Human rights court rules against Colombia in killing 8-07

by Joshua Goodman

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) - Colombia must pay US$232,000 (euro168,000) to
the family of an Indian activist tortured and killed by army officers
in 1988, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered.

The July 4 ruling was made public by the victim's lawyers on
August 8, a day before the United Nations was set to mark the
International Day of the World's Indigenous People. The judgment, which cannot be appealed, is the seventh in the last
two years against Colombia by the Costa Rica-based court, which
investigates human rights violations when justice cannot be
guaranteed in national courts.


According to the court's sentence, German Escue Zapata was abducted
from his reservation home in southwest Colombia by several army
officers on Feb. 1, 1988, after an informant told the army he was
stockpiling weapons for leftist rebels.

After being beaten with the butt of a gun, he was killed with several
gunshots by Capt. Roberto Camacho Riano, commander of a local
anti-guerrilla unit, and his body abandoned on a mountain road,
according to other officer witnesses.

The court, basing its ruling on a partial government confession, said
prosecutors did not fully investigate the killings and ordered the
state to pay US$232,000 (euro168,000) to Zapata's spouse, parents,
six siblings and daughter.

It also ordered the government to continue investigating Camacho and
two other officers for the murder, create a US$40,000 (euro29,000)
fund bearing Zapata's name to invest in public works on the Jambalo
reservation and publish a translated copy of the sentence in the Nasa
language spoken by Zapata and his tribe.

Officials at the Interior Ministry, which handles all deliberations
before the court, did not immediately return calls seeking comment on
the ruling.

High-ranking members of the government must also hold a public
ceremony on Indian reservation to publicly apologize for the crimes
and its slow investigation.

``Unfortunately the ruling is more proof that in Colombia there's
total impunity and the only way to obtain justice is by seeking it in
international tribunals,'' said Luis Evelis Andrade, president of
Colombia's National Indian Organization.

Colombia's 1.3 million Indians are disproportionately driven from
their homes and caught in the crossfire of the country's half-century
civil conflict, which is often fought in the rural areas surrounding
their ancestral homelands.

According to Andrade, more than 1,500 Indian activists have been
killed by the army, leftist rebels or right-wing paramilitary groups
in the past 15 years.

Established in 1979, the Inter-American Court's rulings are binding
for the 25 Western Hemisphere nations that have submitted to its