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Colombia: Statute of limitations to apply to six murders of journalists

El Espectador reporter Julio Daniel Chaparro, who was murdered in April 1991.

A 20-year statute of limitations will apply from this weekend to any criminal prosecution for the 1991 murders of El Espectador reporters Julio Daniel Chaparro and Jorge Enrique Torres, yet again highlighting the problem of impunity in Colombia. Chaparro and Torres were murdered on April 24, 1991 while investigating the impact of a 1988 paramilitary massacre in Segovia, in the northwestern department of Antioquia.

Although 20 years have gone by, the investigation being conducted by the Human Rights Unit of the prosecutor-general’s office was, until last week, still at a preliminary stage, without any suspect ever being charged. This week, a prosecutor announced that the case had finally been closed because the suspects were all believed dead. These two murders will therefore remain completely unpunished.

The 20-year statute of limitations is also likely to be applied to four other murders of journalists between now and the end of the year – those of Carlos Julio Rodríguez (May 20, 1991), José Libardo Méndez (May 20, 1991), Arsenio Hoyos Lozano (September 13, 1991) and Rafael Solano Rochero (October 30, 1991). These murders must not be allowed to go unpunished. They must not be forgotten.

The Press Freedom Foundation (FLIP), the Paris-based press freedom group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) partner organisation in Colombia, wrote to prosecutor-general Viviane Morales on March 24 condemning this situation and calling for urgent action to prevent these cases being closed for good.

FLIP wants these murders to be declared crimes against humanity, to which no statute of limitations applies. In July 2010, the Human Rights Unit of the prosecutor-general’s office declared El Espectador editor Guillermo Cano’s 1986 murder to have been a crime against humanity on the grounds that it was part of a plan orchestrated by Colombia’s drug traffickers.

The Colombian judicial system has a duty to investigate all murders to journalists, and to identify and prosecute those responsible. In the absence of serious efforts to prevent such murders or prevent them going unpunished, Colombia will be exposed to the possibility legal action before international bodies.

The special rapporteur for freedom of expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights already drew attention on April 15 to the fact that most of these murders go unpunished.

Ensuring respect for free expression and combating impunity must be priorities for Colombia. It must also ensure that the statute of limitations does not apply to any murder carried out with the aim restricting free expression and media freedom, in accordance with the 2007 Medellin Declaration on the safety of journalists, RSF said.

Date posted: April 20, 2011 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 53