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Human rights cases

Luis Carlos Galán Sarmiento, Colombia

Luis Carlos Galán Sarmiento was ahead in presidential polls when he was murdered. Photo courtesy of Galán family

Colombian senator and presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán Sarmiento was murdered at a political rally in 1989. His death was ordered by drugs baron Pablo Escobar and apparently plotted by high-level members of the security forces.

Luis Carlos Galán Sarmiento had made tackling Colombia’s drugs barons a key element of his presidential election campaign in 1989.

He had pledged to extradite drugs traffickers to the US if elected president. It seems certain he was killed to prevent him being elected and carrying out the policy: at the time of his death he had an apparently unassailable lead in the polls.

He was a former journalist who had become a senator for the New Liberalism Party. In August 1989 he went to a political rally in the city of Soacha despite warnings that his life was at risk.

Luis Carlos Galán Sarmiento, 45, was shot several times as he was about to start addressing a crowd of some 10,000 in the main square. Other people were injured in the hail of bullets.

The Supreme Court later ruled that a former justice minister, Alberto Santofimio, had incited drugs baron Pablo Escobar to have him killed. Escobar was himself killed in a gun battle in Medellin in 1993. Alberto Santofimio has been brought to justice, but insists he has been made a scapegoat.

The trial against former general Miguel Alfredo Maza Márquez for his alleged implication in the murder started in 2014. Inquiries into other former state officials are ongoing, with the Colombian prosecutor’s office having declared the murder a crime against humanity.

The IPU has urged the Colombian authorities to leave no stone unturned in establishing the extent of state responsibility for this murder.

The year after Luis Carlos Galán Sarmiento's death, two other presidential candidates, Carlos Pizarro Leongómez and Bernardo Jaramillo Ossa, were also murdered.