I/A Court H.R., Case of the Ituango Massacres v. Colombia. Preliminary Objection, Merits, Reparations and Costs. Judgment of July 1, 2006. Series C No. 148.

Non official brief

This summary is also published in the website of the Council of Europe in the following link: https://www.venice.coe.int/files/Bulletin/B2006-3-e.pdf  

 

Headnotes:

 

States must ensure that the necessary conditions are put in place, to prevent violations of the right to life. They must also make sure their agents, or private individuals, do not violate this right.

 

Human rights treaties are living instruments. Any interpretation of them must take into account changes over time and current conditions.

 

There are two elements to forced or compulsory labour. Firstly, the work or service is exacted "under the menace of a penalty"; secondly, it is not performed voluntarily. For there to be a violation of rights under the American Convention on Human Rights, the alleged violation must be attributable to state agents, either because they played a direct role or they acquiesced to the facts.

 

The "menace of a penalty" is defined as the real and actual presence of a threat. This can assume different forms, the most extreme of which are those that imply coercion, physical violence, isolation or confinement, or the threat to kill the victim or his next of kin.

 

"Unwillingness to perform the work or service" consists of the absence of consent or free choice when the situation of forced labour begins or continues. This can occur for different reasons, such as illegal deprivation of liberty, deception, or psychological coercion.

 

The sphere of privacy is characterised by being exempt from, and immune to, abusive and arbitrary invasion or attack by third parties or public authorities.

 

The destruction of private homes and possessions by a paramilitary group, with the collaboration of state military forces, is not only a violation of the right to the use and enjoyment of property, but also constitutes a grave, unjustified and abusive interference in citizens' private lives and homes.

 

Freedom of movement and residence is an essential condition for the free development of a person. A vital element is the right of those who are legally within a State to move freely within it and to choose their place of residence. Article 22.1 ACHR protects the right not to be forcibly displaced.

 

States must grant preferential treatment to displaced persons and adopt positive measures to reverse the effects of their situation of vulnerability and defencelessness, including the acts and practices of individual third parties.

 

Official registration by governmental agencies does not establish an individual's status as a displaced person, rather the mere fact of having been forced to abandon his usual place of residence.

 

Article 19 ACHR should be understood as a complementary right that the ACHR establishes for individuals who need special protective measures, because of their stage of physical and emotional development.

 

Creating a threatening situation or threatening an individual with torture may, in some circumstances, constitute inhumane treatment.

 

The destruction of homes during a massacre by State security forces may constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

 

By implementing or tolerating actions aimed at carrying out extrajudicial executions, failing to investigate them adequately and failing to punish the perpetrators effectively, the State violates its obligation to respect and ensure the rights established in the American Convention. Here, the State had also failed to guarantee their free and full exercise, both in respect of the alleged victims and their next of kin. The state had concealed these occurrences from society, and reproduced the conditions of impunity that allow such actions to be repeated.

 

Administrative proceedings can complement, but not totally substitute, the function of the criminal jurisdiction in cases of serious human rights violations.

 

Summary:

 

On 1 July 2006, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights asked the Court to decide whether the State of Colombia had violated various . These were Article 4 ACHR (right to life), Article 5 ACHR (right to humane treatment), Article 7 ACHR (right to personal liberty), Article 19 ACHR (rights of the child), Article 21 ACHR (right to property), Article 8 ACHR (Right to a Fair Trial) and Article 25 ACHR (right to Judicial Protection). They were to be reviewed in the context of Article 1.1 ACHR (obligation to respect rights), in connection with various inhabitants of the villages of La Granja and El Aro in Ituango, Colombia.

 

The State's responsibility arose from acts of omission, acquiescence and collaboration by members of law enforcement bodies based in the Municipality of Ituango with paramilitary groups belonging to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), which perpetrated successive armed raids on June 1996 and, as of October 1997, in the municipal districts of La Granja and El Aro, killing 19 defenceless civilians, robbing others of their property and causing terror and forced displacement. Furthermore, the Colombian State had still not complied significantly with its obligation to clarify the facts, prosecute all those responsible effectively, and provide adequate recompense to the victims and their next of kin.

 

In its Judgment of 1 July 2006, the Court found that Colombia was responsible for several violations of Convention rights. These included the right to life and to humane treatment (Articles 4 and 5 ACHR), the right not to be required to perform forced or compulsory labor (Article 6.2 ACHR), the right to personal liberty (Article 7 ACHR), the prohibition of arbitrary or abusive interference in a person's private life and home (Article 11.2 ACHR) the right to property (Article 21 ACHR), the right to freedom of movement and residence (Article 22 ACHR) and the rights to a fair trial and to judicial protection under Articles 8 and 25 ACHR. They were all to be viewed in the context of the obligation to respect rights, under Article 1.1 ACHR.

 

The Court ordered the State inter alia, to take the necessary measures to provide justice in this case; provide, free of charge, and through the national health service, the appropriate treatment required by the next of kin of the victims executed in this case; take the necessary measures to guarantee safe conditions for the former inhabitants of El Aro and La Granja, who were forcibly displaced, to return to El Aro or La Granja; organise a public act to acknowledge international responsibility for the facts of this case; implement a housing programme; erect a monument in commemoration of the victims; implement permanent training programs on human rights and international humanitarian law for the Colombian Armed Forces; publish the judgment, and pay compensation for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages, as well as costs and expenses.