Family of slain Colombian community leader wins suit after decades-long struggle for justice

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Lisa Cohen

Miami, FL (September 28, 2021) – Yesterday, a federal court in Florida ruled that former Colombian paramilitary leader Carlos Mario Jiménez Naranjo, aka “Macaco,” is liable for the extrajudicial killing of Eduardo Estrada, a beloved community leader in the Middle Magdalena region of Colombia. Over a thousand people attended Eduardo’s funeral after he was brutally gunned down in 2001 by paramilitaries commanded by Macaco.

Macaco was the head of the Bloque Central Bolívar (BCB), a division of the paramilitary group called United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). A self-described “killing machine,” the BCB murdered, disappeared, and tortured thousands of civilians. In today’s landmark decision, the court found that the BCB’s human rights violations were facilitated by the Colombian military. “The symbiotic relationship between state actors and paramilitaries, acknowledged for the first time by a U.S court, enabled the BCB’s campaign of murder and torture,” said Dylan Savage, litigation associate at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, which served as co-counsel for plaintiffs with the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) and local counsel Kerrigan Estess Rankin McLeod & Thompson.

Macaco, like more than a dozen other high-ranking paramilitaries who demobilized in 2005 and began to take part in truth-telling in Colombia’s Justice and Peace process, was extradited to the United States solely on drug trafficking charges in 2008. Many of these paramilitaries were implicated in human rights crimes, but their removal to the United States abruptly upended any opportunity for survivors to seek truth and reparations against them in Colombia. This case, which was filed in 2010 in the Southern District of Florida, refocused attention on the devastating human rights toll inflicted by Macaco. “The United States government had the opportunity to prosecute Macaco for his human rights crimes when they sought his extradition from Colombia,” said Daniel McLaughlin, Senior Staff Attorney at CJA. “Its decision to focus solely on narco-trafficking charges, however, means that today’s ruling may be the only accountability Macaco sees for his human rights crimes.”

Gustavo Gallón, Director of the Colombian Commission of Jurists, which represents the plaintiffs in Colombia, added: “We truly hope that the decision of the federal court in Florida will contribute to our accountability efforts for the BCB’s killings and will also send a strong message to Colombian victims of human rights abuses not to lose hope.”

“This is a victory for truth,” said Claret Vargas, Senior Staff Attorney at CJA. “After over a decade of litigation and over a thousand pages of evidence – including statements by Macaco, admissions by former paramilitary members in depositions, expert reports, and eyewitness testimony – a court has acknowledged the facts surrounding Eduardo’s assassination and held the head of the BCB liable.”

“Justice for Eduardo’s family remains elusive in Colombia, and they have had to bear for too long the pain that comes from impunity and silence,” said Luke Liss, Senior Counsel and Pro Bono Counsel at Wilson Sonsini. “Today’s ruling establishes some measure of accountability for the atrocities committed by the BCB.”   

About the Center for Justice and Accountability

The Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) is an international human rights organization that works globally with communities impacted by torture, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other atrocities to seek truth, justice, and redress using innovative litigation and transitional justice strategies. CJA and its partners have successfully brought cases against high ranking members of Somalia’s Siad Barre regime, the military officer responsible for the assassination of Chilean activist and singer Víctor Jara, and Syria’s Assad regime for its targeted killing of war correspondent Marie Colvin.

About Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati

For more than 60 years, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati has offered a broad range of services and legal disciplines focused on serving the principal challenges faced by the management and boards of directors of business enterprises. The firm is nationally recognized as a leader in the fields of corporate governance and finance, mergers and acquisitions, private equity, securities litigation, employment law, intellectual property, and antitrust, among many other areas of law. With deep roots in Silicon Valley, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati has offices in Austin; Beijing; Boston; Brussels; Hong Kong; London; Los Angeles; New York; Palo Alto; San Diego; San Francisco; Seattle; Shanghai; Washington, D.C.; and Wilmington, DE. 

About the Colombian Commission of Juristas

CJA developed this case in cooperation with the Colombian Commission of Jurists (Comisión Colombiana de Juristas, or CCJ). CCJ is a Colombian non-profit non-governmental human rights organization that seeks to contribute to the full force of human rights and to the consolidation of the rule of law in Colombia, to the promotion of human rights from a perspective of victims’ rights and an emphasis on those of particularly vulnerable groups, and to the development of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, in accordance with the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter. The valuable work of CCJ in this field was recognized by the Center for Justice & Accountability’s 2019 Judith Lee Stronach Award.