Friday, August 12, 2011

Colombia. State's acknowledgement of responsibility in murder of Manuel Cepeda

 We have received a press release from the  Center for Justice and International Law ( CEJIL ) on the public ceremony of acknowledgement of responsibility by the Colombian State in the  targeted death of Senator Manuel Cepeda Vargas in  Bogota, Colombia on August 9, 1994.

An important step forward  in the fight against impunity in Colombia, resulting from the  first intervention of an international tribunal on the assassination of public figures, activists and supporters of the Colombian left in dirty war  episodes, especially the systematic  persecution of  Patriotic Union . 
We have  translated and added hyperlinks to the statement and some more background information on the subject at the end.
Manuel Cepeda Vargas, Senator of the Patriotic Union (UP), was murdered in Bogota, Colombia on August 9, 1994 Picture from Semana
Colombian State acknowledges  responsibility for execution of Manuel Cepeda
This act of acknowledgment of responsibility was  carried out in compliance with the ruling issued on May 26, 2010  by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR ), holding Colombian State authorities responsible  for the extrajudicial execution of Senator Manuel Cepeda.
The IACHR concluded that the execution of Senator Cepeda by State agentsin collusion with   paramilitary groups, was part of a systematic violence and extermination of thousands of members, leaders and supporters of the Patriotic Union political organization (UP) from the time same of its inception  in 1985.

On August 9, 1994, Senator Cepeda was killed while en route to Congress in Bogota. Cepeda had publicly denounced the existence of a   " Coup de grace " plot coordinated by the upper echelons of the Army to kill him and other UP  leaders. After the assassination  of Senator Cepeda,  his relatives Mary and  Iván Cepeda Castro and Claudia Girón, received death threats  and were forced to leave  the country due to  security concerns.
The call for recognition of liability is an  excepctional action taken by the Court in serious cases and is intended to help preserve the memory of the victims and acknowledgement of their dignity as well as contribute to national historical discourse where national authorities recognizev   mistakes from the  past and tends to prevent the recurrence of  such serious violations of human rights.
In this case, the place where the act  was to be carried out was determined by the Inter-American Court expressly stating that it should be done in the Congress, in the presence of members of both houses and the highest State  authorities  .
The murder of Senator Cepeda had been surrounded by a great deal of impunity after 17 years away. Although it had been  established that the crime had been jointly  committed by  State and paramilitary agents, none of the masterminds behind the assassination   have been  ever been convicted. The public ceremony does not   exempt State authorities  from the obligation of carrying  out an effective  investigation of the crime and prosecute to the largest extent the ultimate responsible , which in turn would be the clearest sign of a real  State zero tolerance for violations of human rights.

Democracy requires that those who think differently, even  when expressing their opinions through minority political groups whose position  may be   uncomfortable for the State or other sectors of society, to join and participate in politics without being stigmatized, harassed or killed. This is key to guaranteeing political inclusion and fulfilling  fundamental freedoms.
Similarly, respect for human rights requires special caution on the part of public servants to not take any  action or make remarks that could  exacerbate intolerance or encourage violence by public officials or other actors against to the political opposition. In this regard, the Court held that statements made ​​by public officials in linking   UP and the Communist Party of Colombia ( PCC ) with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia ( FARC-EP ), put the victim in a position of increased risk and vulnerability.
The act of recognition undertaken  current government provides a valuable opportunity to demonstrate that respect for democratic values ​​and human rights for all, including those involved from minority positions, strengthen democracy and consolidate the basis for the rule of law and peace.
Viviana Krsticevic, CEJIL Director, said "we hope that the public acknowledgment of responsibility contributes to there being greater guarantees for the exercise of freedom of expression, critical opinion, defending human rights and that these values ​​are cornerstones in the construction and future of democracy in Colombia. In that sense, I hope the decision of the Court in the case of Senator Cepeda be read as an expression of the High Court of repeated refusal to use violence as a means to silence or awkward expressions s minority. "
For his part, Rafael Barrios, President of the Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo ( CCAJAR ) said regarding the public meeting that "measures like this will contribute to historical clarification of the commission of State crimes in Colombia. This is a key opportunity for authorities to issue a clear message about the ban on statements that stigmatize and threatening to politicians or journalists and called for similar crimes do not happen again. "
On behalf of the victim and his family, the case has been litigated by CEJIL, the Colectivo de Abogados "José Alvear Restrepo" and Manuel Cepeda Vargas Foundation .
Contact CEJIL in Washington DC
More information