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Inter-American Court holds Colombia responsible for failure to protect photographer

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights declared the Colombian government was responsible for the attacks suffered by cameraman Luis Gonzalo "Richard" Vélez Restrepo and the threats he received that prompted him and his family to seek asylum, reported the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP in Spanish) on its website.

According to the decision, the State is responsible for the violating the reporter's freedom of expression and guarantee to safety, according to the Colombian Federation of Journalists (FECOLPER in Spanish). The Court also condemned the Colombian government for violating his rights to personal safety, free movement, residence, family protection and the rights of Vélez's children and family, added FECOLPER.

The aggressions against the reporter began in Aug. 29, 1996, by members of the National Army while Vélez filmed a protest against a government policy to fumigate coca fields in the department of Caquetá, reported the newspaper El Tiempo.

Fights broke out between peasants and the military during the demonstration and Vélez documented several servicemen attacking a peasant. When the troops realized they were being photographed, some started beating Vélez and destroyed his camera but not his film, preserving the incident, according to FLIP. Afterwards, Vélez received threats and was forced to flee the country.

The Court's decision also directed Colombia to "incorporate education programs in human rights for its Armed Forces, [including] a specific module on protecting freedom of thought and expression and the work journalists and social communicators perform," reported the magazine Semana.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights filed a suit against Colombia in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on March, 2011, for failing to protect the reporter and deliver justice.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.

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