May 1, 1999
|Toronto May 1, 1999|
A nine member Canadian Tribunal has ruled that members of the Colombian Government, its state security force and the police are responsible for the massacre of seven people on May 16-17, 1998.
Seven people were killed by paramilitary forces and 25 others were taken away never to be seen again. When Colombia failed to take any action the Canadian Council of Churches established a Tribunal to conduct an inquiry into the massacre.
The Tribunal heard compelling evidence from four eyewitnesses who were sponsored by the CAW to come to Canada so they could testify before the tribunal.
After two days of hearings at the University of Toronto's Faculty of Law, the tribunal ruled those responsible for the massacre had committed crimes against humanity and war crimes.
"The evidence demonstrated convincingly to the tribunal that both the police and the military were willfully blind in not preventing the atrocities committed by the paramilitary forces in the April Nine neighborhood of Barrancabermeja. This was further established by eyewitness testimony."
The hall was packed with Colombians, many holding signs with the names of the massacre victims. They applauded the Tribunal's recommendations: that the Colombian Government determine immediately the whereabouts of the missing victims, that it make restitution to the families of the victims and that those responsible be brought to justice.
Drawing the greatest applause was the recommendation that if Columbia fails to act that the Canadian Government make a commitment to prosecute those responsible.
Jeffry House, who acted on behalf of the victims during the tribunal, says the possibility of prosecuting those responsible in Canada is not that unrealistic.
Human Rights Lawyer
"I'm not sure if we can prosecute Colombian army generals in Canada, I just don't know but I would have said the same thing about Pinochet ten years ago, so many things are possible in the world. The decision is going to Colombia; it's going to be read from the pulpit of many churches so I was assured by the bishop there in Barrancabermeja. As well the trade union leader who is here has assured me that the decision is going to be broadcast among all the members of the trade unions."
The Canadian Council of Churches calls the Tribunal decision an important first step toward change in Columbia.
"There have been other opinion tribunals that civil society organizations in Latin America have undertaken, El Salvador being one of them, South Africa being another but it is a first for Colombia. We see it as an important step not just that the verdict has come out but that it's being communicated to both Canadians and Colombians."
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