Rights court rules against Colombia in FARC bombing

Air force held responsible for 17 civilian deaths from a raid 1998

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos sets the deadline for reaching specific peace agreements with the FARC
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos sets the deadline for reaching specific peace agreements with the FARCEFE

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) on Tuesday ruled that that the Colombian air force was responsible for the deaths of 17 civilians killed when a village was cluster-bombed in 1998 during a raid carried out against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The San Jose, Costa Rica-based court said that Colombia should speed up the indemnification process and include in it those who didn't appeal to the justice system, as well as making a public acknowledgment of the state's responsibility in the deaths, which occurred in Santo Domingo, in the northeastern state of Arauca.

In a ruling, the court's judges said "the actions took place within the context of an air-transported military operation against the guerrillas that lasted for several days."

In 2009, a judge found two Colombian air force pilots guilty of murder and sentenced them to 31 years in prison each for the killings.

Denials in court

During the court proceedings the air force denied that any of its members were responsible for the tragedy, and maintained that many of the victims were not civilians. Six of those killed in the raid were children.

However, an independent investigation carried out by the FBI showed that the victims were killed by cluster bombs that were dropped on the village by the Colombian air force.

The findings also concluded that the air force tried to cover up the investigation by erasing some images taken from a surveillance recordings on a jet.

Nevertheless, the court said that it did not think that Colombia had conducted an exhaustive investigation. "On the contrary, the court found and has established that internal mechanisms and procedures have helped the truth to emerge," the ruling states.

The bombings took place during a confrontation with FARC guerrillas, which lasted several days. Cluster bombs, which are prohibited by international organizations, were used by the air force, which was chasing a group of guerrillas who had disguised themselves as civilians.

Captain César Romero Padillo and his co-pilot Lieutenant Johan Jiménez Valencia were both sentenced to 31 years in prison in 2009 for the murders and injuries of Santo Domingo residents.

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