19 Merchants v. Colombia
Duty to Investigate | Guarantees Against Impunity | Deprivation of Liberty | Judicial Protection | State/Non-State Agents
The Court found that, given the brutality with which the bodies of the victims were treated after their execution, it was possible to infer that their treatment while alive was also extremely violent, such that they could have feared and foreseen that they would be deprived of their lives arbitrarily and violently, which constituted cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The Court recalled that States must prevent the violation of the right to life and, in particular, prevent their agents/security forces from committing arbitrary executions. The Court found the state responsible for the violation of the right to life of the victims, basing this decision on the results of national investigations and judicial decisions, which established that the “paramilitary” group murdered the alleged victims, subsequently dismembered their bodies, and threw them into the river, preventing the remains from being found.
July 5, 2004
Article 1(1) [ACHR], Article 4 [ACHR], Article 5 [ACHR], Article 7 [ACHR], Article 8 [ACHR], Article 25 [ACHR]
Facts of the Case
By way of context, the leadership of the paramilitary group "Asociación de Campesinos y Ganaderos del Magdalena Medio" (ACDEGAM), formed in 1980, had significant control in Magdalena Medio. There was intense army and paramilitary activity against the guerrillas in this region, and senior military commanders supported the ACDEGAM group in defending itself against the guerrillas and adopting an offensive position.
Seventeen men were engaged in commercial activities, such as transporting goods or people, buying goods on the Colombian-Venezuelan border and selling them in Bucaramanga, Medellín and in between. Before the events in question, the ACDEGAM group's leadership decided to kill the merchants and take their merchandise and vehicles. This was because the merchants did not pay the "taxes" the group were charging for transporting merchandise in the region, and because they considered that the victims were selling weapons, bought in Venezuela, to the guerrillas. This took place with the acquiescence of some army officers, who agreed with the plan. On the afternoon of 6 October 1987, 17 merchants were arrested by "paramilitary" group members, later killed, dismembered and thrown into the waters of the Magdalena river. Subsequently, two other men suffered the same fate.