Statement concerning the grave threats against the Colombian Supreme Court
On 4th March 2010, the Office of the Attorney General of Colombia informed the plenary of the Supreme Court of Justice that it had learned of a new plan to assassinate certain judges of that Court.
On the same day, the plenary of the Court released a communiqué in which it denounced the existence of a "strategy of threats" against it, as well as the "quiet apathy" of the other branches of the Colombian State, which, in such serious circumstances, cannot be considered as a "one-off episode", particularly given the importance of the proceedings currently taking place before the Court against politicians, paramilitaries and drug-traffickers for the commission of crimes against humanity in the country.
The Court called for the solidarity of civil society to defend both the work of the judges and the rule of law in Colombia, threatened once again by the acts of the so called "dark forces" who are seeking to impede the prosecutions of those responsible for serious crimes committed in Colombia.
In light of the above, we express our support to the Court at this time in respect of the threats and systematic aggression made against the highest tribunal of ordinary justice in Colombia, as we believe that the source of these are to be found in what we have described as the Executive Power´s attack against the Supreme Court of Justice.
[See this information in chronological order from May 2006 in the specialized page: http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/colombia/justicia/justiciamain.html#cs]
BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT OF THE SITUATION
1) Since 2005, the judges and investigators of the Supreme Court have been the objects of illegal espionage and actions of "offensive intelligence" by the Administrative Department of Security (DAS), the secret police of Colombia, which is hierarchically and functionally dependent on the President Álvaro Uribe Vélez.
These criminal actions against the Court coincided with the beginning of the investigations into congressmen, ex-congressmen, governors and other public servants in connection with their links to paramilitarism,(which in international law is known as participation in joint criminal enterprise), and which process has come to be known in Colombia as "para-politics".
2) In November 2006, the threatening calls began against the Court. At that time, the object of the insults and threats was one of the assistant judges of Judge Alfredo Gómez Quintero, of the Criminal Division.
3) In February 2007, the ex-president of the Court, Judge Yesid Ramírez Bastidas, received several threatening calls.
4) In May 2007, several judges of the Criminal Division received further threatening and intimidating calls.
5) In July 2007, when the Court issued an important judgement establishing precedent regarding the legal distinction between political crimes and crimes committed by the paramilitary groups, it was the target of strong verbal criticisms on the part of the president Álvaro Uribe, in an unprecedented confrontation between Colombian institutions.
6) Between September and October of 2007, following the investigation into the link between Senator Mario Uribe, first cousin of President Álvaro Uribe, and the "para-politics" process, a new plot against the Supreme Court was devised in the Casa de Nariño (presidential headquarters), by means of a paramilitary member known by the alias Tasmania, who would subsequently retract his accusations against the Court ( http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/colombia/doc/ivan1.html ), and, in particular, against the assistant Judge Iván Velásquez, the principal investigator in this process.
7) In October 2007, anonymous callers threatened to detonate a bomb in the school of the daughter of María del Rosario González de Lemos, a judge of the Criminal Division, and it had to be evacuated. However, the Executive, and some of the state security organs continue today to express doubt as to the truthfulness of this threat, in spite of the fact that the Office of the National Procurator-General (Procuraduría General de la Nación - PGN) has established that it did in fact take place. Months later, Judge González's security vehicle was sabotaged.
8) In November 2007, the National Police, without justification, withdrew its protection service from assistant Judge Iván Velásquez, head of the investigative commission in the "para-politics" cases. Following protests from the Court, the service was reinstated.
9) In January 2008, President Álvaro Uribe Vélez filed a complaint alleging defamation by Judge César Julio Valencia Copete, the then President of the Supreme Court of Justice, for statements made in the newspaper "El Espectador", in a clear attack against judicial independence and freedom of expression.
10) On 10th April 2008, the Court, in accordance with international criminal law, held in a second instance judgement that an agreement to commit crimes for the purposes of paramilitarism constituted a crime against humanity.
11) In August 2008, senior officials of the Presidency of the Republic, including the legal secretary Edmundo del Castillo, and press secretary César Mauricio Velásquez, and several members of DAS, met in the presidential headquarters with spokesmen and members of the paramilitary, who since December 2007 sought to criminally prejudice the members of the Supreme Court for their investigations into the "para-politics" ( http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/colombia/doc/paz/paras4.html ).
12) In September 2008, President Álvaro Uribe attacked the Supreme Court again, this time for having granted house arrest to the ex-congresswoman Yidis Medina, who confessed to having accepted favours and bribes from senior officials of the Executive in exchange for his favourable vote in the matter of re-election of the President. This generated new investigations against congressmen and state officials, proceedings which became known as "Yidis-politics" ("yidis-política"). For his part, the Minister of the Interior, Fabio Valencia, accused the then president of the Court, Francisco Ricaurte, of "acting in bad faith", for his criticisms of the project of justice reform, which aimed to create a "Super-Court" to investigate politicians and senior officials of the state.
13) In February 2009, the magazine "Semana" denounced the fact that the DAS had for several years been carrying out acts of espionage against high court judges, journalists, and opposition leaders.
14) In August 2009, the Court denounced fresh threats made against it, this time through an obituary sent to the then President of the Criminal Division, Judge Julio Enrique Socha Salamanca. It also discovered information regarding possible attacks against the judges. All this took place two months after the conviction of two ex-congressmen in connection with the so-called "yidis-política".
15) In September 2009, the Supreme Court of Justice issued a judgement regarding the crime of conspiracy to commit a crime for the purposes of paramilitarism, which they had previously held to constitute a crime against humanity, in the case of the so-called "para-politicians" ( http://www.radionizkor.org/colombia/#cch1 ). The Criminal Division determined, in accordance with international law, that the accused were members of a "criminal structure composed of a number of people who participate in a criminal organisation articulated around the principles of hierarchy and subordination", and that "those who took part, making use of their positions, are also criminally liable for the totality of crimes attributed to the commanders or chiefs of the blocks, fronts or units that make up the criminal association". This precedent will necessarily have an effect on the trials which are being heard in the Court against senior officials of the state and politicians, due to links with paramilitary groups. Nine out of ten of these officials and politicians are members of the coalition that brought Álvaro Uribe Vélez to the Presidency of the Republic.
16) Throughout the whole of 2009, unprecedented details were uncovered about the intelligence and counterintelligence carried out against the Supreme Court of Justice by the Group of National and International Observation and Verification (GONI), operating within DAS from 2005. It was ascertained, for example, that DAS closely monitored the routines of the magistrates, knew about their likes and weaknesses, the members of their family, and their closest circles of friends. It was also known that telephone interceptions of conversations between Judge Iván Velásquez and a senior official of the US Embassy were carried out by members of the National Police and the Office of the Attorney General.
17) Due to the threats and attacks made against the Supreme Court, three members of the Court, Judges María del Rosario González de Lemos, Julio César Valencia Copete and Iván Velásquez have been granted precautionary measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
18) Since December 2009, the Supreme Court of Justice has handed down further convictions in the so-called "para-politics" trials. On 3rd December 2009, the Court imposed a forty year prison term on the formerdepartmental Governor of Sucre and also former Colombian ambassador to Chile during the first Uribe Administration, Salvador Arana Sus, for the homicide of the former mayor of El Roble, Eudaldo Díaz in 2003. The court also certified copies of existing documents in order to investigate the former official for crimes against humanity committed by the paramilitary group of Rodrigo Mercado Pelufo, alias "Cadena".
19) On 15th December 2009, the former member of parliament Gonzalo García Angarita (Conservative party) was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for his links to paramilitarism in the department of Tolima.
20) On 26th January 2010, the court sentenced the former senator Vicente Blel Saad to seven and a half years in prison for his links with the paramilitaries of the North Block, commanded by Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, alias Jorge 40, in the department of Bolívar.
21) On 27th January 2010, the court condemned two paramilitaries to prison terms of 40 and 20 years for the massacre of four indigenous members of the Kankuamo Indigenous People, and it ordered the Attorney General to investigate Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, alias Jorge 40 for these events. It also requested the rapid investigation into the assassinations of over 50 indigenous members of the Kankuamo Indigenous People since 2002.
22) On 1st February 2010, the court commenced proceedings against the former Director of the Administrative Department of Security (DAS), Jorge Noguera Cotes, for the homicide of two trade unionists, a human rights defender and a journalist in 2003. In the context of these proceedings, the public has learned that DAS produced weekly reports about trade union activity to the President of the Republic, and that the former Deputy Director of DAS, Mr José Miguel Narváez - currently in prison and being prosecuted for directing and steering the unit within DAS that carried out illegal espionage against more than 300 people - was appointed by request of the President Álvaro Uribe Vélez.
23) On 2nd February 2010, the court sentenced the former member of parliament Dixon Ferney Tapasco to seven and a half years in prison for his links to paramilitary groups in the department of Caldas.
24) On 11th February 2010, the court ordered that the paramilitary Libardo Duarte, alias Bam-Bam be excluded from the exceptional jurisdiction of Law 975 of 2005, inappropriately named Justice and Peace law, on establishing that he had confessed to the commission of the crime of homicide after his "demobilization" from the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC), and sent the case to ordinary justice, despite requests to the contrary made by the National Government and the Office of the Attorney General.
25) On 16th February 2010, the Supreme Court refused provisional release of the former President of the Congress of the Republic, the conservative Luis Humberto Gómez Gallo, who is to be tried for his links with paramilitaries and drug-traffickers in the department of Tolima.
26) On 17th February 2010, the court denied the extradition to the United States of the paramilitary chief Edwar Cobos Téllez, alias Diego Vecino, who is being investigated for the massacres of Manpujan and Las Brisas, in which 663 victims of forced displacement were proved, as well as 7 victims of hostage taking, 11 homicides and torture. The court, in the course of the extradition proceedings, considered that when the facts may constitute crimes against humanity, the commission of serious crimes under international criminal law must take precedence over crimes of drug-trafficking. [ See complete text of the court's decision at http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/colombia/doc/vecino.html ]
27) On 23rd February 2010, the Court issued the maximum sentence of 40 years in prison to the former Senator Álvaro García Romero for conspiracy to commit crimes, embezzling for appropriation, and the homicide of eight people in the massacre of Macayepo, and concluded that the former congressman "in his position as representative of the people of Sucre before the legislature had an undoubted obligation to notify the authorities of the paramilitary incursion that he subsequently not only tolerated but supported, providing backing to this illegal armed group from some time back."
28) On 24th February 2010, the Supreme Court of Justice brought charges for conspiracy to commit crimes against the former Senator Mario Uribe Escobar, first cousin of the President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, and one of his major allies throughout his political career. The Court considered that Mario Uribe Escobar took an active part in the plan of political expansion of paramilitarism, with the objective of obtaining "national representation via allies who, either coming for the first time to Congress, or already being there, would strengthen the realisation of his purposes." [ See complete text of the court's decision at: http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/colombia/doc/mariou.html ]
29) Also on 24th February 2010, the court reaffirmed its decision that the so-called "false positives", that is, extrajudicial executions committed systematically by members of the armed forces, must be tried in the ordinary courts, and therefore declared null and void a judgement of a military court, remitting the proceedings to the Attorney General.
30) On 3rd March, various Colombian media sources reported that the Supreme Court of Justice had ordered the investigation of retired general and current ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Mario Montoya, for his alleged links with paramilitarism. However, court sources deny that this decision had taken place, and consider that this false report is part of a strategy of disinformation.
31) On 4th March 2010, the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, published the report from her visit to Colombia in September 2009. In this report, the Rapporteur said she was "particularly disturbed by threats sent to the highest judicial authorities in the country", in reference to the attacks suffered by the Supreme Court of Justice.
IN LIGHT OF THESE FACTS, WE WISH TO STRESS THE FOLLOWING:
32) There is no doubt that the intimidating acts and systematic threats suffered by the Colombian Supreme Court for several years constitute part of a strategy which seeks to terrorize the highest court of justice. This Court has the duty to investigate and prosecute congressmen, former congressmen and senior officials of the state, in proceedings revealing the actions of a vast criminal enterprise which, since 2002, in alliance with drug-traffickers and paramilitaries, has taken control of large parts of the three branches of public power in Colombia.
33) In this context, we consider the Executive Power, headed by the President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, responsible for the protection of the members of the Supreme Court of Justice and their families, and for anyfailure concerning their protection which results in materialisation of the grave threats to which the Court has been exposed.
34) At the same time as we express our support of the Supreme Court, we also hope that it does not abandon its search for truth and justice in the face of the serious facts which it investigates and judges. This is a challenge that the court must assume in accordance with national and international jurisprudence regarding cases that entail the application of the criminal characterization of crimes against humanity and the determination of individual criminal responsibilities for membership of a criminal organisation pursuant to the jurisprudence established in application of current international criminal law, and the application of the United Nations Convention against organised transnational crime.
35) In the particular case of the prosecution of Jorge Noguera, we call on the Supreme Court to guarantee the principle of publicity of the trial stage, and not to accede to the requests of the defence that the sessions be declared secret.
36) Equally, we request that the Court does not cede to the pressures of those who aim to keep secret those testimonies obtained in trial. Even if the sessions take place behind closed doors in exceptional cases, statements made during the sessions are, and must be, of public character. This is established in the Colombian Code of Criminal Proceedings and in international law provisions concerning human rights in the administration of justice.
In the case of information concerning judicial proceedings, the relationship between the right to freedom of expression and the foundations of a democracy includes effective access to the proceedings, to the trial process and the eventual judgement, especially important in a case representing the first proceedings against the Colombian intelligence system.
37) We request the government members of the European Union, and especially the Spanish government, to assume political and legal responsibility for having for years protected the structure established by President Uribe.
38) The reasonable grounds and the evidence arising from the proceedings concerning the counterintelligence system and from the proceedings against senators and representatives accused, charged and, in many cases convicted, show that this structure constitutes a "joint criminal enterprise".
39) It would have been impossible to keep these types of activities secret without the explicit, and often aggressive support of Spanish diplomacy, relying on a doctrinal justification of the fight against terrorism, which permits the de facto establishment of a state of exception in which the paramilitary and drug-traffickingorganisations assume, also de facto, the political control of the state.
40) We request the U.S. State Department to profoundly review its policy of cooperation known as "Plan Colombia", to modify it to meet international standards with respect to civil liberties and human rights and applicable international law, and to fundamentally and rationally revise its policies concerning the fight against drug-trafficking, which have been shown to be totally ineffective in the struggle against organised crime.
Similarly, the military forces deployed in Colombian soil should be withdrawn, and the military bases anticipated in the agreements endorsed with the Colombian executive should not be installed as these agreements do not meet the conditions set by domestic Colombian law and international law.
41) We ask those concerned to remember that the policies such as those carried out by the Spanish Foreign Ministry, with the necessary collaboration of the European Commission, and those carried out by the U.S. Department of State, violate the principles of non-interference recognised by the Charter of the United Nations - especially articles 2.4 and 2.7 - and as a consequence serve to strengthen what we describe as a "global state of exception", which casts doubt on the very existence of the organisation of the United Nations as it was conceived in the United Nations Conference on International Organization in San Francisco on 26th July 1945.
Charleroi, San Francisco and Bogotá, 8th March 2010
President of Equipo Nizkor and director of Radio Nizkor
Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI 53701-1505
phone: (608) 257-8753
fax: (608) 255-6621