A man reads a newspaper in Bogotá in May. An international court has ordered Colombia to properly pursue justice for a radio journalist killed in 1998. (Reuters/Jaime Saldarriaga)
A man reads a newspaper in Bogotá in May. An international court has ordered Colombia to properly pursue justice for a radio journalist killed in 1998. (Reuters/Jaime Saldarriaga)

Inter-American Court of Human Rights orders Colombia to investigate journalist’s murder

Bogotá, Colombia, June 8, 2018–The Committee to Protect Journalists today welcomed an historic ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that ordered the Colombian government to uphold its responsibility to investigate the 1998 murder of radio journalist Nelson Carvajal Carvajal.

In a statement released June 6, the court condemned the Colombian government for failing to properly investigate and pursue justice in the case of Radio Sur journalist Carvajal.

The court found the government guilty of negligent treatment of Carvajal’s family and said that it failed to investigate death threats against nine of the journalist’s relatives, who were forced to flee the country. It also found the government responsible for “extraordinary delays” in pursuing justice.

The court, which is part of the Organization of American States, ordered the government to continue investigating Carvajal’s death and to organize a public event at which high-ranking officials accept and acknowledge the state’s responsibility. It ordered the government to guarantee conditions for the safe return of Carvajal’s relatives currently living abroad, to pay them damages, and to provide them with access to counseling.

The ruling, which was made on March 13, marks the first time the court has condemned a state for a murder related to the victim’s work as a journalist, according to the Bogotá-based Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP).

“The Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ ruling is an important step toward long-overdue justice for Nelson Carvajal Carvajal. Colombia must comply with the court’s demands,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martínez de la Serna from New York. “By directly holding Colombia to account for its failure to investigate the murder and to protect the journalist’s family, the court is signaling that impunity will no longer be tolerated.”

Calls by CPJ to the Colombian Attorney General’s office, where a specialized human rights unit is in charge of the Carvajal case, were not returned.

Carvajal, 37, was a part-time teacher and journalist who hosted several news programs on Radio Sur in Pitalito, a town in the Huila department of southwest Colombia. He was shot several times and died on April 16, 1998.

Carvajal often reported on local government corruption scandals and money laundering by drug traffickers. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the court’s sister body, determined in 2015 that Carvajal was killed in retaliation for his work as a journalist, a finding that the court ratified in its sentence.

Press freedom groups said that the government’s investigation into Carvajal’s death was marred by irregularities. The numerous delays were partly the result of the case bouncing around between four lead prosecutors, one of whom received death threats, according to the Inter-American Press Association, which has carried out an investigation of the case since 2002. A key government witness was also killed in 2007 according FLIP. In a 2001 trial, three defendants accused of the killing, a businessman, a former Pitalito town councilman, and another individual, were declared not guilty.

In 2015, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights submitted the case to the court, which is based in San José, Costa Rica, after determining that the Colombian government had failed to carry out a “serious, diligent, and timely” investigation, according to its submission.