“A drop of justice in an ocean of impunity”

On 10 May 2019, PBI travelled to Tunja (Boyacá department) to accompany Fernando Kekhan, member of the Political Prisoners Solidarity Committee (Comité de Solidaridad con Presos Políticos) and lawyer in the case of the extrajudicial killing of Jorge Enrique Hernández Castro. In the square known as the Plaza de las Nieves, the 1st Brigade of the Colombian army publicly apologised for killing of Jorge Enrique to his family and to civil society in general.

Brief context

On 22 May, 2018, the Appeal Sentence issued by the Administrative Court of Boyacá (TAB) determined that Jorge Enrique Hernández did not die as a result of an armed confrontation nor did he belong to an armed group or criminal gang. As the relatives of Jorge Enrique put it, “the Sentence orders several symbolic reparation measures, and although it is important in terms of social reflection to acknowledge the responsibility of the perpetrators, and restore dignity to the victim’s name and life, if this is not accompanied by results in terms of criminal charges, it weakens the overall sense of justice and leads to further revictimisation”. The measures included the public apology held in Tunja. However, the case of Jorge Enrique is not the only extrajudicial killing perpetrated by the state security forces in the department of Boyacá. On the contrary, since 1991 the Data Bank of the NGO CINEP has documented 29 cases corresponding to 47 victims, amid significant under-reporting if we take into account that many cases are not reported due to fear, ignorance or lack of social support.

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Public Apology in the Plaza de las Nieves in Tunja (Boyacá department), Friday 10 May 2019

Interview with Fernando Kekhan

The case of Jorge Enrique Hernández is one of the multiple cases of extrajudicial killings throughout the country. This case, however, was directed against a socially marginalised and excluded person. Could you explain the context in which his disappearance and subsequent killing was committed?

On 4 July 2008, Jorge Enrique Hernández Castro was disappeared and subsequently murdered. He was part of a group of people who lived on the streets in the area around the transport terminal in the city of Tunja, and were drug users. Several other guys also suffered the same situation: they were presented as guerrilla members killed in combat by two military units in particular: the Tarqui Battalion, from the city of Sogamoso and the General Simón Bolívar Infantry Battalion No. 1, which is alleged to be responsible for the death of Jorge Enrique Hernández Castro. The other three guys for whom we have concrete information were Pedro Vega, Mauricio Cuadrado and Carlos Numpaque. These three guys were tricked into official institutional vehicles and subsequently disappeared.

We have data related to the extrajudicial killings of at least 20 other people living on the streets. These figures have been provided by other organisations, the Ombudsman’s Office itself made us aware of these cases. What happened in Boyacá is just a sample of what are referred to internationally as “false positives”, which not only occurred in Soacha, but also in departments like Antioquia and Casanare, the two regions of the country with the highest rates of extrajudicial killings, according to information from the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. These deaths respond to the implementation of a policy that is not official, but is related to the way the conflict was viewed by senior leaders and commanders, such as Mr. Mario Montoya and former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, who have a historical debt to the country and to the world.

 As expressed by Jorge Enrique’s sister Lina Hernández during her public speech at the event today, this sentence is “a drop of justice in an ocean of impunity”.

 In Boyacá there is a historical debt and this is the only case that has seen a public apology. There have been no results as yet in the remaining cases of extrajudicial killings. This implies that there will be no possibility for a definitive closure to this cycle of violence, in which Colombia has been the victim of its leaders. There are sectors of the country interested in maintaining war and violence as a means of subsistence. There are many victims who are waiting for justice and explanations about their situation; let us hope that the Special Peace Jurisdiction will begin to clarify the issue of command responsibility and that Boyacá will be included. The court ordered the National Army to organise, along with the public apology, a comprehensive health care event with the street population. That is why in this square attention is being paid to homeless people, to provide them with clothes, basic health care, a hairdressing service, vaccines for their pets … This was an initiative of the magistrates themselves as an act of reparation.

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Family members and members of several organisations, who felt that the 1st Brigade did not recognise their responsibility during the public event, gather in a circle to remember the victims and show solidarity with their families.

In 2008, when there were signs that Jorge Enrique had been disappeared, his family members began to search for him. In June 2011, they found out through data provided by the Colombian Forensic Institute (Medicina Legal) that he was dead and had been buried in Chinavita (Boyacá). They then made a formal complaint calling for truth, justice and reparation, a process which, according to his family, “has been long, complex and uneven, which means that ordinary families, small-scale farmers and those with few financial resources, are confronting the Army”. Does this mean that there are risks both for yourself and for Jorge Enrique’s family?

 The level of risk to his family is related to how they act as victims. For example, some people have had significant public exposure, they have been made visible in the media and these are the first people to suffer threats or reprisals. Other victims have remained silent and have been swallowing their pain and anguish. My level of risk because of accompanying victims, especially in trials against the military, meant that I had to go to the National Protection Unit. What is normal in this country is not normal in others, what happens with deaths and murders. The justice system does not guarantee compliance with legal sentences, and that is what we have to take on when we defend human rights.


Sophie Helle and Ana Ochoa

Cover picture: the Human Right defender lawyer from the FCSPP, Fernando Kekhan during the act of public apology

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