La Rochela
Human rights violations committed by members of the military become subjected to ordinary criminal courts
Colombia

The Massacre of La Rochela was one of the most tragic events against judicial officials. The paramilitaries opened fire on the committee of 15 judicial officials, killing 12 people and wounding three others in the Magdalena Medio region. However, this incident was not an isolated case and represents a systematic and recurrent type of human rights violation in Colombia. The Historical Memory Group of the National Commission for Reparation and Reconciliation recorded 22 attacks on courts or prosecution offices and 1,487 registered and documented incidents of violence against judicial officials between January 1979 and December 2009. According to the survey, most of these attacks were perpetrated by members of guerrilla groups, paramilitary, or drug traffickers. The methods most frequently used included persecution, threats, kidnappings, personal attacks, disappearances and even murders.

Although the case was presented in several courts in Colombia, none of the accused was criminally sanctioned. Given the procedural delays faced in pursuing internal justice, CEJIL and the Colectivo de Abogados “José Alvear Restrepo” (CCAJAR), presented the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in 1997 and, later on between 2006 and 2007, represented the victims and their families before the Inter-American Court on Court Human Rights.

Following this case, the Military's Criminal Justice system ruled that serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law carried out by military personnel did not constitute as acts of service and that, consequently, should be tried in ordinary criminal courts.

Case Impact:

  • The Military Criminal Justice System ordered that serious human rights violations committed by the military personnel involved in the case did not constitute an act of service and thusly, had to be judged accordingly by ordinary criminal courts.
  • The I-A Court's ruling provided clarity on the facts of the case.
  • Thanks to the judgment of the case, the Colombian armed forces received human rights training.