ON THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS
On April 27, in the early hours of the morning, the captors of the
Dominican Republic Embassy and the hostages, accompanied by the members of the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Colombian Government officials,
members of the Asociación Colombiana Pro-Derechos Humanos, and representatives
of the Red Cross went to the El Dorado international Airport of Bogotá to board
an airplane flying the Cuban flag and to depart for Havana.
Several hostages were released moments before the flight took off.
Others were set free in the Cuban capital, following a period of
captivity that has lasted 61 days.
the on-site investigation, the Commission released a document in which it
reaffirmed its ideas on the subject of human rights, subversion and terrorism.
That document, published in the Colombia media, reads as follows:
RIGHTS, SUBVERSION AND TERRORISM
The Inter-American Commission on Human rights has had a clear view on
this matter for a number of years. This
opinion was set forth again in a recent Commission document.
The Commission believes that the doctrine set forth in its document has a
broader scope and is valid in relation to all the states that make up the
Organization of American States.
That document reads:
Importance of this issued and its invocation as a justification for the
Government’s conduct in the matter of respect for human rights, provides
sufficient reason for the Commission to restate is as clear terms as possible,
its thinking in this regard. Basically this issue can be analyzed by attempting to answer
two questions that were repeatedly put to the Commission, both before and during
the on-site observations:
Why doesn’t the Commission investigate terrorist acts? In other words,
why is it that the Commission concerns itself exclusively with actions
attributable to governments?, and
To what extent does the Commission take terrorism and subversion into
account when assessing the conduct of governments as regards the observance of
The lack of jurisdiction of the IACHR to investigate acts imputed to
terrorist groups of subversive organizations
simple and legally precise answer to the first question is that the sovereign
states of the Organization of American States have not chosen to five the
Commission jurisdiction to investigate terrorism and subversion.
Obviously the commission on its own, is not competent to establish its
statutory norms in accordance with the changing preferences of its members.
Its basic structure, including, of course, its functions and powers, are
determined by the norms, which the member states of the OAS have agreed to
establish. Even the most cursory
review of these norms reveals that the task of the Commission –as, in general,
that of all other intergovernmental bodies set up for the protection of human
rights—is to investigate only those actions attributable to governments.
Juridical considerations, however, are not the only consideration.
The practical consequences, ere the Commission to investigate terrorist
or subversive activities, would be truly serious.
In effect, if the Commission, in violation of its mandate, were to agree
to process a denunciation involving some alleged act of terrorism, in so doing
it would implicitly place terrorist organizations on an equal footing with
government, as the Commission would have to transmit the denunciation to the
subversive organization which allegedly is responsible for the act and request
that it make such observations as it deems appropriate.
Undoubtedly, such organizations would be very pleased to be dealt with as
if they were government. But, what
government in the hemisphere could tolerate an implicit recognition of
quasi-governmental status for an organization of this king?
In many instances, it has been the strategy of subversives not just to
acknowledge but also to openly boast of their terrorist acts.
If responsibility for the act has been acknowledged already, for the
Commission formally to attribute responsibility to the terrorists would serve no
purpose other than that of further publicizing their actions.
summary, those who attack the Commission for not accepting denunciations
concerning terrorist acts committed by subversive groups, not only ignore the
legal norms applicable to bodies such as the IACHR, but implicitly seek to
elevate the international status of such groups and to help spread their
On the other hand, it is not the Commission’s role to substitute for
the State in investigating and punishing violations committed by individuals.
However, it falls to the Commission to protect individuals whose rights
have been injured by agents of organs of the State. The ultimate reason for international bodies to protect human
rights, as in the case of the IACHR, lies in the need to have means of recourse
when human rights have been violated by state agents or organs.
Further, it is the sense of the Commission that its cooperation in the
campaign against terrorism consists in faithfully carrying out the function
assigned to it, that is, in promoting the effective observance of human rights
on the part of government, since, as experience has demonstrated, in countries
where government fulfill their obligations of promoting economic and social
development, and maintain public order without violating human rights, terrorist
groups never encounter massive popular support and their fate, inevitably, is to
The limits of the State’s repressive action
Commission now wishes to address the second question.
Do the existence of terrorists and the threats to subvert the public
order influence the Commission’s assessments or evaluations with respect to
the observance of human rights in a given country? Within the limits to be
described below the obvious answer is yes.
The Commission repeatedly has emphasized the obligation of governments to
maintain public order and preserve the safety of their inhabitants.
To the end, governments must energetically prevent and repress acts of
violence, whether they be committed by public officials or private individuals,
and regardless of whether their motivation may be considered political or not.
In the life of any nation, threats to the public order or to the personal
safety of its inhabitants, by persons or groups that use violence, can reach
such proportions that it becomes necessary, temporarily, to suspend the exercise
of certain human rights.
The majorities of the constitutions of the American States accept such
limitations, and even provide for the temporary institution of states of
emergency or states of siege in such circumstances.
Of course, in order for such measures to be adopted, extremely serious
circumstances must intervene, as the institution of such regimes must be in
response to the necessity of preserving those rights and freedoms which have
been threatened by the disturbance of the public order and personal safety.
However, it is equally clear that certain fundamental rights can never be
suspended, as is the case, among others, of the right to life, the right to
personal safety, or the right to due process. In other words, under no
circumstances, may governments employ summary execution, torture, inhumane
conditions of detention, or the denial of certain minimum conditions of justice
as the means to restore public order. These
measures are proscribed in constitutions and in international instruments, both
at the regional and at the global level./
In this regard, it is important to recall the words spoken by His
Holiness Pope John Paul II at the OAS on October 6, 1979.
After acknowledging that at times special measures may be adopted, he
added the following:
…they never, never justify an attack on the inviolable dignity of the
human person and on the authentic rights that protect this dignity.
If certain ideologies and certain ways of interpreting the legitimate
concern for national security were to result in subjugating man and his rights
and dignities to the State, they would to that extend cease to be humane and
would be unable, without gross deception, to claim any Christian reference.
In the thinking of the Church it is a fundamental principle that social
organization is at the service of man, not vice versa.
That holds true also at the highest levels of society, where the power of
coercion is wielded and where abuses, when they occur, are particularly serious.
Furthermore, a kind of security with which people do not identify,
because it does not protect them in their very humanity, is only a farce: as it
grows more and more rigid, it will shoe symptoms of growing weakness and rapidly
Each government that confronts a subversive threat must choose, on the
one hand, the path of respect for the rule of law, or, on the other the descent
into state terrorism. When a
government enjoys broad popular support, the choice of the first method will
always be successful, as various countries have demonstrated both in the distant
and more recent past.
As has already been pointed out, respects for the rule of law does not
preclude, under certain circumstances, the adoption of extraordinary measures.
When the emergency situation is truly serious, certain restrictions may
be imposed, for example, on the freedom of information, or limitations on the
right of association, within the framework established in the constitution.
In more extreme cases, persons may be detained for short periods without
it being necessary to bring specific charges against them.
It is true that such measures can ultimately pose the risk that the rule
of law will be lost, but that is not inevitable provided that government act
responsibly: if they register arrest and inform the families of the detainees of
the detentions; if the issue strict orders prohibiting torture; if they
carefully recruit and train security forces, weeding out sadists and
psychopaths, and lastly, if there is an independent Judiciary to swiftly correct
any abuse of authority.
6. On April 27, the Commission concluded the first stage of its on-site investigation and issued its second press released. On April 28, the Commission issued press release No. 3 to clarify the different interpretations of its previous press release. /
Oral Courts Martial
the on-site investigation, the Commission went to the Baraya Batallion of Bogotá
to attend the public phase of the Oral Court-Martial against presumed members of
the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias Colombianas (FARC).
that time, the Commission met with the presiding officer, the members, the
prosecutor and the legal advisor of the military court and gathered information
about the applicable law, the procedures followed an the mechanisms used in the
trials. The Commission also spoke
separately to several of those being tried in the military court and with their
In this part of the on-site investigation, the Commission was not able to
attend the Oral Court-Martial against presumed members of the M-19 movement
since the Court-Martial was not in its public phase, but was able to do so later
on, starting in March 1981.
Activities undertaken after the Commission’s visit
the first part of the on-site investigation was over, attorneys from the
Executive Secretariat of the Commission remained in Colombia during the second
stage of the investigation.
this point on, Commission attorneys and Secretariat staff members have visited
Colombia periodically to carry our the following activities:
To attend the Oral Courts-Martial against the alleged members of the FARC,
at the Baraya Batallion of Bogotá; of the M-19, a t the La Picota penitentiary
in Bogotá, and at Ipiales, in de Department of Nariño.
To observe in Cali, on June 20, 1980, the sentencing by the Oral
Courts-Martial of three members of the M-19 movement;
Interviews and conversations with Colombian government officials.
Interview with representatives of human rights groups;
Interviews with members of the Oral courts-martial;
Interviews with the defense
attorneys of alleged members of the M-19 movement and the FARC;
Investigation of special cases;
Receipt of documents relating to the situation of human rights in
Conversations about medical care of several prisoners;
Visits to the La Picota Central Penitentiary of Bogotá.
Visit to the Military Institutes Brigade;
Visits to the cavalry school and interview with its Commander, who turned
over documents about the interrogation system of the prisoners and photographs
of the detention facilities of that military center;
m) Receipt of forms and other documents requested from the Government;
Other conversations regarding the observation of human rights in
Method followed in drafting this report
drafting this report, the Commission followed primarily the method used in
preparing documents of this type after making an on-site investigation, in
accordance with the corresponding regulatory provisions.
consideration of the foregoing, the Commission used the evidence gathered in the
course of its investigation. These
include analysis and review of the status of human rights before, during and
after the on-site investigation carried out in Colombia.
In doing so, the Commission has taken into account the charges made, and
the testimony and information received at its headquarters, as well as during
the course of its activities in Colombia. Individual
complaints and pertinent testimony and information have been appropriately
its stay in Colombia, the commission interviewed Government authorities and held
hearings with representatives of different sectors of Colombian society.
Likewise, it exchanged ideas and listed to those persons who wishes to
express their points of view. Public
authorities, representative organization of different types, and individuals all
gave the Commission documents and information, which, after being examined, were
helpful in preparing this report.
a study was made of Colombian law, internal jurisdictional procedures and
applicable international norms in this area.
Also consulted were other documents which in some way or another
contributed to a better and more objective understanding of the real situation
in Colombia and in that context, of the situation of human rights there.
report includes a number of chapters on different aspects of the human rights
situation in Colombia. Those
chapters include, in the pertinent parts, several cases regarding charges, which
are still being processed. Therefore,
the Commission wishes to clarify that its inclusion of those cases does not make
any prejudgment with respect to the finding, which the Commission will
eventually issue, on these cases in accordance with its Rules of Procedure. /
6. The Commission wishes to point out that, for reasons of time and insufficient background information, it is not including tin this report a chapter on economic, social and cultural rights. However, it retains its interest in this area for the purpose of conducting this work in the future, in accordance with the resolution of the OAS General Assembly at it tenth regular session held in Washington, D.C. in November, 1980. In that session, the General assembly took note of the annual report, and the special reports of the Commission and stated that it shares the concern of the Commission in emphasizing the importance of economic, social and cultural rights within the context of human rights for the comprehensive development of the human person, and reaffirms that the effective protection of human rights must also encompass social, economic and cultural rights.
the case of external or internal armed conflicts, the Geneva Convention of
1949 establishes minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners, which
prohibit their being killed or tortured.
release No. 2 reads as follows: “Today the Inter-American Commission on
Human Rights closed the first stage of its investigation which the government
of his county had invited it to make into the situation of human rights in the
Republic of Colombia. This first
stage started on April 21 of this year.
During its stay in the Republic of Colombia, the Commission interviewed
the President of the republic, the Chairman of the Congress, the Attorney
General of the Nation, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Government, Justice,
Defense and Communications, as ell as other civil and military authorities,
both national and local, in the different places it visited.
The Commission also met with former Presidents of the Republic, His
Eminence, the Cardinal Primate of Colombia, Monsignor Anibal Muñoz Duque, His
Excellency and Very Reverend, Archbishop of Cali, Monsignor Alberto Uribe
Urdaneta, executives of national human rights agencies, and representatives of
political, religious, professional, cultural, trade union, small farmer,
business and student groupings from all of which it took testimony and
statements regarding the current state of affairs in Colombia in human rights.
At the same time, the Commission maintained permanent contact with the
mass communications media, both national and foreign, which in broad and
on-going fashion covered the on-site investigation.
To the media the Commission expresses its recognition.
The Commission visited penitentiary and detention centers in Bogotá,
Cali, Medellín and Bucaramanga, and at those places heard individual and
group charges of alleged violations of human rights.
These complaints will be transmitted in accordance with statures and
the regulations of the Commission. The
Government of Colombia has given guarantees that no measure will be taken
against the persons and institutions that presented charges, information and
testimony. Furthermore, the
Commission attended those Oral Courts Martial that were in the public phase
during its stay in Colombia.
As part of its mandate and based on the legal provisions that govern
it, the Commission believes that it contributed to developing a satisfactory
settlement of the problem stemming from the occupation of the Embassy of the
Dominican Republic in Colombia.
In accordance with the decision reached with the Government of
Colombia, the Commission will continue exercising in Colombia territory all
powers and activities necessary to achieve the objective of its mission in
Furthermore, in consideration of the evaluations and information it
gained during the on-site investigation and any additional information
obtained later, the Commission will prepare its report an d transmit it to the
government so that it might make any observations it deems appropriate.
Once the observations have been examined, the Commission cannot issue
any other substantive opinion about the situation of human rights in Colombia.
The Commission wishes to express its recognition for the facilities
furnished to it by the Government of Colombia for the accomplishment of its
mission, and to thank the authorities and all those persons and institutions
that represent Colombian Society and helped to carry our its work during its
stay in this county. Bogotá,
Colombia, April 27, 1980.”
Press release No. 2 reads as follows: “The Inter-American Commission
on Human Rights has heard different, and at times, conflicting interpretations
of its final press release. Consequently,
it has decided to issued the following statement:
Commission has the obligation to investigate each of the denunciations it
receives of alleged human rights violations by any member state of the OAS.
The Commission has complied with and continues complying with these
its meetings with both the Government of Colombia and the occupants of the
embassy of the Dominican Republic, the Commission reiterated its commitment of
investigate every charge that it received and, in the light of any conclusions
it might reach, to bring before the Government any recommendation it
other agreement with the Government or with the occupants of the Embassy could
change this profound and unwavering commitment.
However, the Commission felt it necessary to enter into an agreement
with the Government so that the Commission could have the broadest facilities
and guarantees to carry out its functions.
Yesterday, in his statement to the Colombian people, President Turbay
read both the text of the note that the Government of Colombia sent to the
Commission, offering those facilities and guarantees, and the reply from the
Commission, accepting that proposal in its entirety.
the context established by that exchange of notes and pursuant to the terms of
Colombian law and the regulations of the Commission, the latter will continue
its work and perform all activities it considers appropriate to that end.
In view of the relevance of the Oral Courts-Martial to the permanence of
human rights, the attorneys of the Commission Secretariat will remain in
Colombia as long as necessary and will follow closely the procedures carried out
in those Courts-Martial. Those
attorneys will also perform other duties.
On the basis of information available now and other information that
inevitably will came forth in the continuation of its work in Colombia, the
commission will formulate all the conclusions and recommendations that it
considers appropriate in connection with the situation of human rights in
Colombia. The recommendation
relating to individual cases or situations, according to the agreement reached
with the government of Colombia, will be presented opportunely to competent
authorities, without any need of waiting for publication of the general report
that the Commission will prepare on the status of human rights in Colombia.
Bogotá, D.E., April 28, 1980.”
 The regulations of the Commission set out the specific procedure for the processing of individual cases in accordance with its statutory rules and the pertinent provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights.