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Classification of the kidnapping, torture, and rape of the journalist Jineth Bedoya as crimes against humanity

In Progress Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Press / Newspapers
  • Date of Decision
    September 10, 2012
  • Outcome
    Statue of limitations for criminal proceedings, Imprisonment, Criminal Sanctions
  • Case Number
    Investigation Summary No. 807
  • Region & Country
    Colombia, Latin-America and Caribbean
  • Judicial Body
    Public Prosecutor's Office
  • Type of Law
    Criminal Law, International/Regional Human Rights Law
  • Themes
    Violence against Speakers / Impunity
  • Tags
    Positive Obligations, Violence

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The Public Prosecutor’s Office of Colombia declared that the kidnapping, torture and sexual attacks committed against Jineth Bedoya, a journalist of the newspaper El Espectador, by paramilitaries in collusion with state agents constituted crimes against humanity. Before her kidnapping, Jineth Bedoya Lima was investigating a series of crimes committed by paramilitaries and government officials in the Modelo prison in Bogota. The preliminary stage of the investigation into crimes against her lasted 11 years years without yielding any results. Hence, the statute of limitations for the crimes against Jineth Bedoya had expired and to prosecute, the Public Prosecutors had to determine whether the crimes against her fell under the scope of crimes against humanity, thus extending the statute of limitations.


Facts

Jineth Bedoya Lima, a journalist of the newspaper El Espectador, was investigating a series of crimes committed by paramilitaries and government officials in the Modelo prison in Bogota. The journalist’s articles highlighted grave human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions, and other crimes such as arms trafficking.

Several days before Jineth Bodoya Lima was kidnapped, other journalists investigating the same issues received written threats mailed directly to the newspaper’s offices. In response to this, the Jineth Bodoya Lima attempted to contact imprisoned members of paramilitary groups. On May 25, 2000, Jineth Bedoya received a call in which she was offered a face-to-face meeting in the Modelo prison with a member of a paramilitary group. She was promised information that was supposedly of interest to her.

At the gates of the prison, a man threatened her with a handgun and forcibly brought her to a warehouse. She was kept there for 16 hours during which time she was blindfolded, physically abused, insulted, and told that she was treated this way to teach the journalists of El Espectador a lesson. She was then raped and abandoned on a road leading to Bogota.

The legal editor of El Espectador filed a criminal complaint on behalf of Jineth Bodoya Lima. Law enforcement authorities launched an investigation and the preliminary stage lasted 11 years without yielding any results.

During an interview with an investigator of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, Alejandro Cárdenas Orozco admitted that he had been sent by a paramilitary group (the Bloque Centauros) to “kill” the journalist Jineth Bedoya, but the order had changed at the last minute, which is why she was released. At an evidentiary proceeding, the journalist identified Alejandro Cárdenas Orozco as one of the perpetrators of the crimes against her.

The case is currently under investigation.

The statute of limitations for the crimes against Jineth Bedoya had expired and to prosecute, the Public Prosecutors had to determine whether the crimes against her fell under the scope of crimes against humanity, thus extending the statute of limitations. Colombia’s Criminal Code and Criminal Code of Procedure do not include the concept of crimes against humanity as grounds for preventing the statute of limitations for criminal proceedings from expiring.


Decision Overview

The Public Prosecutor’s Office had to determine whether the crimes of kidnapping, torture, and sexual assault committed against Jineth Bedoya Lima could be considered to be crimes against humanity, thus lifting the statute of limitations for criminal proceedings.

In reaching its decision, the Public Prosecutor’s Office began by recalling the State’s general obligation to guarantee truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition of crimes against victims of gross human rights violations.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office then determined the context within which the crimes were committed and established that the crimes were directly related to Colombia’s internal armed conflict. The Public Prosecutor’s Office stated that in the context of an internal armed conflict, criminal law must be interpreted in light of instruments of international criminal law and international humanitarian law, particularly the guidelines of the International Committee of the Red Cross, manuals on the concept and scope of international humanitarian law, and case law of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Republic of Yugoslavia.

Then, the Public Prosecutor’s Office proceeded to determine whether the crimes committed against Jineth Bedoya met the required characteristics of crimes against humanity. It declared that there was evidence of grave human rights violations having taken place during Colombia’s internal conflict as part of a deliberate, widespread, and systematic attack against certain sectors of the civilian population, and in particular journalists. The Prosecutor’s Office emphasized that under international instruments torture and sexual violence committed in the context of an internal armed conflict constituted crimes against humanity.  Therefore, the Prosecutor’s Office declared that in this case it was permitted to apply the statutes of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. These statutes consider any series of inhumane acts, including intentional homicide, imprisonment, torture, forced disappearance, and sexual violence, committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against any member of the civilian population, both in times of war and peace as crimes against humanity.

Therefore, the Public Prosecutor concluded that although Colombian criminal law did not include crimes against humanity as a specific offense, this category of crimes was part of human rights treaties, international criminal law treaties, and related peremptory norms, which were domesticated in Colombian national legislation and the Constitution. On this point, the Public Prosecutor’s Office cited Supreme Court decisions that mandated domestic law to conform to the provisions of international treaties, even if the legislature has not yet domesticated the treaties into its national law. (Criminal Cassation Chamber, Ruling of May 3, 2010, Judge María del Rosario González de Lemos)

Furthermore, the Public Prosecutor’s Office outlined elements of what constituted crimes against humanity:

(a) it was an attack on the civilian population;

(b) the existence of a course of conduct was proven;

(c) it was shown that the attack was widespread or systematic; and

(d) the knowledge of the attack was demonstrated.

For the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the aforementioned conditions were met in the case of the journalist Jineth Bedoya:

  • The journalist belonged to the civilian population, and thus required certain protections and could not be forced to become involved in the armed conflict. The Public Prosecutor’s Office also emphasized the importance of journalists’ work in informing society about issues of public interest and declared that journalists were the primary representatives of freedom of expression. Lastly, the Prosecutor stated that the criminal acts committed against Jineth Bedoya were acts of censorship that went against all principles of freedom of the press.
  • The intent behind the attack on Jineth Bedoya was to silence her. To support this point, the Public Prosecutor’s Office highlighted that after the journalist was declared a target, other journalists in her newspaper were threatened. The Public Prosecutor’s Office also gave examples of general and frequent attacks of paramilitary groups on members of the media whose work the paramilitaries found to have gone against their goals. The Public Prosecutor’s Office declared that the paramilitary attacks on journalists were a method of warfare to silence the voices of those who dared to expose their atrocities and abuses to the public. Thus, the attack on Jineth Bedoya was not an isolated case but a part the illegal groups’ policies of attacking journalists to obstruct the exercise of freedom of press.
  • On this point, the Prosecutor’s Office emphasized that the paramilitary group’s attack on Jineth Bedoya was part of systematic attacks on the civilian population, including journalists of El Espectador. Furthermore, the attack was part of what the Prosecutor’s Office called a “widespread attack” because it was committed by a paramilitary organization engaged in numerous criminal acts as a warning to other journalists covering atrocities committed by the paramilitaries to silence the voices of those who dared to expose their criminal actions to the public.
  • According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the depositions of paramilitaries involved in the attack on Jineth Bedoya revealed the purpose behind threats and attacks on journalists of El Espectador – to stop the publication of articles that harmed criminal business deals that the paramilitaries were involved in while in jail. The Prosecutor also highlighted that there was proof that the plan to attack Jineth Bedoya was initiated and organized inside the high-security wing of the Modelo prison by two major members of paramilitary groups.

Therefore, the Public Prosecutor’s Office concluded that under Colombian criminal law it was possible to consider crimes like the ones committed against Jineth Bedoya as crimes against humanity, which immediately suspended the statute of limitations for criminal proceedings.


Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Expands Expression

The decision expands protection of freedom of expression because it (i) grants enhanced protection for freedom of expression in the context of internal armed conflict, and (ii) allows judicial authorities to comply with their general obligation to continue with the investigation, prosecution, and punishment of those responsible for crimes committed against journalists.

The declaration that this was a crime against humanity, based on international law, makes it possible to reassert the importance of the exercise of freedom of press– and the role of journalists – in the context of an armed conflict; highlights the need to fight impunity for these crimes, given the censorship caused as a result; and constitutes a form of reparation for the victim’s family, because it recognizes the seriousness of the crime, and thus seeks effective results based on a more structured investigation based on the context that led to the crime.

The decision is particularly groundbreaking because it is a unique and important step forward in domestic law, given that dozens of cases of murders or violence against journalists who covered the Colombian armed conflict were not investigated or closed due to the expiration of the statute of limitations for criminal proceedings.

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

Related International and/or regional laws

  • UDHR, art. 3
  • UDHR, art. 5
  • UDHR, art. 9
  • ICCPR, art. 6
  • ICCPR, art. 7
  • ICCPR, art. 9
  • ICCPR, art. 10
  • Rome Statute of International Criminal Court, art. 7
  • Convention Against Torture, art. 1
  • Convention Against Torture, art. 2
  • Convention Against Torture, art. 7
  • Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity, art. 1
  • Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Convention, art. 13
  • ACHR, art. 5

National standards, law or jurisprudence

  • Colom., Sup., Auto, May 3rd, 2010
  • Colom., Criminal Code, Law No. 599, 2000, Title II
  • Colom., Constitutional Court, C-774-01
  • Colom., Constitutional Court, T-256-00
  • Colom., Constitution of Colombia (1991), art. 9.
  • Colom., Constitution of Colombia (1991), art. 93.
  • Colom., Constitution of Colombia (1991), art. 94.
  • Colom., Constitution of Colombia (1991), art. 53.
  • Colom., Constitution of Colombia (1991), art. 102.
  • Colom., Constitution of Colombia (1991), art. 214.

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

This case did not set a binding or persuasive precedent either within or outside its jurisdiction. The significance of this case is undetermined at this point in time.

Official Case Documents

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