After more than 20 years, court confirms responsibility of the Colombian State in violating human rights of journalist Claudia Julieta Duque

"Since I read the sentence a few minutes ago I have not stopped crying."

This is how Claudia Julieta Duque, the Colombian journalist who for about 20 years experienced threats, psychological torture, life in exile and persecution for investigating the participation of authorities in the murder of a journalist, described her feelings. The sentence in question confirmed the responsibility of the Colombian State in multiple violations of her human rights and those of her family.

The Council of State, the highest court of public administration in Colombia, which resolves conflicts between people and state entities, condemned the Colombian Nation for illegal surveillance, psychological torture and the terror strategy mounted against Duque by the former Administrative Department of Security (DAS, for its acronym in Spanish) between 2001 and 2010, as a result of the journalist's investigation into the murder of humorist and journalist Jaime Garzón.

Colombian Journalist Claudia Julieta Duque

The sentence established that there is evidence that shows that a plan was implemented against Duque in order to punish her for her journalistic activity. (Photo: Claudia Julieta Duque's YouTube channel).

According to the court's resolution, dated June 17, 2022 and reported on July 6, it was shown that Duque was subjected to illegal interceptions, surveillance, and psychological torture for which DAS officials were held disciplinarily and criminally responsible.

"In the case, there are multiple pieces of evidence that show that a plan was implemented against Mrs. Claudia Julieta Duque Orrego in order to punish her for the activity she was carrying out, especially through threats against her daughter," the document says.

According to the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), the surveillance, torture and terror strategy of the DAS against Duque sought to make the journalist drop her investigation into Garzón's murder and to censor herself to cover up responsibility of the State in that crime.

In 2004, former Colombian paramilitary leader of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) Carlos Castaño was convicted of being the mastermind behind Garzón's murder. He was the only one convicted of the crime until in 2018, the Court also sentenced the former deputy director of the DAS José Miguel Narváez.

The recent decision of the Council of State represents the first case in the history of Colombia in which the responsibility of the State for profiling (procedure by which the authorities behave differently with a specific group of people) of journalists is recognized.

“This decision is a transcendental step in the search for justice that the journalist [Julieta Duque] has carried out for twenty years,” FLIP said in a statement on July 7.

The judicial resolution was given as a result of a lawsuit that Duque presented in 2012, in which she demanded compensation for damage from the Attorney General's Office, the Ministries of the Interior and Justice and the DAS. In March 2020, in a first instance, the Administrative Court of Cundinamarca considered that the State had been responsible for the attacks against Duque, which was confirmed last month by the Council of State.

This court confirmed the existence of a group called G3, which had access to DAS equipment, vehicles, personnel, and infrastructure to obtain information about the journalist and her family that would serve to torture her.

“For the Chamber, the existence of this type of action, which were extended to those people who were considered opponents of the national government of the time and which marked the commission of serious and systematic violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, is inadmissible and reprehensible [...]”, reads the sentence. “Furthermore, on many occasions, people outside the conflict were victims and that constitutes behaviors that in the international human rights system have the connotation of serious violations and crimes against humanity.”

However, the Council of State decided not to exercise administrative action against the Ministry of the Interior and the Attorney General's Office in this case, due to the expiration of the accusations. Likewise, the effects on the health of the journalist's daughter were not recognized, after these could not be accredited in the Forensic Medicine expert reports.

Duque said that she hopes that these decisions of the judicial authority will serve for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to carry out a compatibility control of the standards regarding the expiration of serious cases of human rights violations. The journalist said that her case is currently in the merits stage in the IACHR, in which it is decided whether or not there were human rights violations.

"This is a partial victory, but so far the most important at the national level in the fight for truth and justice in my case," Duque said in her statement.

In early 2022, the journalist resigned from the protection scheme of the National Protection Unit of Colombia (UNP), after the institution used the resources assigned to protect Duque, including the geolocation device installed in her vehicle, to collect sensitive data about the journalist, which Duque considered a breach of the Colombian State of the precautionary measures granted by the IACHR.

“This is carte blanche for anything to happen to me and the UNP washes its hands by saying ‘look at her, she resigned.’ And this is not a voluntary resignation, this is a forced resignation in the face of a very serious situation,” Duque told LatAm Journalism Review (LJR) in March of this year.

“I felt that what happened in these last few months was a mockery on the part of the State, a tenacious mockery,” she said then.

According to FLIP, an organization accompanied Duque throughout the judicial process, the ruling issued in June is a significant precedent that lays the groundwork for future cases in which the responsibility of the State in acts of profiling journalists is suspected.

“We celebrate the decision adopted by the Council of State, since it is not only an encouragement for Claudia Julieta, a recognition of her courage, effort and dedication to overcome impunity in her case, but also a message about the contribution that journalistic work provides in the investigation of serious human rights violations, and the need to protect the journalists who carry out these investigations,” the organization said.

Duque is a correspondent in Colombia for Radio Nizkor, the project of socialization of audio documents on human rights of the organization Nizkor Team. She is also an honorary member of the UK and Ireland National Union of Journalists and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). Since 2019, the One Free Press Coalition has included Duque in its list of the 10 most threatened journalists in the world.

“Today I am deeply grateful to those who have supported me during the last two decades, to those childhood friends who were subjected to espionage for the sole fact of being my friends; to my siblings for always being there and giving me their support in the worst moments; to my daughter for being the most unconditional of all supports and the strongest of all pillars; and to my parents, and in particular to my mother, who died a year and a half ago and was able to see justice come to justice; and to the many people and organizations that saved my life with their solidarity, affection, support and accompaniment,” Duque wrote.