Junio 11, 2007

Colombia ordered to pay millions in massacre case

BOGOTA, Columbia (Reuters) -- In a ruling hailed as a landmark by human rights advocates, the Colombian government has been ordered to pay damages over a 1989 massacre of state investigators by army-backed militias.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered more than $5 million in damages be paid to relatives of 12 investigators killed by right-wing paramilitaries in the northern hamlet of La Rochela.

The decision, which cannot be appealed, marks the first time the state has been found guilty of involvement in the murder of its own agents.

"The ruling shows that the state not only lacked the will to confront the paramilitaries, but that some officials colluded with them against the government's own investigators," said Michael Camilleri, who worked on the case for the Center for Justice and International Law in Washington.

The decision was made on May 11 but only came to light over the weekend. A government spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

The massacre shocked Colombia as it reeled under the first of what would be many waves of paramilitary violence.

The "paras" were organized in the 1980s to help defend rich Colombians from left-wing rebels funded by kidnapping and extortion. Both groups have since grown rich on this Andean country's multibillion-dollar cocaine trade.

The court, which is part of the Organization of American States, also ordered Colombia to do more to guarantee the security of agents investigating illegal armed groups that still control wide swathes of countryside.

"This decision highlights the inability of Colombia to get to the bottom this type of case on its own," said Jose Miguel Vivanco of New York-based Human Rights Watch.

The ruling came as President Alvaro Uribe is embroiled in a scandal in which members of his congressional coalition have been jailed for backing the paramilitaries.

The scandal has hurt his standing overseas, with Democrats in the U.S. Congress threatening to reduce aid to Colombia and to reject a free trade deal.

But Uribe, whose father was killed by Marxist rebels in the 1980s, remains popular at home for cutting crime as part of his U.S.-backed security crackdown and for striking a peace deal under which 31,000 paramilitaries have disarmed.

Thousands are killed and tens of thousands are displaced in Colombia's war every year.

Posted by marga at Junio 11, 2007 10:52 PM | TrackBack
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