Family Requests IACHR Recognition of Columbian Human Rights Violations

By: Paola Andrea Suárez Luján

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

BOGOTÁ, Columbia – It has been 39 years since the imprisonment and murder of Luis Fernando Lalinde, a young college student from Colombia and member of the Communist Party. He was detained without due process on October 3rd, 1984, tortured, and executed by members of the Colombian military. In November 2023, his family petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to recognize the human rights violations committed by the Columbian state.

Photo of Luis Fernando Lalinde Lalinde | Photo courtesy of Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz.

The truth of the circumstances of his death was the life search of his mother Fabiola Lalinde, who spearheaded Operation Siriri, a search campaign for the truth of his disappearance that lasted more than 30 years. Fabiola Lalinde’s efforts come to life in the hundreds of handwritten notebooks, family photos, and more than 1200 documents recording all information regarding the disappearance of his son. Almost four decades after his death, Luis Fernando Lalinde’s family continues their search for the truth. 

In 1988, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights adopted Resolution 24/87, declaring the Colombian State responsible for the detention, torture, and extra-judicial murder of Luis Fernando Lalinde. They urged Colombian authorities to investigate and find the people responsible for his murder. However, it was not until 1992 that Lalinde’s family was presented with his remains, and it was in 1996, exactly 4,428 days after his disappearance, when American scientists confirmed with 99.999% certainty that those remains belonged to Luis Fernando Lalinde. The identity of the perpetrators of his detention and extra-judicial execution, however, remains unknown to the Lalinde family.

For the lack of action from the Colombian government, in 1999 the Colombian Commission of Jurists requested the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to declare the State responsible for the harm to the psychological and moral integrity of Lalinde’s family members. They alleged that the State deliberately obstructed Lalinde’s family’s access to adequate remedies for the investigation and punishment of those responsible for his detention and execution, depriving them of their right to obtain justice.

Lalinde’s case investigation was performed mainly under military criminal jurisdiction. The Commission stated in its Merits Report No. 292/21 that, by leaving the investigation to military jurisdiction, the Colombian State violated judicial guarantees and protections. There was no independent and impartial authority in the case that could allow for a fair investigation and adequate sanction of the people responsible for the acts committed against Luis Fernando Lalinde.

Following that petition, the Colombian Commission of Jurists, representing Luis Fernando Lalinde’s family members and following his mother’s lifelong mission, has requested the Inter-American Court on Human Rights on November 6th of this year, on behalf of the Commission, to declare the Colombian State responsible for the violation of the right to personal integrity, judicial guarantees and judicial protection in detriment to Fabiola Lalinde, Jorge Iván Lalinde, Mauricio Lalinde, and Adriana Lalinde.

Lalinde’s family is requesting that the Court order the Colombian State to fully redress the human rights violations committed against them and that measures be adopted so they can receive comprehensive medical care. Following a 40-year-long plea, they also ask that the Colombian government conduct and conclude an impartial and effective judicial investigation to establish the circumstances of the disappearance and death of Luis Fernando Lalinde, as well as identify and sanction all individuals involved in the events.

The ongoing fight for truth by the Lalinde family is accompanied by the families of more than 60,000 disappeared individuals in Colombia in the last 45 years. The request to the Court calls for an analysis of the impact of the prolonged impunity of serious human rights violations on the personal integrity of the victim’s families.

For further information, please see:

IACHR – Petition Before the Inter-American Court Of Human Rights Case 12,362 – 6 Nov. 2023

CCJ – Luis Fernando Lalinde was Disappeared 37 Years Ago by Military Forces – 3 Oct. 2021

El Colombiano – The Long Flight of the Ciriri, the History of Fabiola Lalinde – 13 May 2022

Hacemos Memoria – “The Archive of a Ciriri Has to be Uncomfortable for a Country as Unjust and Violent as Ours”: Fabiola Lalinde – 17 Apr. 2018

Cero Setenta – Operation Siriri or How to Find a Missing Child – 30 Apr. 2018

Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica – Until We Find Them. The Drama of Forced Disappearance in Colombia – 2016

UNAL – Data base: The Fabiola Lalinde and Family Fund – 20 Apr. 2022

Dissenting Opinion Issued in Three Tanzanian Capital Punishment Cases

By: Rachel Wallisky

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

DODOMA, Tanzania — Of the nine new judgments the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) issued during its opening ceremony on November 7, 2023, three are appeals of capital sentences imposed in the United Republic of Tanzania. Arguments for these cases were all heard by the AfCHPR during its September 2023 term.

Gavel in the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights | Photo Courtesy of the AfCHPR.


In Tanzania, a person convicted of murder or treason must be sentenced to death with few exceptions. While murder convictions are relatively rare, courts in Tanzania have interpreted the law to say that a capital sentence is mandatory for these cases. Tanzania has taken an abolitionist stance on the death penalty, having not carried out an execution since 1994. However, the law mandating capital punishment is still codified in statute and many are sentenced to death. Most murder sentences are commuted to life imprisonment. The AfCHPR has held in the past that mandatory death penalty statutes violates the right to life as guaranteed under Article 4 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Charter). Additionally, Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) condemns mandatory capital punishment.

The Cases

The first case, John Lazaro v. United Republic of Tanzania, is an appeal from the murder conviction of Mr. Lazaro, a Tanzanian national. Mr. Lazaro argued that several of his rights were violated during his trial by the domestic courts, including his right to life under Article 4 and right to dignity under Article 5 of the Charter. The Court agreed that Mr. Lazaro’s right to life under Article 4 had been violated by the mandatory imposition of the death penalty, and his right to dignity under Article 5 had been violated due to the method of execution prescribed by the domestic courts, namely hanging.

The second case, Makungu Misalaba v. United Republic of Tanania, is an appeal from the murder conviction of Mr. Misalaba, a Tanzanian national. Mr. Misalaba was granted a presidential pardon, and his capital sentences was commuted to life imprisonment. Mr. Misalaba stated several of his rights were violated during his trial by the domestic courts, despite his pardon, including his right to life and right to dignity under Article 4 and Article 5 of the Charter, respectively. The Court agreed that Mr. Misalaba’s right to life was violated but disagreed that his Article 5 rights were violated, awarding him with TZS 500,000 in moral damages.

The third case, Chrizant John v. United Republic of Tanania, is an appeal from the murder conviction of Mr. John, a Tanzanian national. Mr. John also argued his Article 4 and 5 rRight to Life and Right to Dignity, among other rights, were violated during his trial by domestic courts. Uniquely, Mr. John called upon the Court to order Tanzania to remove the mandatory death sentence provision for the offense of murder. The Court agreed that Mr. John’s Article 4 and 5 rights were violated and ordered Tanzania to pay TZS 500,000 in moral damages.

The Dissenting Opinion

The dissenting opinion was written by Judge Blaise Tchikaya regarding all three cases. Judge Tchikaya criticizes the court for “retreat[ing]” from the AfCHPR’s power to interpret the law. He argues that the court should have taken the initiative to state that the death penalty is contrary to Articles 4 and 5 of the Charter and States should take measures to remove it from their national legislation.

Additionally, Judge Tchikaya argues these decisions are contradictory. In the Chrizant John judgment, Judge Tchikaya criticizes the Court for finding that Mr. John’s Article 7 right to be heard was not violated because the right requires the sentence imposed to be “legally unobjectionable.” Because the death penalty is not a “legally unobjectionable” sentence, Judge Tchikaya finds Mr. John’s Article 7 rights to have been violated. In the Makungu Misalaba judgment, Judge Tchikaya argues that the majority contradicted itself by finding that Mr. Misalaba’s Article 5 right to dignity was not violated while at the same time finding his Article 4 right to life was violated, because to sentence someone to death is to violate both Article 4 and Article 5 of the Charter. For similar reasons, Judge Tchikaya argues the John Lazaro judgment is subject to the same criticisms.

For further information, please see:

AfCHPR – Dissenting Opinion of Judge Blaise Tchikaya, John Lazaro v. United Republic of Tanzania, Makungu Misalaba v. United Republic of Tanzania, Chrizant John v. United Republic of Tanzania – 7 Nov. 2023

AfCHR – Judgment on Merits and Reparations, Makungu Misalaba v. United Republic of Tanzania – 7 Nov. 2023

AfCHR – Judgment on Merits and Reparations, Chrizant John v. United Republic of Tanzania – 7 Nov. 2023

AfCHR – Judgment on Merits and Reparations, John Lazaro v. United Republic of Tanzania – 7 Nov. 2023

Amnesty International – Case on death-row detainees challenging mandatory death penalty – 25 June 2023

Parlementarians for Global Action – Tanzania and the Death Penalty

Chile to Vote on Whether to Adopt New Constitution with Right to Life Provision

By: Carlos Dominguez Scheid

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

SANTIAGO, Chile – On November 7, 2023, the Chilean Constitutional Council presented President Gabriel Boric with a proposal of a new constitution that includes a right to life provision and outlaws the death penalty.

President Gabriel Boric is presented with the proposal of the New Constitution by Beatriz Hevia, President of the Constitutional Council | Photo courtesy of the Associated Press

The current Chilean Constitution, in effect since 1981 and approved by referendum in 1980 during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, has been a point of contention due to its undemocratic origins despite undergoing significant reforms in 1989 and 2005. In response to major social unrest in October 2019, political parties agreed to initiate the process of drafting a new constitution, seeking to address the popular demands for improvements in the quality of life. In a 2020 referendum, with a 50.95% turnout, 78.28% of voters supported the creation of a new constitution and endorsed the establishment of a new, independent body, distinct from Congress, tasked with drafting it. The election for the 155 members of the Constitutional Convention was held in May 2021, and the results yielded a supermajority for the left and far left. In the September 2022 referendum, the people rejected their drafted Constitution, with 62% voting against it. The referendum had a historic 85.86% turnout.

Subsequently, a new political agreement led to a different process, involving a Commission of Constitutional Experts appointed by Congress to prepare a draft constitution. This was to be reviewed and voted on by the Constitutional Council, a 50-member body elected in May 2023. With a supermajority held by the right and center-right, the Council is poised to introduce changes to the proposed constitution.

Article 4.1 of American Convention of Human Rights (About the Right to Life), from 1969, states that:

“Every person has the right to have his life respected. This right shall be protected by law and, in general, from the moment of conception. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.”

In Chile, the current Constitution states that:

“The Constitution ensures to all persons the right to life and to the physical and mental integrity of the person. The law protects the life of the one about to be born. The death penalty may only be instituted for a crime established in a law approved by a qualified quorum.” (Article 19 N° 1)

The Commission of Constitutional Experts proposed the following change:

“The Constitution ensures to all people the right to life. The death penalty is prohibited.”

The Constitutional Council’s final proposal, which will be voted on in the December 17th Referendum, states:

“The Constitution ensures to all people the right to life. The law protects the life of the one who is to be born. The death penalty is prohibited.” (Article 16 N° 1)

This constitution is the first in Chile’s history to prohibit the death penalty. If approved, it would close the debate on this issue. Although the death penalty was abolished in the Penal Code in 2001, it remains in effect for military crimes during wartime. This has allowed for legislative proposals to reintroduce it in the Penal Code, arguing that Chile has not fully abolished it and therefore is not bound by Article 4.3 of the American Convention on Human Rights.

The issue about the protection of the right to life of the unborn was subject to a strong debate. In Chile, abortion is governed by the Penal Code and the Sanitary Code. A total ban on abortion was implemented in 1989, during the last year of the dictatorship, through an amendment to the Sanitary Code. It was only in 2017 that abortion was legalized again, but strictly under three distinct situations: if the woman’s life is at risk, if the fetus is diagnosed with a condition that renders it nonviable outside the uterus, or in cases where the pregnancy has occurred due to rape, with the gestation period capped at twelve weeks (fourteen weeks for those under 14 years of age). This legislative change, stemming from a constitutional mandate ​to protect ‘the life of​ the one about to be born,’ was hotly debated. Ultimately, the Constitutional Court upheld the legality of this limited decriminalization of abortion in a 6-4 decision.

The right and center-right dominated Council proposed a key change to the current constitution and to the draft of the Commission of Constitutional Experts, focusing on enhancing the protection of the unborn. In the debate, ​Article 4.1 of the American​ ​Convention on Human Rights​ was referenced. The distinction between ‘the law protects the life of the one about to be born’ and ‘the law protects the life of the one ​who is about to be born​’, while subtle, underscores crucial legal and ethical interpretations regarding the protection of the nasciturus. The use of ‘who’ suggests personhood, advocating for the recognition of the unborn as individuals with rights from conception. This implies a broader scope of protection, viewing the fetus as an individual entity, rather than an extension of the pregnant woman.

A referendum was announced for December 17, 2023, where Chileans will vote on whether to adopt the new constitution.

For further information, please see:

Reuters – Chile voters sour on right-wing constitution as abortion clause stirs debate – 6 Oct. 2023

Bloomberg – Chile’s Right Takes Aim at Abortion, Gender in Amendments to Constitution Draft – 18 Jul 2023

Le Monde – Chile’s draft constitution calls into question right to abortion – 24 Sept 2023

The Guardian – Chile’s right wing presents draft conservative constitution – 7 Nov 2023

AP News – Chile president calls for referendum on new constitution proposal drafted by conservative councilors – 7 Nov 2023

Inter-American Commission of Human Rights – The Death Penalty in the Inter‐American Human Rights System: From Restrictions To Abolition – 31 Dec 2011

Rodrigo Delaveau Swett – Constitution of Chile – 2021


ICJ Issues Provisional Measure to Syrian Arab Republic: “Take all Measures to Prevent Acts of Torture” and Preserve Evidence ICJ

By: Darleen Marie Patacchia,

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations Associate Articles Editor

The Hague, Netherlands – On November 16, 2023, with a vote of thirteen to two, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) mandated that the Syrian government “take all measures within its power to prevent acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” The Court further compelled the Syrian government to safeguard evidence linked to accusations of violations of the international Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention). The ICJ’s provisional measure is not a ruling on the merits, but it is the first step towards international legal accountability.

Families of the disappeared and detained placed in front of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) October 10, 2023 | Photo Courtesy of Human Rights Watch.

Under the Convention, which Syria became a party to in 2004, a party state may bring an action erga omnes partes, against any other party to the treaty for a violation. The signatories have a common legal interest to ensure “that acts of torture are prevented and that, if they occur, their authors do not enjoy impunity.”

On June 8, 2023, Canada and the Netherlands brought suit against Syria in the ICJ for violating the Convention. They sought a declaration by the Court that Syria breached its duty to international law under the Convention and requiring Syria to accept responsibility for the violations, to cease ongoing violations, and to provide guarantees the acts will not be repeated. The Syrian government denies all torture allegations despite significant evidence from refugees, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and United Nations Observers. The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) estimated that as of May of 2023, 15,275 civilians had been tortured to death, 154,817 were disappeared or arbitrarily arrested, and over 230,224 were killed.

The ICJ’s ruling marks a significant moment in the pursuit of justice for the thousands of victims of the Syrian government’s “enforced disappearances, abhorrent treatment of detainees, inhumane conditions of detention, [and] other acts committed in order to coerce, punish or terrorize the civilian population, and sexual and gender-based violence.” It came only twenty-four hours after France issued arrest warrants for President Bashar al-Assad, his brother, Maher al-Assad, and two other senior Syrian officials for crimes against humanity and war crimes. The warrants charge the officials with “complicity in the use of banned chemical weapons” against Syrian civilians.

While the International Court of Justice may not have enforcement capability, its decisions are binding and can potentially trigger U.N. Security Council action. International legal condemnation and publicized trial evidence may prompt supporters to distance themselves from the current Syrian government. The progression of the trial could also prove to be a valuable blockade to President Bashar al-Assad’s efforts to normalize international relations with Syria under his regime.

For further information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – World Court Rules Against Syria in Torture Case – 16 Nov. 2023

ICJ – Allegations of Torture under the Convention on Torture (Canada and The Netherlands v. Syrian Arab Republic), Provisional Measures, Order – 16 Nov. 2023

N.Y. Times – International Court Orders Syria to Stop Torture of Political Opponents – 16 Nov. 2023

Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) – Press Release – 15 Nov. 2023

Syrian Network for Human Rights – Report on the Twelfth Anniversary of the Popular Uprising –  15 Mar. 2023

UN Human Rights | OHCHR – Behind the Data: Recording Civilian Casualties in Syria – 11 May 2023

UN Human Rights | OHCHR – Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment – 10 Dec. 1984

ECHR Delivers Verdict on Gërdec Ammunition Depot Explosion Case

By: Firdevs Okatan

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

STRASBOURG, France – On November 7, 2023, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) reached a decision in the case of Durham and Others v Albania, addressing the adequacy of the investigation into a devastating explosion at the Gërdec weapon decommissioning facility in Albania.

March 15, 2008, marked a tragic event at a facility located in Gërdec, Albania, leading to the unfortunate loss of 26 lives and injuries to approximately 300 individuals | Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia.

On March 15, 2008, a massive explosion occurred at the Gërdec facility, resulting in 26 fatalities and around 300 injuries. Some of the applicants to the court had family members injured or killed in the explosion, while others were themselves severely injured as they were working at the facility. Investigations revealed numerous safety violations, including the absence of required licenses, inadequate training, and violations of military regulations.

Indictments were filed against 29 individuals, including a former Minister of Defence, but the prosecution against the former minister was discontinued due to parliamentary immunity. Civil claims were lodged by some applicants against the accused, which were separated from the criminal proceedings. The applicants argued that this separation deprived them of participation in the criminal trial, violating the principle of adversarial proceedings.

Ultimately, 24 of the accused were found guilty of various criminal offenses related to the Gërdec incident. However, some sentences were reduced, and the applicants were left without a final conclusion regarding the responsibility of the former Minister of Defence.

The ECHR concluded that the investigation was generally adequate in establishing the circumstances and identifying those responsible for the incident. However, it found a violation of the procedural aspect of Article 2 of the Convention, as the applicants were denied effective participation in the criminal proceedings.

Regarding the substantive aspect of Article 2, the Court found that applicants who had accepted compensation had renounced further use of national remedies, while those who had not pursued civil claims had not exhausted all available legal avenues.

The Court ordered Albania to pay compensation to the applicants for non-pecuniary damage and costs and expenses.

For further information, please see:

Albania Daily News – Gërdec case, Strasbourg Court decides in favour of the affected families – 7 Nov. 2023

ECHR – Durdaj and Others v. Albania – 7 Nov.  2023

ECHR – Judgment concerning Albania – 7 Nov. 2023

European Convention on Human Rights – 1950

LawEuro – Case Of Durdaj And Others v. Albania – 63543/09 and 3 others. The application concerns the explosion at the Gërdec facility for dismantling decommissioned and obsolete weapons – 7 Nov. 2023