I/A Court H.R., Case of the Rochela Massacre v. Colombia. Merits, Reparations and Costs. Judgment of May 11, 2007. Series C No. 163.

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/B2007-3-e.pdf

 

Headnotes:

 

The international responsibility of the State results from the acts or omissions of any of its bodies or agencies, which are in violation of the American Convention on Human Rights. It is sufficient to prove that public officials have provided support to or shown tolerance of the violation of rights, that their omissions have enabled the commission of such violations, or that the State has failed to comply with any of its duties.

 

Due to the nature of the crime and the rights and freedoms violated, the military criminal jurisdiction is not the competent jurisdiction to investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators of human rights violations. When the military justice system assumes jurisdiction over a matter that should be heard by the ordinary justice system, the right to have a case tried by the appropriate judge is affected.

 

A disciplinary procedure can complement but not entirely substitute the role of criminal courts in cases of grave human rights violations.

 

In order to comply with the obligation to investigate within the framework of due process guarantees, a State must take all necessary measures to protect judicial officers, investigators, witnesses and the next of kin from harassment and threats which are designed to obstruct the proceedings, prevent a clarification of the events of the case, and prevent the identification of those responsible for such events.

 

The Court recognised that the right to truth is subsumed within Articles 8 and 25 ACHR, which provides for the right of the victim or the victims´ next of kin to obtain a State determination of the truth of the events and corresponding responsibility through an investigation and trial. The satisfaction of the collective dimension of the right to truth requires a legal analysis of the most complete historical record possible, including a description of the patterns of joint action and should identify all those who participated in the violations.

 

Comprehensive reparation of the violation of a right protected by the Convention cannot be reduced to the payment of compensation to the next of kin. Adequate redress, understood within the framework of the Convention, includes measures of rehabilitation and satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.

 

Summary:

 

I. On the morning of 18 January 1989, 15 members of a Judicial Commission investigating the responsibility of civilian and army personnel for gross violations of human rights were ambushed and detained by 40 armed men belonging to the "Los Masetos" paramilitary group. They were subsequently locked up and guarded in a small room for hours. They were then tied up, forced into vehicles, and driven to another location where the armed men got out and fired indiscriminately and continuously on the vehicles carrying members of the Judicial Commission. The paramilitaries proceeded to give a "finishing shot" to victims showing any signs of life. Twelve were killed in the massacre, while three survived the attack.

 

On 10 March 2006, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (hereinafter, "the Commission") filed an application against the State of Colombia in which it asked the Court to decide whether the State is responsible for the violation of the rights to life (Article 4 ACHR), humane treatment (Article 5 ACHR), a fair trial (Article 8 ACHR) and judicial protection (Article 25 ACHR), in relation to the general obligation to respect and guarantee human rights established in Article 1.1 ACHR. In addition, the representatives of the victims and their next of kin alleged the State is responsible for the violation of the right to personal liberty (Article 7 ACHR ), and the right to the truth; as well as non-compliance with Article 2 ACHR.

 

The State recognised that the Rochela Massacre was carried out by members of the paramilitary group "Los Masetos" with the cooperation and acquiescence of State agents, and also recognised that it incurred an omission regarding the protection of the Judicial Commission, which took place in a context of risk for judicial officers in the performance of their duties.

 

II. The Court held that the right to life also applied with regard to the three survivors, taking into account the force employed, the intent and objective of the use of this force, and the situation in which the victims found themselves. It considered that the intention of the perpetrators was to execute the members of the Judicial Commission and they did everything they considered necessary to fulfil this objective. The Court considered the fact that three of them were only injured and not killed was merely fortuitous.

 

The Court found that Colombia violated the rights to personal liberty, humane treatment, and life enshrined in the American Convention, in relation to Article 1.1 ACHR, to the detriment of the deceased and surviving victims of the Rochela Massacre, and the right to humane treatment of their next of kin. The Court considered that the criminal proceedings had not been conducted within a reasonable time and have not constituted an effective recourse to ensure the rights to judicial access, the determination of the truth of the events, and reparation for the alleged victims and their next of kin. During 18 years of investigations and compelling evidence, only seven paramilitaries and one soldier (sentenced to one year) had been convicted.

 

The Court ordered the State, inter alia, to pay compensation to the victims and their next of kin; adopt all measures necessary for the effective completion, within a reasonable time, of the investigations and judicial proceedings initiated before regular criminal courts, and to take all measures necessary to determine and, where appropriate, sanction those responsible for the facts denounced in this case; publish the results of said investigations so that Colombian society may know the truth about the facts of this case; guarantee that judicial personnel, prosecutors, investigators and other personnel of the justice system may have adequate protection and security so that they may carry out their work with due diligence, particularly regarding the investigation of the facts of the present case; provide free health and psychological treatment to the survivors and the victims' next of kin; and continue to implement and develop human rights education programs within the armed forces.