Colombia top court exonerates colonel for disappearances in 1985 siege
Colombia top court exonerates colonel for disappearances in 1985 siege

[JURIST] Colombia’s Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] exonerated a retired army colonel on Wednesday who had been found guilty of the forced disappearances of two people he escorted away from the 1985 Palace of Justice Siege, ordering the colonel’s immediate release [BBC report, in Spanish]. Luis Alfonso Plazas Vega was detained after a prosecutor re-opened investigations into disappearances related to the siege in 2006 and has spent the last eight years in custody. Although he was originally charged with forcibly disappearing 11 people, he was convicted by Bogotá’s Superior Court for two of the alleged disappearances and sentenced to 30 years in prison [JURIST report]. The Supreme Court reversed that conviction on Wednesday with a 5-3 vote, finding there was not enough evidence [press release, in Spanish] to convict Plazas Vega and stating they did not find witnesses credible. The judiciary assured the public the decision came after prolonged deliberating and analyzing all of the evidence, and that this decision does not bar future investigations into disappearances after the siege.

On November 6, 1985 the Palace of Justice was occupied by about 30-40 members of the guerrilla group M19. They held all of the Supreme Court justices hostage as well as many other civilians who were present with the goal of forcing the justices to charge then-President Belisario Betancur for backing out of a deal entered into with M19. Plazas Vegas commanded the army as they executed an operation to retake the building. A fire that was started on one of the floors in the building destroyed [Business Insider report] records for over 6,000 criminal investigations. When the siege ended the following day, over 100 people had been killed, including 11 of the 25 Supreme Court justices and most of the guerrilla rebels.