Canadian Tribunal to Examine Human Rights Abuses in Colombia

(April 27, 1999 -- TORONTO) High profile inernational attempts, using international law, to make those responsible for gross human rights violations accountable for their crimes have recently included extradition proceedings in Britain against Chilean General Augusto Pinochet and the work of Madam Justice Louise Arbour, chief war crimes prosecutor for the United Nations.

A unique Canadian addition to those efforts begins on Thursday April 29 in Toronto when criminal lawyer, Jeffry House will submit hundreds of pages of affadavits and other legal evidence regarding a bloody massacre that took place in Colombia to a public inquiry being conducted by a tribunal of nine prominent Canadians.


The Tribunal -- convened by the Canadian Council of Churches and chaired by the Hon. Rosemary Brown, former Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission -- includes Chief Ted Moses (Ambassador to the United Nations, Grand Council of the Crees); the Hon. Howard Pawley (former Premier and Attorney General of Manitoba); the Hon. David MacDonald (former federal Cabinet Minister and Canadian Ambassador); Joan Grant-Cummings (President of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women); William Ryan, S.J. (Director of the Jesuit Project on Ethics in Politics); Nibaldo Galleguillos (human rights lawyer and Political Science professor at McMaster University); M.T. Kelly (Governor General’s Award winning writer); and Madeleine Parent (respected labour organizer inducted to the Canadian Labour Hall of Fame).

At quasi-judicial proceedings (modelled on those used by Ontario Human Rights Tribunals) to take place in chambers of the University of Toronto’s Hart House (beginning at 10 AM on Thursday, April 29), the Tribunal will seek to establish the facts and determine who bears responsibility for one of 198 documented massacres that took place in Colombia last year.

Prosecuting attorney Jeffry House will present evidence that on May 16 and 17 1998, at least 30 heavily-armed men made a sweep through the oil-producing city of Barrancabermeja, killing 7 people and "disappearing" 25 others.

House will call a number of eyewitnesses -- who have courageously agreed to come from Colombia to appear before the Tribunal -- who will testify to seeing the victims being taken away, how one died, his throat slit by his captors, and hearing the shots that killed other victims. More than 60 rounds were heard being fired within metres of a military base, yet no one came out of the base to investigate.

The Tribunal will also hear how the leader of a paramilitary death squad subsequently acknowledged responsibility for killing all of the victims, telling a Colombian newsmagazine that the 25 who had been "disappeared" were later executed and the Colombian government informed. However, not a single person has been convicted in this crime, in a country where theimpunity rate for politically-motivated killings is almost 100%.

"I will argue that the pattern of failures in this case, including the failure of the police and army to respond to the incursion into Barrancabermeja and the failure to seriously investigate this crime amount to granting permission to paramilitary death squads to kidnap and kill the population with impunity," states Jeffry House.


Members of the Tribunal will publicly deliver their verdict at noon on May 1 in Moot Court of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law. This proceeding is open to the media.

The verdict will subsequently be delivered to both the Colombian Government and Prime Minister Chrétien, in anticipation of the state visit to Canada beginning on May 30 of Colombia’s President Andrés Pastrana. That visit is expected to be aimed at expanding growing trade and investment links between Canada and Colombia.


A press conference will be held after the verdict by Attorney Jeffry House, Canadian human rights and trade union organizations, as well as members of the growing Colombian community of Toronto, many of whom are refugees who fled paramilitary death threats and violence like that which claimed the lives of 32 people in the Barrancabermeja massacre. Members of the Colombian community have announced they will also hold a public vigil outside the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law (where the verdict will be delivered) to draw attention to the need to break the veil of silence around Colombia’s horrendous human rights record.

For more information or to arrange interviews, contact:

Kathy Price: (416) 921-0801, ext 23



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