I/A Court H.R., Case of Valle Jaramillo et al. v. Colombia. Merits, Reparations and Costs. Judgment of November 27, 2008. Series C No. 192.

Non official brief

This summary is also published in the website of the Council of Europe in the following link: www.venice.coe.int/files/Bulletin/B2009-1-e.pdf



The State has the obligation to adopt all reasonable measures necessary to guarantee the rights to life, personal liberty, and personal integrity of those who denounce human rights violations and are in a situation of special vulnerability. This obligation is conditioned upon the State being aware of a real and immediate danger to human rights defenders and upon the existence of a real possibility of preventing or avoiding this danger.

The right to freedom of movement and residence contemplates the right of all persons lawfully within a State to move freely within that State, to choose their place of residence within it, and to enter, remain in, or leave the State's territory without unlawful interference.

The right to freedom of movement and residence may be affected when a person is the victim of threats or harassment, and the State does not provide the guarantees necessary to allow him or her to move freely and reside in the territory in question, even when those threats and harassments are carried out by non-State actors.



I.  On 27 February 1998, three armed individuals entered Jesús María Valle Jaramillo's office in Medellín, where Carlos Fernando Jaramillo Correa and Nelly Valle Jaramillo were also present, and proceeded to tie all three hostages up. Jesús María Valle, a well-known human rights defender who actively denounced crimes perpetrated by paramilitary groups with the collaboration and acquiescence of members of the Colombian military and who had been repeatedly threatened due to these activities, was executed with two shots to the head. The perpetrators dragged Nelly Valle Jaramillo and Carlos Fernando Jaramillo Correa to the lobby and threatened to shoot them as well, but then left the office. Various criminal proceedings were opened in relation to the facts of the case. Jaramillo Correa cooperated with investigations, but was later forced into exile with his family due to the continued threats he received. As of the date of the Inter-American Court's Judgment, some criminal proceedings remained open. Disciplinary proceedings were also opened in order to investigate the conduct of judicial officials involved with the case, and the State reached a settlement with some of the victims through administrative proceedings.

On 13 February 2007, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights submitted an application to the Court against the Republic of Colombia in order to determine whether the State was responsible for the violation of the rights recognised in Article 4 ACHR (Right to Life), Article 5 ACHR (Right to Humane Treatment) and Article 7 ACHR (Right to Personal Liberty), in relation to Article 1.1 ACHR (Obligation to Respect Rights), to the detriment of Jesús María Valle. The Commission also alleged the State's responsibility for the violation of Articles 5 and 7 ACHR, to the detriment of Nelly Valle Jaramillo and Carlos Fernando Jaramillo Correa, as well as Article 22 ACHR (Freedom of Movement and Residence), to the detriment of Jaramillo Correa and his next of kin. The Commission further requested a determination on the alleged violation of Article 8.1 ACHR (Right to Fair Trial) and Article 25 ACHR (Right to Judicial Protection), to the detriment of Nelly Valle Jaramillo, Carlos Fernando Jaramillo Correa, and Jesús María Valle Jaramillo's next of kin. Last, the Commission asked that the State be required to adopt measures of reparation. The representatives alleged additional violations of Article 11 ACHR (Right to Privacy), Article 13 ACHR (Freedom of Thought and Expression), Article 16 ACHR (Freedom of Association) and Article 17 ACHR (Rights of the Family).

On 9 July 2007, the State filed a brief partially acknowledging its international responsibility for the violation of specific articles of the Convention. It denied its responsibility with respect to other alleged violations and indicated that the State had not fostered an environment of harassment or persecution against human rights defenders.


II. In its Judgment of 27 November 2008, the Court found that the danger created by the State through its establishment of "self-defence" groups aggravated the situation of vulnerability of human rights defenders who, like Valle Jaramillo, denounced the violations committed by paramilitary groups and the armed forces. Likewise, the Court found that the protection and recognition of the importance of the role of human rights defenders, whose work is essential for the strengthening of democracy and the rule of law, is intrinsically tied to its obligation of creating the conditions necessary for the effective exercise of the rights established in the Convention. Because the State did not adopt reasonable measures necessary to prevent the violation of Valle Jaramillo's right to life, humane treatment, and personal liberty, despite that it was aware of the danger that he faced, and because it did not carry out a complete and effective investigation into the facts of the case, the State violated Articles 4.1, 5.1 and 7.1 ACHR, to the detriment of Jesús María Valle Jaramillo; Articles 7.1 and 5.1 ACHR, to the detriment of Nelly Valle Jaramillo and Carlos Fernando Jaramillo Correa; and Article 5.1 ACHR to the detriment of their next of kin, all in relation to Article 1.1 ACHR.

The Court found, also, that because disciplinary proceedings are intended to protect the administrative function and to correct and control public officials, they serve a complementary role in guaranteeing the rights in the Convention, but cannot substitute criminal investigations in cases of human rights violations. Likewise, the Court acknowledged the role of administrative proceedings in providing reparations to victims, but stressed that they cannot be regarded adequate and effective remedies for the integral reparation of human rights violations. With respect to the criminal proceedings initiated, the Court held that partial impunity subsisted in this case because the whole truth regarding the facts had not been established and no arrest warrants had been issued for members of paramilitary groups tried and convicted in absentia. Thus, the State violated the right to judicial guarantees and to judicial protection recognised in Articles 8.1 and 25.1 ACHR, in relation to Article 1.1 ACHR, to the detriment of Nelly Valle Jaramillo, Carlos Fernando Jaramillo Correa, and their next of kin. The Court also found a violation of Article 22.1 ACHR, since Jaramillo Correa and his immediate family found themselves in a vulnerable situation that prevented them from freely exercising their right to freedom of movement and residence, in part because the State did not offer them the guarantees that would enable them to exercise that right in Colombian territory.

With respect to a criminal complaint that had been filed by a private party against Jesús María Valle for libel or slander due to the accusations he had made, the Court found no violation of Articles 11 or 13 ACHR. The Court held that the State's review of the complaint was not in itself unlawful harm to the honour or dignity of the individual or an infringement on the right to freedom of thought and expression. The Court also found that no arguments had been set forth with respect to the alleged violation of Article 17 ACHR, and so found no violation thereof. It also found no violation of Articles 13 and 16 ACHR with respect to the rights of human rights defenders in general, stating that alleged victims must be specifically identified in the application submitted to the Tribunal.


Finally, the Court ordered several of the measures of reparation that the State had offered to undertake, including a public act acknowledging its international responsibility, the placement of a plaque at the Courthouse of the Department of Antioquia, medical and psychological care for the victims, the establishment of a scholarship for Nelly Valle Jaramillo and Carlos Fernando Jaramillo Correa, and the payment of pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages. The State also agreed to guarantee the safety of Jaramillo Correa should he decide to return to Colombia. Additionally, the Court ordered that the State publish parts of the Judgment in its official gazette and in another national newspaper of widespread circulation, and that it investigate the facts that gave rise to the violation, ensuring access at all stages of the investigation to the victims and their next of kin.


Judge Sergio García Ramírez wrote a concurring opinion.