness survived an assassination attempt.
The Uribe family rose to prominence in the 1980s under the wings of the Ochoa clan that founded the Medellin Cartel.
A Medellin Court has ordered the investigation of the former president’s alleged leading role in the formation of death squads that murdered thousands, but to no avail.
The Supreme Court began investigating Uribe after it found that he had falsely accused a leftist critic of witness tampering and evidence emerged he could have been intimidating witnesses himself.
The investigation has put major pressure on Uribe, who has been campaigning to keep his senate seat and to endorse his protege, Ivan Duque, who is the front-runner in the presidential election race.
Despite his controversial and violent past, the former president continues to enjoy popularity among conservative voters and support in the media.
While arguably the most important, Uribe is only one of many Colombian politicians who have been tied to drug trafficking organizations and paramilitary groups.
Since 2016, more than 60 members of congress and at least seven governors were sentenced to prison for using far-right death squads to advance their political careers.