Plazas Vega

Key Judgment


Legal Relevance

Keywords: Evidence | Jus Cogens | Burden of Proof | Crimes Against Humanity

Themes: Characteristics of the Crime

The Court held that, although at the time of the events the crime of enforced disappearance was not included in the domestic legislation of the country, it was considered as a crime against humanity by a number of international instruments, jus cogens and international human rights law. These were given priority over domestic law by the Constitution and applied to the case.

The Court found that the accused, Colonel Luis Alfonso Plazas Vega, could not be held responsible for the disappearances. The Court found that he could not have been aware of the transfer of people to the interrogation and detention centre as he was conducting military operations inside the Palace at the time. It also found that there was no evidence that a plan aimed at disappearing members of the group existed, given how improvised and disorganised the initial military response had been to the assault on the Palace. Thus, despite the fact that the accused was the commander of the place where the victims were taken, the Court considered that it was not possible to prove his knowledge of a strategy designed to transfer people to military units with the intention of disappearing them. The Court also did not find that the transmitted, gave or endorsed any instructions aimed at their disappearance, or that he hid information about their whereabouts. It also found it relevant that the victims had not been at his disposal. While recognising the difficulty in finding direct evidence against the authors of crimes against humanity, the Court emphasised the importance of not confusing the state’s responsibility with individuals' criminal responsibility and consequently acquitted the accused.

Judgment Date

December 16, 2015

Country

Colombia

Judicial Body

Colombia - Supreme Court of Justice

Articles not violated / not dealt with

Article 165 [CCC]

Facts of the Case

In November 1985, a command of the "M-19" insurgent movement took over the Palace of Justice. Ms. Irma Franco Pineda, a member of the movement, and Mr. Carlos Augusto Rodríguez Vera, administrator of the Palace's cafeteria, disappeared in the course of the military operation conducted by the troops of Colonel Luis Alfonso Plazas Vega. The victims were reported to have left the Palace of Justice alive, to be then transfered to a place of interrogation and detention.

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