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Human rights cases

Manuel Cepeda Vargas, Colombia

Manuel Cepeda Vargas was one of a dozen MPs killed during a bloody period in Colombia's history. Photo courtesy of Cepeda family

Colombian MP Manuel Cepeda Vargas was shot dead in the capital, Bogota, in an attack later ruled to have been the responsibility of the state. No one has been brought to justice for masterminding the killing, one of a string of politically motivated murders in a bloody period in the country’s history.

Colombian MP Manuel Cepeda Vargas was shot dead on the streets of the capital, Bogota, in 1994. He was 64.

It was an era of bloody warfare in the country, as left-wing rebels, right-wing paramilitaries, and arms of the state and military participated in thousands of murders and kidnappings.

Manuel Cepeda Vargas’s Patriotic Union party suffered a brutal campaign at the hands of right-wing paramilitaries, sometimes with the complicity or outright assistance of members of the armed forces or other parts of the state, which accused the party of links with the left-wing FARC rebels.

An estimated 3,000 members of the Patriotic Union died, including more than a dozen MPs. In most of those cases the role of serving military officers and other officials was never established, and the authorities tried to blame much of the violence on drugs traffickers.

However, in Manuel Cepeda Vargas’s case, the links with the state were finally proved. Two army officers were found guilty of his murder. In 2010, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights confirmed the responsibility of the state—both in terms of the officers’ actions and in failing to protect him. It called for further investigations within Colombia to establish the full extent of the state involvement.

In line with the Inter-American Court’s ruling, in 2011 the Colombian state organized an event on the premises of the National Congress focusing exclusively on his murder. In a solemn ceremony attended by high-ranking state officials and MPs from across the political spectrum, the Minister of the Interior and Justice paid tribute to Manuel Cepeda Vargas’s life, publicly condemned the state's responsibility for his assassination and called for forgiveness.

Manuel Cepeda Vargas's son Iván has followed him into politics, and is now an MP and human rights campaigner.