I/A Court H.R., Case of Yarce et al. v. Colombia. Preliminary Objection, Merits, Reparations and Costs. Judgment of November 22, 2016. Series C No. 325.

Non official brief

[This summary was developed by the Secretariat of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. It relates only to the merits and reparations aspects of the judgment. A more detailed, official abstract (in Spanish only) is available on that Court’s website: http://www.corteidh.or.cr/.]


Facts - The case relates to events which occurred in 2002 in the context of Colombia's internal armed conflict, when military operations were conducted to take control of the neighborhood known as "Commune 13" in Medellin City. The applicants, were female human rights defenders and their families, were victims of widespread and systematic violence, as well as intra-urban forced displacement. In particular, three of the applicants were detained after being identified as collaborators of the guerrillas before being released as there was not enough evidence against them. Ms Yarce was murdered in 2004. The remaining applicants were forcefully displaced from their places of residence. Three of them left in 2002 along with their families following threats by paramilitary forces, while another left after Ms Yarce was killed.Two of the applicants also lost their houses, which were occupied and destroyed by paramilitary groups. 




(a) Articles 4 (1) (Right to Life) and 5 (1) (Right to Personal Integrity) of the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR) in conjunction with Article 1 (1) (Obligation to Respect and Ensure Rights) and, Article 7 of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women ("Convention of Belém do Pará") - It is for the State authorities who become aware of a situation of special risk to determine assess if a person who is the target of threats and requires measures of protection or to refer the case to the competent authority to do so, and also to offer the person at risk timely information on the measures available. The adequacy of protective measures for human rights defenders requires three elements to be satisfied; the measures must be: (i) in accordance with the functions human-rights defenders carry out; (ii) subject to a risk assessment; and (iii) able to be modified according to the variation of the risk level.


In the present case, the State had known that Ms Yarce faced a risk because of its activities as a community leader due to the complaints filed. Indeed, this had led the Colombian authorities to issue a protection order in 2003. In the particular circumstances of the case, the decision to release a person previously detained on account of an accusation by the victim was tantamount to heightening the risk factors for her. Moreover, the State had not taken any further protective measures to mitigate the risk and the 2003 protection order did not satisfy the three abovementioned elements. Lastly, the State had been under a special duty to protect female human rights defenders, owing to their knowledge of the context of systemic violence against them. Thus, Colombia had infringed its duty to prevent the violation of the right to life to the detriment of Ms Yarce. This, in turn, had affected the personal integrity of her children.


Conclusion: violation (unanimously).


(b) Articles 5, 11 (Right to Honor and Dignity), 17 (Rights of the Family), 19 (Rights of the Child), 21 (Right to Property) and 22 (Rights to Freedom of Movement and Residence) of the ACHR, in conjunction with Article 1 (1), and Article 7 of the Convention of Belém do Pará - Freedom of movement is an essential condition for the free development of a person. The ACHR protects a person's right not to be displaced within a State Party, as well as being expelled from the territory of the State in which he or she is lawfully present. Forced displacement is a complex phenomenon, which affects various human rights, and the situation of displacement ought to be understood as "a de facto situation of vulnerability" likely to create particular and disproportionate harm to women. Such a situation obliges States to adopt positive measures to reverse the effects of this situation of vulnerability. As such, States ought to adopt measures that will facilitate the safe and voluntary return of displaced persons to their residence or their voluntary resettlement elsewhere. In situations of forced displacement, States also have the obligation to ensure that families, especially those with children, are reunited.


In the instant case, the State had failed to ensure the voluntary, safe return of the applicants. In addition, the limited scope of the State's assistance had contributed to the harm the applicants suffered following their forced displacement. Moreover, Colombia's lack of protection of their abandoned residences, which were later occupied and destroyed by paramilitary groups, constituted a violation of their right to property. Finally, while the Inter-American Court acknowledged the differentiated impact of forced displacement on women, leading to the violation of the Convention of Belém do Pará.


Conclusion: violation of Articles 5, 11, 17, 19, 21 and 22 of the ACHR, in relation to Article 1 (1) thereof; no violation of Article 7 of the Belém do Pará Convention (unanimously).


(c) Article 16 (Freedom of Association) of the ACHR in conjunction with Article 1 (1) thereof - The ACHR includes the right of individuals to set up and participate freely in non-governmental organizations, associations or groups involved in human rights monitoring, reporting and promotion. The Inter-American Court found that, given the important role of human-rights defenders in democratic societies, the free and full exercise of this right imposes upon the State the duty to create the legal and factual conditions for them to be able to freely perform their task. In this case, the applicants were not able to pursue their work as human rights defenders freely, owing to the State's omission to guarantee the necessary conditions for them to return safely to "Commune 13". As a result, their right to freedom of association had been violated.


Conclusion: violation (unanimously).


(d) Reparations - The Inter-American Court established that the judgment constituted per se a form of reparation and ordered the State to: (i) adopt the necessary measures to pursue an investigation, in order to identify, judge, and where appropriate, punish those responsible for the forced displacement of one of the applicants and their family members; (ii) provide medical and psychological treatment to the victims; (iii) publish the judgment and its official summary; (iv) publicly acknowledge its international responsibility; (v) implement a program, course or workshop through the corresponding state entities in "Commune 13", aimed at promoting and explaining the work of human rights defenders; and (vi) pay compensation in respect of pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage, as well as costs and expenses.