FREEDOM OF THOUGHT AND EXPRESSION


          In their meeting with the members of the IACHR's Special Commission, members of the International Federation of Journalists (FIP), the National Association of Colombian Journalists, the Colombian Newspaper Reporters Club and representatives of other news agencies described the scenario in which Colombian journalists have been operating and their problems as follows:  the Constitution adopted in 1991 is a sweeping statement of rights that represent the underpinnings and bulwark of democracy and are designed to overcome the existing political and social crisis.  This legal framework, which was the product of the deliberations of the Constitutional Assembly, is the means the Colombian people have determined they will use to contend with the troubling human rights violations.  As the Attorney General Carlos Gustavo Arrieta Padilla remarked, those violations have brought Colombia to the brink of barbarism and fly in the face of goals and concerns that for three centuries have been morally and politically informed by a belief in man and his values.



                        THOUGHT AND EXPRESSION


American Convention on Human Rights


Article 13.  Freedom of Thought and Expression


1.  Everyone has the right to freedom of thought and expression.  This right includes freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing, in print, in the form of art, or through any medium of one's choice


2.  The exercise of the right provided for in the foregoing paragraph shall not be subject to prior censorship but shall be subject to subsequent imposition of liability, which shall be expressly established by law to the extent necessary to ensure:


a.      respect for the rights or reputations of others; or

b.      the protection of national security, public order, or public health or morals.


3.  The right of expression may not be restricted by indirect methods or means, such as the abuse of government or private controls over newsprint, radio broadcasting frequencies, or equipment used in the dissemination of information, or by any other means tending to impede the communication and circulation of ideas and opinions.


4.  Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph 2 above, public entertainments may be subject by law to prior censorship for the sole purpose of regulating access to them for the moral protection of childhood and adolescence.


5.  Any propaganda for war and any advocacy of national, racial, or religious hatred that constitute incitements to lawless violence or to any other similar action against any person or group of persons on any grounds, including those of race, color, religion, language, or national origin, shall be considered as offenses punishable by law.


Article 14.  Right of Reply


1.  Anyone injured by inaccurate or offensive statements or ideas disseminated to the public in general by a legally regulated medium of communication has the right to reply or to make a correction using the same communications outlet, under such conditions as the law may establish.


2.  The correction or reply shall not in any case remit other legal liabilities that may have been incurred.


3.  For the effective protection of honor and reputation, every publisher, and every newspaper, motion picture, radio, and television company shall have a person responsible who is not protected by immunities or special privileges.


                 Constitution of Colombia


                Art. 20.  Every individual has the right to express and impart his thoughts and opinions, to report and receive truthful and impartial information, and to establish communications media.


These are free and have a social responsibility.  The right of reply is, under circumstances of equity, guaranteed.  There shall be no censorship.


Art.73.  Journalistic activity shall be protected in order to guarantee the professional freedom and independence of journalists.


Art.75.  The broadcast ban is a public good subject to State control and management.  Equality of opportunity in access to the use of radio frequencies shall be guaranteed, under the terms established by law.




          Amid these terrible conflicts, the International Federation of Journalists reported that the Colombian journalist was the target of persistent attack, frequently ending in death.  The function of a journalist is to point to and report the most serious problems in the country.  Although  essential at times like these, that function has been affected by the frequent attacks from drug traffickers, guerrillas, military and paramilitary groups that want to control the media.  In general, they all resort to the most extreme practice, i.e., murder.


          That being the case, the Commission is disturbed by the Colombian Government's timid and somewhat irresponsible conduct; it shies away from solutions to the problems besieging journalists.  Journalists are, in fact, immersed in a conflict.  While their function is protected by the right to inform, human rights abusers make them the targets of repeated and disproportionate attacks.


          Petitioners say that the foregoing is compounded by the fact that the Colombian State has repeatedly and systematically restricted freedom of the press, expression and thought, thereby making it difficult for the media and journalists to exercise fully  their right to report the facts.  On November 8, 1992, the Government declared a state of internal disturbance throughout the national territory, and on November 9 issued Decree 1812 which, inter alia, prohibited total or partial broadcast, either by radio or television, of communiques either attributed to or actually coming from guerrilla groups and other criminal organizations associated with drug trafficking and terrorism.  It also made it illegal to either identify or interview witnesses to violent episodes and individuals associated with the guerrilla movement, terrorism or drug trafficking.  It also prohibited live broadcasts, direct from the scene of the events, of acts of violence.


          The Commission is disturbed by these regulations because they effectively curtail the right to inform and to be informed.  Journalists are not being allowed to exercise their profession freely.  The right that every society has to be informed of the facts is being restricted.


          These same bans had been decreed in 1970 through Decree No. 1134; in 1977 through Decree No. 2066, and in 1988 through Decree No. 2204; this shows that the Colombian State has repeatedly pursued a policy of restricting freedom of the press and of expression.


          Now the situation has reached crisis proportions.  The International Federation of Journalists believed it was vital that the Commission see the reports obtained from the Human Rights Coordination Office of the Regional Office for Latin America so that the Commission might include the specific issue of the human rights of journalists on its agenda during its visit to Colombia.




          The Commission has received information on the following assassinations of journalists in Colombia, notwithstanding the other violations of one's physical integrity that have been committed:


          1.  January 25, 1991:  Journalist DIANA TURBAY QUINTERO was killed as she was being rescued by the Police at the "La Bola" farm in the jurisdiction of Copacabana near Medellín, where she was being held hostage.  There was a clash between police and drug traffickers and in the exchange of fire the journalist, who was editor of the Magazine "Hoy por Hoy" was shot and mortally wounded.  On January 21, 1992, the Office of the Attorney General decided to dismiss two officers with the National Police's elite force, Col. Lino Pinzón Naranjo and Captain Elmer Ezequiel Torres Vela, and to discipline another two members of the Police Force, Major Hugo Eliodoro Aguilar Naranjo and Lt. Iván Díaz Alvarez, for irregular conduct in the rescue.  The Attorney General, Dr. Carlos Gustavo Arrieta Padilla, contends that the military did know that the journalist and several other colleagues were present at the site when the police mounted its assault.  Journalist Richard Becerra, a witness to the shooting that left Diana Turbay dead, told the media that when he and Diana--who had already been mortally wounded--boarded the Police helicopter, a man who identified himself as José Humberto Vásquez Muñoz told him to take a good look at him, that he didn't have anything to do with the tragedy that had taken place there.  According to Becerra, the man said that he was one of the kidnappers but had decided to inform on them.  On January 26, Vásquez Muñoz was mysteriously found dead in Girardota, Antioquia, after he had been released.  The Director of the National Police, General Miguel Antonio Gómez Padilla, denied that Vásquez Muñoz even existed and his name does not appear in the police reports.  He also said that the Attorney General's office was telling "half truths."  2.  February 13, 1991:  EZEQUIEL ARIAS LOPEZ, killed in Bogota, according to records of the Administrative Security Department (DAS). 3.  March 11, 1991:  LUIS FRANCISCO LORA DE PAULA, killed in Bogota according to the records of the Administrative Security Department (DAS).  4.  March 18, 1991:  CAMPO ELIAS GARCIA PINZON, killed in Socha, Boyacá, according to records of the Administrative Security Department (DAS).  5.  April 23, 1991:  Journalist ANTONIO MARIA ORTIZ GOMEZ with the newspaper "La Opinión de Cúcuta", killed by unidentified gunmen in that city.  6.  April 14, 1991:  journalists JULIO DANIEL CHAPARRO (29) and JORGE TORRES NAVAS, editor and reporter with the El Espectador, respectively, were killed by four men using automatic weapons, on La Reina Street, Segovia, Antioquia, as they were finishing up a series of reports on the sources of violence in Colombia (El Espectador, December 5, 1991).  They had been with El Espectador for two years.  The police said that the killings were the work of drug traffickers in the Medellín cartel.  On May 10, DIJIN reported that from its investigations it had determined that the killings were the work of the FARC.  On December 5, El Espectador reported (page 12-A) that troops of the XIV Army Brigade captured Ramiro Alfonso Madrid Lezcano (23) and Joaquín Julián Lezcano Ortiz (40), for whom arrest warrants had been issued by the Medellín Public Order Court.  The newspaper stated that the two individuals arrested were associated with the "José Antonio Galán" Popular Militia, an urban faction of the National Liberation Army, ELN.  The Lezcano cousins, who were minors, denied any involvement in the crime and thus far there has been no official decision on their arrest.  In April 1992, the Office of the Attorney General of the Nation concluded that the members of the FARC were the authors of the CHAPARRO and TORRES killings.  The report of the Special Investigations Office discarded "...any involvement by members of the Army, National Police or some other State Security agency in this crime."  It maintained that the two journalists were killed accidentally when they were mistaken for paramilitaries.  The double assassination was attributed to the IV and XXVII Fronts of the FARC and to the "José Antonio Galán" Popular Bolivarian Militia of the ELN.  7.  April 24, 1991:  JORGE TORRES NAVAS:  See point 6 above.  8.  May 20, 1991:  JOSE LIBARDO MENDEZ, journalist and liberal leader, and CARLOS JULIO RODRIGUEZ, a broadcaster with the "Voz de la Selva", an affiliate of the Caracol Chain, were killed by hired gunmen on a motorcycle in Florencia (Caquetá).  JUDITH ARISTIZABAL, MENDEZ' wife and a broadcaster with the Voz de la Selva, was wounded in the attack.  9.  May 20, 1991:  CARLOS JULIO RODRIGUEZ:  See No. 8.  10.  August 3, 1991:  Journalist HERNAN BLANCO was killed by an unknown assailant in the Villa Javier neighborhood of southeastern Bogota.  The motive for the crime is unknown.  11.  August 16, 1991:  HERNANDO HERNANDEZ was killed in Arauca (Caldas) by persons unknown.  12.  August 25, 1991:  JUAN SUAREZ FLORES, a contributing editor and assistant with the newspaper El Tiempo in Berlin (Germany) was killed by a guard in a rural sector of Mosquera, Cundinamarca.  The facts in this case are confusing.  13.  September 13, 1991:  ARCENIO HOYOS LOZANO, director of "La Voz de Ariari" in Granada, was killed by a hired gunman near the broadcast house in Villavicencio.  He was shot seven times.  14.  September 13, 1991:  JULIO SERRATO died on September 13 in a clinic as a result of bullet wounds received on Wednesday night, September 11, as he was going home in the city of Manizales.  Police reported that two unidentified individuals were suspected of killing this 33 year old journalist, who was also an actor and communications professor at the University of Manizales.  15.  October 4, 1991:  JAVIER RAMOS ACEVEDO, a bookkeeper and sports broadcaster, was shot in Maracaibo, Tuluá (Valle).  16.  October 8, 1991:  RODRIGO AHUMADA BADO, journalist and political leader, died from injuries sustained when he was attacked by four men in the neighborhood of El Pando, Santa Marta, on September 26.  17.  October 20, 1991:  RAFAEL ANTONIO SOLANO BROCHERO (51), a Santa Marta journalist, was shot four times by two unknown gunmen who attacked him in front of his house in Las Tablitas, Santa Marta.  He was a correspondent for El Tiempo and owned a press and advertising agency in Fundación.  The assassins escaped and the motive for the crime is unknown.  18.  November 14, 1991:  ANTONIO RIOS, who was abducted on the second weekend in November (between 8 and 10) was found dead on November 14 in the department of Antioquia.  Neither the motive nor the authorship of the crime is known.  19.  December 28, 1991:  NESTOR HENRY ROJAS, a 14-year correspondent with El Tiempo in the department of Arauca, was killed by a hired gunman as he was entering his home on Avenida Olaya Herrera, at 6:40 p.m., in the presence of his wife and children.  The murderer shot him three times.  His family went to his aid, but he died in the San Vicente Hospital.  The mother of Rojas Monje claims that the crime was the work of MARCOS AYALA, a political leader and candidate for the Governor's office, about whom El Tiempo had published a report in October to the effect that he made secret agreements with the guerrillas.  The Second Army Brigade, garrisoned in Bucaramanga, claimed that the murder was the work of a commando of the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces, FARC.  "Rojas' colleagues in Arauca said that he was being pressured and threatened because of his intransigent anti-guerrilla posture."  The police arrested a suspect, CESAR BASILIO TORRES.  On April 13, "El Tiempo" reported that the Office of the Attorney General of the Nation would publish a report implicating some members of the military and certain political leaders, as well as two soldiers who had confessed to being directly involved in the crime.  20.  January 21, 1992:  CARLOS ALBERTO LLANOS, murdered at his home in Cali by two men who attacked him with knives, according to reports released by the Police.  He was an attorney, a political activist and director of the Noticiero Popular del Circuito Toledar of Colombia.  Police sources say that the crime was a case of personal revenge, because LLANOS had entered his apartment in the company of the two men who, they surmise, were Llanos' friends; the police hypothesize that these two men killed him and then fled in the victim's car.  21. February 1, 1992:  JORGE ALBERTO BERMUDEZ ZAMBRANO was killed in Bogota at the intersection of Highway 12 and 5th street when five individuals, intent on robbing him, stabbed him as he was walking with a friend.  Fortunately, the friend ran and was able to save himself.  He was a newspaper reporter, a former photographer for the Office of the President of the Republic and was at the time working in Los Angeles, in the United States.  He was 42 years old and was vacationing in his native Colombia.  22.  February 14, 1992:  FREDDY MARIO ERAZO was 29 years old and a sports commentator for the program "El Combo Deportivo de Radio Super".  He was found dead by members of the National Police, having been shot forty times in the Envigado Amphitheater near Medellín.  Curiously, he had not slept at home the night before and the theory was that he was first abducted and then murdered.  It is also believed that the crime was the work of organized crime.  The authorities are launching an investigation.  He was married and had a nine-year old daughter.  23.  March 27, 1992:  JOSE MIGUEL AMAYA ESPINOSA, 38, was murdered by two men who shot him, apparently during an assault at a soda fountain in downtown Cartago.  24.  May 6, 1992:  ISMAEL JAIMES, 35, director of the newspaper "La Opinión", was murdered at 7:30 a.m. in Barrancabermeja, Magdalena Medio.  Witnesses say that hired gunmen shot him just as he was dropping off his two children at school.  This incident occurred fifteen minutes before the members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States arrived in Barrancabermeja.  The authors of this murder are believed to be paramilitary.  Through the newspaper "La Opinión", JAIMES had been critical of the conduct of paramilitary, military, guerrilla and drug-trafficking groups.  His murder was interpreted as part of a campaign of terror launched against journalists in Magdalena Medio by all of the sectors involved in the armed conflict.


          Even though the Commission has the competence to take cognizance of any type of complaint against a State party to the Convention, regardless of the degree of responsibility that State might have in situations as complex as the one presented in this complaint, from the practical standpoint it would be impossible--whether as individual cases or a collective case, as requested--to process the facts that the complaint reports.  Each case involves a violation of the right to life where members of this Colombian trade union died for practicing their journalistic profession.  Cases like this one cannot be processed in accordance with the procedures established in articles 48 to 51 of the American Convention and point up the fact that the events occurring in Colombia exceed anything that the mechanisms provided for in the American Convention, or the Commission's Statute and Regulations were meant to handle.


          The Commission is including this petition in this Special Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Colombia.  It was delivered personally and collectively by the widows, children and other relatives of the victims and by the representatives of the journalists associations mentioned earlier.  The Commission finds these cases deeply disturbing.  While it knows the Government is aware of these cases, it must impress upon the Colombian authorities how important it is that these cases be investigated and the guilty parties punished.  It would ask the Government to consider how the relatives of the murdered journalists might be compensated, since they, too, are innocent victims of the endlessly spiralling violence in Colombia.




          The Colombian people are so defenseless that journalists are at the mercy of those who resort to the cowardly practice of assassination to intimidate them, repress them and coerce them.  The figures of the Administrative Security Department (DAS) show that 82 journalists were killed between 1977 and May 1991.  Another 14 journalists were killed between May 1991 and April 1992, bringing the total number of journalists killed to 96.  This figure testifies to the constant aggression to which Colombian journalists are subjected.  According to the International Federation of Journalists, there have been more journalists killed in Colombia in the last 15 years than in any other Latin American country.


          DAS statistics show that during the "war" on journalists declared by drug trafficking groups, a total of 44 journalists were killed.  Research by the Centro de Investigación Popular, CINEP, shows that among professional groups, journalists account for the third largest number of victims of political and presumably political violence, with 7 murders, 9 kidnappings, 6 wounded and 1 threat in 1991.  According to Alfredo Vázquez Carrizosa, former Foreign Minister and Chairman of the Permanent Human Rights Defense Committee, this situation "means that journalists are utterly unprotected; there is no one to protect them."  The Office of the Special Adviser for Human Rights of the President of the Republic lists journalists, along with peasants and union leaders, as one of the most vulnerable sectors.


 [ Table of Contents | Previous | Next ]