in Cali, a people’s court to compensate for the delays in ordinary justice

in Cali, a people's court to compensate for the delays in ordinary justice

A People’s Court has been set up in the neighborhood of Siloé, in Cali, Colombia, to bring justice – in a symbolic way – to the victims of police repression during the historic protests of 2021. In a public hearing on September 10 , families of victims came to testify in the hope of obtaining justice, one day, at the institutional level. Reportage.

Microphone in hand, dressed in a T-shirt with two badges showing her brother’s face, Crisol Yurani Sánchez speaks for long minutes, this Saturday, September 10, to return to the nightmare endured by her family since the May 29, 2021. On this day, his 16-year-old brother was found charred in a store in Siloé, a poor district of Cali, in Colombia, although he had been arrested the day before by the police. “For having denounced his assassination”, his family was threatened, says the 26-year-old young woman. With a lump in her throat, she also confides that they had the impression of being “abandoned by the state” in their quest for justice.

In front of a moved audience, she then hands the microphone to Abelardo Aranda, dressed in a shirt flocked with a photo of his son. The 24-year-old was shot in the back on May 28, 2021, again in Siloam. “It’s very hard, I don’t want it to happen to anyone else,” says the father of the family in a deep voice, his arm around his wife’s shoulder. Visibly upset, he evokes their pain, but also their hopes.

Paula Sánchez and Crisol Yurani Sánchez, whose brother was found charred in May 2021 in a store in Siloé, Cali (Colombia).
Paula Sánchez and Crisol Yurani Sánchez, whose brother was found charred in May 2021 in a store in Siloé, Cali (Colombia). © Chloe Lauvergnier, France 24

Both Crisol Yurani Sánchez and Abelardo Aranda speak at a public hearing held in a sober room of San Matias Apostol Church, Siloé. The origin of this initiative: the People’s Court of Siloama symbolic body created by social organizations, lawyers and residents of this district, following the demonstrations that shook Colombia last year.

During these historic rallies against the government of ex-president Iván Duque, which had lasted almost three months, dozens of people had been killed, many of them by the security forces (among 25 and 47, according to NGOs). The vast majority of murders had been recorded in Cali, particularly in Siloé.

>> To see: “Colombia: silence the revolt, at all costs”

Slow or non-existent judicial investigations

Problem: more than a year later, the judicial investigations are progressing slowly, or even non-existent. According to the NGO Human Rights Watch, to date, only eight police officers have been accused or charged for the murders of ten people.

“As there is a lot of impunity, we wanted to create a tool for justice to be done, at least on an ethical level”, explains Martha Elena Giraldo Mendoza, member of the people’s tribunal, officially launched on May 3.

A vigil organized on September 9 by the People's Court of Siloam, in Cali.
A vigil organized on September 9 by the People’s Court of Siloam, in Cali. © Chloe Lauvergnier, France 24

For the public hearing on September 10, the organizers got busy from 7 a.m. to prepare the hall of the San Matias Apostol church: hanging portraits of young people from Siloé killed during the demonstrations, installing the overhead projector and plastic chairs for the public, technical tests to ensure the broadcast of the day live on youtube… An imposing purple banner was also displayed on the facade of the church: “All and all to the People’s Court of Siloam – Truth and justice for the victims of the national strike”.

“Systematic” human rights violations

The hearing finally began around 9:30 a.m., in the presence of families of victims and a Bolivian, a Cuban and an Argentinian recognized for their commitment to human rights, who had made the trip. to play the role of “international magistrates”. Throughout the morning, the “technical secretariat” of the people’s court presented the numerous human rights violations committed in Cali last year, amateur videos and audio testimonies in support, in order to demonstrate their “systematic” aspect. . Enough to make the people in the room dizzy, which had gradually filled up.

The "international magistrates" of the People's Court of Siloé, September 10, 2022: from left to right, Edgar Ramos Andrade (Bolivia), Yohanka León del Río (Cuba) and Pablo Pimentel (Argentina).
The “international judges” of the People’s Court of Siloé, September 10, 2022: from left to right, Edgar Ramos Andrade (Bolivia), Yohanka León del Río (Cuba) and Pablo Pimentel (Argentina). © Chloe Lauvergnier, France 24

Abelardo Aranda, the father of the young man shot and killed on May 28, 2021, later told us that he had filed a complaint with the Cali prosecutor’s office the day after his son’s death. “But so far we haven’t had any feedback, it’s sad,” he said, looking dejected.

For his part, Crisol Yurani Sánchez explained that his brother’s case had first been examined by the Cali prosecutor’s office, before being transferred to a Bogotá prosecutor’s office specializing in human rights: “They collect the testimonies for only a week, things are moving far too slowly. Moreover, we have the impression that the institutions make sure that everything goes unpunished. For example, the National Institute of Forensic Medicine has given us incomplete reports, with X-rays not matching my brother’s body.”

The faces of Daniel Stiven Sánchez (the brother of Crisol Yurani Sánchez) and Michael Andrés Aranda Pérez (the son of Abelardo Aranda), painted in the place where the first was found charred in May 2021 in Siloé, in Cali (Colombia ).
The faces of Daniel Stiven Sánchez (the brother of Crisol Yurani Sánchez) and Michael Andrés Aranda Pérez (the son of Abelardo Aranda), painted in the place where the first was found charred in May 2021 in Siloé, in Cali (Colombia ). © Chloe Lauvergnier, France 24

“There is a lack of interest from the state to clarify the facts”

According to Santiago Medina, the Sánchez family’s lawyer, the investigations are progressing slowly “because a lot of material evidence was not collected properly over the past year, and there is a lack of interest from the State in clarify the facts. Impunity generally persists in investigations against State agents.”

Symbol of this disinterest, the chair reserved for the lawyer supposed to defend the state remained empty all day. “It’s a lack of respect towards us”, criticizes Crisol Yurani Sánchez. “The lawyer was appointed by the Defender of the People [une institution du ministère public, NDLR]but he did not want to come because our court is not official”, specifies Santiago Medina, who nevertheless considers that his appointment constitutes “a first step” towards the recognition of the “people’s court”.

José Benito Garzón Montenegro, of the People's Court of Siloam, shows the chair where the lawyer supposed to defend the state should have been, September 10, 2022.
José Benito Garzón Montenegro, of the People’s Court of Siloam, shows the chair where the lawyer supposed to defend the state should have been, September 10, 2022. © Chloe Lauvergnier, France 24

What prospects?

At the end of the hearing, around 3 p.m., the “international judges” declared that the next step was now to legally qualify the facts presented to them. “The lawyers spoke in particular of ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘continuous genocide’: we will study this, in order to render a judgment, at the latest in February”, indicated the Bolivian Edgar Ramos Andrade.

The families of the victims hope that this judgment – ​​symbolic – will have an impact on ordinary justice. Because, even if they believe that the people’s tribunal can restore their “dignity” and bring to light “the truth”, they want justice to be done at the institutional level. Otherwise, the people’s court is already considering turning to international bodies.

View of the Siloé district, in Cali (Colombia), from a gondola.
View of the Siloé district, in Cali (Colombia), from a gondola. © Chloe Lauvergnier, France 24

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