Defamation / Reputation, Digital Rights, Violence Against Speakers / Impunity
Andrea Lilian Uribe Peña v. Ministry of Labour and Carlos Alberto Merchán Espíndola
In Progress Expands Expression
Global Freedom of Expression is an academic initiative and therefore, we encourage you to share and republish excerpts of our content so long as they are not used for commercial purposes and you respect the following policy:
Attribution, copyright, and license information for media used by Global Freedom of Expression is available on our Credits page.
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.
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.
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:
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 indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
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 demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.