Nº 21/01 


            The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is concerned about the resignation of an official in the Office of the General Prosecutor of Colombia as a result of reactions to the detention of General (r) Rito Alejo del Río Rojas.  The General had been detained on account of several investigations relating to serious human rights violations perpetrated while he was in command of the XVII Brigade of the National Army in the region of Urabá (Antioquia). 

            According to the information available, the lack of support for the decision of the National Unit of Human Rights of the Prosecutor’s Office to enforce the arrest of General del Río Rojas caused the forced resignation of its Director, Pedro Díaz Romero and the release of the General.  The Commission has also learned that judicial and disciplinary procedures might have been instituted against the members of the Unit and the Technical Corps of Investigations (TCI) that participated in the investigation and the corresponding detention. 

            The IACHR, pursuant to its powers to make recommendations to member states of the OAS (Article 18 of its Statute) has consistently expressed its support for the work of the Human Rights Unit.  Since its creation in 1995, this body has played a crucial role in advancing compliance by the State with its international obligations by investigating nearly one thousand cases relating to the clarification of serious human rights violations alleged to involve the responsibility of State agents, members of paramilitary groups or armed dissident groups.  The Commission cannot but express its serious concern for the above related events which, by inhibiting and restraining the task of the Unit, restrict the independence and efficacy of the administration of justice and the battle against impunity in Colombia. 

As established by the IACHR and other intergovernmental organs, the Unit has been the frequent object of public attacks and threats as a response to its independence and efficacy.  In some cases, the gravity of the situation has forced its members into exile.  Consequently, the Commission has granted precautionary measures pursuant to Article 25 of its Rules of Procedure in favor of the former Director of the National Human Rights Unit, a number of prosecutors belonging to it, as well as in favor of members of the TCI.  In this respect it has requested the State to adopt all necessary measures to protect their physical integrity and that of their families and to avoid any reprisals for acts undertaken in the legitimate exercise of their functions. 

            Finally, the IACHR calls on the Republic of Colombia to support the work of the Human Rights Unit, to respect the independence of its members and to act in accordance with their findings.  The State must respond to violence and impunity with justice.  Peace building efforts must be based on the clarification, prosecution and reparation of human rights violations. 

Washington, D.C., August 13, 2001