Delays in Humans Rights judicial cases: another path to impunity
Second Lieutenant Raul Muñoz an active member of the Colombian army is accused of raping two young girls and then torturing and killing one of them, Jenny Torres, along with her two siblings Jimmy and Jefferson.
The case against Muñoz was delayed yet again on May 27, this time because Muñoz’s lawyer Sergio Rodriguez asked the presiding judge Marta Artunduaga to nullify the discovery phase.
Rodriguez argued that lawyers for Defensoria Militar – Muñoz’s prior defense team -mishandled his client’s due process rights.
Defensoria Militar is a member organization that defends active or retired Colombian military personnel, who in turn support the organization with their contributions.
The discovery phase has been suspended since February when it started in the eastern city of Saravena, Arauca province.
Olga Silva, an attorney with Humanidad Vigente –a human rights non governmental organization -representing the victims says that nullification is used when the discovery phase is riddled with mistakes that render the evidence useless, but in the case against Muñoz it does not apply.
Judge Marta Artunduaga did not grant the nullification stating that Defensoria Militar are professional lawyers who understand the system.
“We cannot say they [Defensoria Militar lawyers] were passive or that there was no defense” Artunduaga added.
Rodriguez has appealed to the Tribunal Superior of Bogota. A decision from the Tribunal could take from one to three months.
Semana, a Colombian weekly magazine, reported early this month that while the Tribunal decides on the nullification there could be an “expiration of terms” and Second Lieutenant Raul Muñoz could go free.
But according to Silvia Parra, press officer for Humanidad Vigente both judges that have been in charge of this case have clearly said that “expiration of terms” will not apply because the delays came as the result of defense lawyers.
Parra adds that this has been clearly laid out throughout the hearings.
Olga Silva says that if the Tribunal Superior favors Rodriguez the discovery phase would have to start all over again. If the decision is not favorable to the defense the discovery continues where it was left off on February 23, at which point the defense will have to answer to the victim’s attorneys discovery requests and show the evidence it will use in the trial.
The case against Muñoz stalled not only because of defense delay tactics but also because on March 22 then presiding judge Gloria Gaona was shot to death in the city of Saravena, Arauca Province. That investigation is ongoing.
According to Silva delays are a problem in Colombian judicial cases involving Human Rights violations. She adds that delays in human rights violations cases that involve state officials have become a mechanism of impunity.
She explains that Humanidad Vigente has experienced delay tactics in cases that impact the possibility of proving guilt because it is easier for a witness to remember what happened one year ago than it is to remember what happened two, three or five years ago. In short time has an impact on the possibilities to prove guilt.
Silva considers there is almost a structural problem in the way justice is administered in human rights violation cases, that can suffer delays of up to four or five years. She adds this can lead to expiration of terms allowed by law to investigate a case.
Silva clarifies that even though Defensoria Militar tried to delay the case and judge Artunduaga called their resignation a lack of respect, current defense attorney Sergio Rodriguez has the right to request the nullification.
But she is very clear to add that this action has an impact on the victim’s rights.
Silva concluded that cases like this one demand expediency from the Colombian judicial system.
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