The Inter-American Court of Human Rights issues a resolution to adopt provisional measures in the Bedoya Lima and another v. Colombia Case
Author:- João Victor Stuart LLB Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. GHRD Intern (International Justice and Human Rights Team)
On March 24th 2021, the judges of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) ruled that the State of Colombia should immediately adopt all the necessary measures to secure the right to life and the physical integrity of Jineth Bedoya Lima and Luz Nelly Lima, a Colombian citizen who suffered diverse attacks due to her investigative work as a journalist (Resolution of the Inter-American Court of Human Right, 2021).
The case began on June 3rd, 2011, when the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights received a petition filed by the Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (the petitioner). They alleged the responsibility of the Colombian State for not taking adequate and timely measures to protect Jineth Bedoya Lima from suffering the crimes of enforced disappearance, torture, and rape committed against her on May 5th, 2000. At that time, Jineth was the chief editor of the section about prison news in the newspaper El Espectador. Before being kidnapped, tortured, and raped, she had started to investigate a massacre against several prisoners which had taken place on April 27th, 2000 at the prison La Modelo. The petitioner added that Colombian authorities were aware about the risks that Jineth could face because of her work (Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, 2018). Secondly, according to the petitioner, the State of Colombia failed in fulfilling its international obligations because it did not promote an effective and diligent investigation into these crimes (Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, 2018).
Nevertheless, at the IACHR level, the State of Colombia responded to the allegations, arguing that it should not be held responsible for the violation of rights alleged in the present case by the petitioner. According to Colombia, its authorities have taken various criminal and disciplinary actions as well as protection and reparation measures to safeguard the rights of the Ms. Bedoya (Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, 2018). For example, the Colombian attorney general declared that her abduction and rape were crimes against humanity. In practise, it means that the investigation about these crimes could last for an undetermined period, without crossing time limits (Staff, 2021). It also prompted the Colombian government to arrest a man involved in the crime against Ms. Bedoya in the same year (Staff, 2021).
After having fulfilled all the mandatory admissibility procedures and finished the merit report, and as Colombia accepted the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on June 21, 1985 (El Caso Bedoya Lima y otra vs. Colombia;Otro golpe a los derechos de las víctimas y la independencia de la justicia; CAJAR, 2021), the IACHR transferred the case to the court on July 16, 2019 (OAS: Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression, 2019).
In its analysis on March 24th, the judges stated that, in accordance with the article 63(2) of the American Convention on Human Rights, the Court may grant provisional measures. These measures are urgent requests addressed to an OAS member by the Court for it to immediately implement in cases of “extreme gravity and urgency, and when it is necessary to avoid irreparable damage to persons” (Basic Documents — American Convention, n.d.). Additionally, article 27(3) of the Court’s statute allows the victim(s) of a contentious case that is currently being assessed by the court to ask for a provisional measure directly to the court (Rules of Procedure of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, n.d.). In that sense, Jineth Bedoya Lima requested provisional measures.
On March 15th, during a public hearing about her case, Bedoya explained that she kept receiving several sorts of threats after more than 20 years of the grievous crimes committed against her. After the IACHR had submitted the case to the Inter-American Court, Ms. Bedoya received an anonymous phone call from abroad saying that if she decided to speak out, she would face the same consequences of the past (Resolution of the Inter-American Court of Human Right, 2021). She added that the mere act of making a statement in front of the judges would be enough for her to fear about her well-being and safety, as she would likely receive thousands of threats in the future because of that. Lately, on March 23rd, the day that the final allegations began, she returned to affirm the constant risks that she and her mother were being exposed due to the escalating number of threats.
Based on her testimony, the judges analysed if the provisional measures were applicable to her case. Before entering in the merit discussion about the demand for provisional measures, the Court asserted that adopting these sorts of measures neither affect its final merit judgment about the dispute, nor reduce the supposed State’s responsibility for its existent wrongful acts. The judges stressed the fact that the situations of threats of death and sexual violence through which Bedoya and her mother have been suffering for more than 20 years achieved such a deep level of intimidation and harassment that they can be understood as a situation of severe gravity. Furthermore, the judges also stated that, from the moment that Ms. Bedoya agreed to testify before the Inter-American Court, her risk to be harmed would likely increase, which demonstrates how urgent it was to grant her an extra protection. Finally, the court recognized that the alarming nature of the threats could provoke irreversible damage upon both Ms. Bedoye and her mother (Resolution of the Inter-American Court of Human Right, 2021).
The Court’s comments on this case reinforces the importance of granting provisional measures when people face an imminent danger. This danger can come either from State agencies or paramilitary or non-official groups, and fulfils the requirement of extreme gravity (González, 2010). As Ms. Bedoya had already suffered meaningful attacks by alternative groups, and she continued to be harassed by them, her case fits into this conclusion. When it comes to assessing whether the case fulfills the “urgency” requirement or not, it is worth remembering that several provisional measures were implemented in cases which the victim encountered a significant risk to his or her right to life or physical integrity (González, 2010). In the present case, the Court said multiple times that Ms. Bedoya’s testimony at the court would significantly increase the threats against her life, which demonstrates how urgent it was for the court to require stronger protective measures in her favour.
In the present case, the court admitted that the situation of human rights defenders and journalists in Colombia is critical. They added that it becomes worse when these supporters are women because of the historical use of rape and other sorts of sexual violent acts to exert power. It shows that regarding provisional measures, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights also takes into consideration the array of political, historical, cultural or other factors or circumstances, which could place the beneficiary in a situation of vulnerability in a specific moment (Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, 2017). Thus, the instability and the lack of an effective system of protection in favour of female journalists in Colombia contributed for the court to be convinced about the urgency of granting Ms. Bedoya and her mother a provisional measure (Resolution of the Inter-American Court of Human Right, 2021).
In conclusion, the court asserted, at least, initially, that there is evidence to believe that there exists a situation of extreme gravity in relation to the continuous threats posed against Jineth Bedoya and her mother. There is also an urgency in implementing additional methods of preserving Bedoya’s well-being and physical integrity both because of her witness in front of the judges of the present court and because of the critical context of female journalists in Colombia. The court stressed Colombia’s duty to guarantee the effective preservation of the rights of those who are within its jurisdiction, and more importantly the rights of those who are involved in a proceeding inside the Inter-American Court (Resolution of the Inter-American Court of Human Right, 2021). According to its attributions, the court:
Ruled that the State Colombia should immediately adopt all the appropriate measures to secure the right to life and the right to physical integrity of Bedoya and her mother.
Urged the State of Colombia to regularly inform the court about the most recent measures implemented in favour of the victims.
Ruled that the State of Colombia must include the beneficiaries of the provisional measures in their process of planning and implementation, and communicate them about their execution.
Demanded the representatives of the victims to present their observations about the provisional measures in ten days after the day the State of Colombia receives the notification to present its allegations about the provisional measures. The IACHR also needs to send its observations in ten days after the Court receives the observations of the representatives.
Urged the State of Colombia to keep the court informed about the development of the provisional measures.
Demanded the secretary of the court to notify the State of Colombia, the IACHR and the representativess of the victims about the present decision.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights is an autonomous regional judicial body that belongs to the Inter-American system of protection of Human Rights. The Court was established on 3 September 1979 in San José, Costa Rica, and still works there. The Court’s objective is to interpret and apply the American Convention. It also exercises a contentious function, in which it resolves contentious cases and supervises judgments; an advisory function; and a function wherein it can order provisional measures (Inter-American Court of Human Rights, n.d).
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