The Inter-American Court of Human Rights condemned the Colombian government for the murder of Patriotic Union Senator Manuel Cepeda in 1994. The judicial body asked President Alvaro Uribe to issue a formal apology and compensate the family of the assassinated politician.
The Inter-American Human Rights Commission proposed an investigation into the murder of the senator two years ago, accusing the Colombian government of neglecting both “to protect the life of Senator Manuel Cepeda Vargas” and to “investigate, prosecute and punish all those responsible for extrajudicial execution.”
On Tuesday the court ordered the Colombian government to publicly apologize for Cepeda’s murder, to compensate the relatives of the victim, to fully investigate the facts of the case and to punish those responsible.
The international tribunal noted that “execution of Senator Cepeda was prompted, or at least permitted, by the abstentions of various institutions and public authorities to adopt the necessary means for the protection of his life, among which we highlight the lack of an adequate investigation into the threats in relation to an alleged plan to exterminate the leaders of the UP [Patriotic Union].”
The court went on to conclude that it is not certain that the perpetrators of the assassination were drug-trafficking criminals, as the government has maintained. According to the investigation, there is evidence suggesting that the murder was the result of a joint operation between the army and paramilitary groups.
Two soldiers were convicted for the murder of the senator in 1999. However, according to the IACHR, “violation of the right to life of Senator Cepeda was committed not only by the action of the two non-commissioned officers … but also by the joint action of paramilitary groups and state agents.”
The magistrates added that the case “constitutes a crime that is complex and had to be addressed as such by the authorities responsible for investigations, who have failed to establish any links between the various perpetrators and determine the masterminds.”
“Planning and executing the extrajudicial killing of Senator Cepeda, done in that way, could not have been perpetrated without the knowledge or orders of senior commanders and heads of these groups, as an organized response to these groups, within a general context of violence against the UP,” said the trial’s summary report.
The court ruled that state officials “not only seriously failed in their duties,” but used their official and state resources “to commit the violations.”
The Colombian government has been ordered to conduct “effective ongoing internal investigations … to identify, prosecute and, where appropriate, punish all those responsible for the extrajudicial killing of Senator Cepeda.”
The court ordered the protection and medical attention of the politician’s family, as well as compensation of $380,000.
Colombia must also make a public act of recognition of the senator and create and disseminate a publication and an audiovisual documentary on the political, journalistic and political role of Senator Cepeda.
The Colombian government has, in the past, apologized for the death of the Patriotic Union politician, but denied that the crime was part of a state policy.
Twenty years ago, over 5,000 supporters of the Patriotic Union (a party aligned with leftist guerrilla group FARC) were systematically assassinated. In addition to relatives of victims and survivors of the massacres, many diverse organizations continue to demand that the current government identify and punish those responsible.