El Tiempo fires Claudia López Human Rights Commission hearing Tuesday
Oct 142009

El Tiempo reports today that Colombia’s judicial system is coming dangerously close to freeing army officers and enlisted men involved in the Soacha “false positives” case.

This serious human rights abuse case, revealed in September 2008, involved a group of military personnel who arranged for the abduction and murder of about 20 young men from the suburban Bogotá slum of Soacha, only to present the victims’ bodies hundreds of miles away as those of armed-group members killed in combat, a result that earned rewards like bonuses and time off.

The Soacha scandal forced the firing of 27 members of the armed forces in late 2008. But the judicial cases against the responsible officers have moved excruciatingly slowly.

Today’s El Tiempo piece reports on one case, in which the Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) claims to have “solid evidence” that two officers and five enlisted men were involved in the murder of two young men from Soacha.

A year later, Colombia’s judicial system still has not decided whether their case is to be tried in the civilian criminal justice system or in a military court. Colombia’s military justice system has a long tradition of extreme leniency in such cases and is meant to try “acts of service,” not human rights crimes. Disputes over jurisdiction in human rights cases are supposed to be settled in favor of the civilian justice system. In this case, though, Colombia’s Supreme Judiciary Council (Consejo Supremo de la Judicatura), which is supposed to decide whether cases go to civilian or military justice, has still not produced a decision.

And time is running out. El Tiempo says that in seven days – October 21 – the deadline for deciding the defendants’ legal situation will run out, and they will have to be freed.

The same thing, on the same date, may also happen in a second case involving a sergeant, a corporal and a private linked to seven murders.

The article notes:

El Tiempo established that the Prosecutor-General’s Office has already sounded the alarms, as have the victims’ families. … Now, what is intended to be established is whether there have been any delaying tactics on the part of the defense of any of the soldiers.

“We believe that the delay in the Judiciary Council to reserve the jurisdictional conflicts is added to the fact that the military’s defenders are trying to entangle the process by making many absurd petitions, and the judges lack the character not to give the defense lawyers everything they ask for,” a high Prosecutor-General’s Office official told El Tiempo.

If soldiers accused of murder are allowed to walk free because of their defense counsel’s delaying tactics – as could happen in one short week, if nothing changes – it will be a blow not just to the victims’ families, but to the credibility of the U.S. government, which certified a month ago that “the Colombian Armed Forces are cooperating fully with civilian prosecutors and judicial authorities” in human rights cases.

5 Responses to “Running out the clock on the Soacha case”

  1. lfm Says:

    On previous thread (sorry). Marcos: we get it. Each time you post something you end with a “preemptive note” stating that we will not agree/understand/respect/argue (take your pick) your views and that, hence, you’re butting out. Hope this saves you some typing next time.

    El Tiempo is a private organization and, thus, can hire and fire whoever it damn pleases, over the reasons it damn pleases. But if it wants to, at the same time, be respected as some kind of independent information outlet, it has to abide by certain rules. Among those: tolerance and due process which, loosely construed, implies not delivering a termination letter straight to the collaborator’s breakfast table at the same time as you shoot millions of copies for the whole world to read, without even a hearing.

    I get a slightly byzantine feel about the discussion of whether she was fired for criticizing the government or criticizing El Tiempo: she was criticizing the fact that El Tiempo and the government are in a tangle. This makes two guilty parties: the sellout and the buyer. Was she right? In the balance I think she was. We can start dissecting with a scalpel each and every piece of El Tiempo, and we might find criticisms here and there, but my feeling is that, at the end of the day, it is clear that El Tiempo knows which side its toast is buttered.

    The bigger issue, then, is why do we have a system of media property where this kind of things can happen in the first place. Claudia Lopez will go somewhere else, good for her. But the underlying problem remains, which is that in Colombia there are lots of ways in which the media can get too close to political and business interests (and the intersection between them).

  2. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Claudia Lopez replies to EL TIEMPO (She stands her ground)

    Respuesta de Claudia López a El Tiempo


  3. Plan Colombia and Beyond » Threats against mothers of Soacha victims Says:

    [...] forced the firing of 27 Army personnel. Murder trials have been proceeding very slowly, with an increasing likelihood that some of those responsible may not be [...]

  4. Plan Colombia and Beyond » Follow-up on Soacha post Says:

    [...] October 14, we shared an alarming El Tiempo article about an impending deadline for the prosecutions of seven Colombian [...]

  5. Plan Colombia and Beyond » 17 Soacha perpetrators are free Says:

    [...] were released because a judge decided that prosecutors’ time had run out. This issue had come up before, in October. At the time, a judge avoided letting the soldiers go free, giving prosecutors a 90-day [...]

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