(CN) - The relatives of a slain political activist can continue to press claims a former Colombian paramilitary leader engaged in torture, extrajudicial killing, war crimes and crimes against humanity, a federal judge ruled.
Although U.S. District Judge Edwin Torres narrowed the claims Carlos Mario Jimenez Naranjo must face, he declined to throw out all of those made by the relatives and others against the former high commander of the Bloque Central Bolivar, a part of the United Self-Defense Forces of Columbia.
The family members brought the suit against Jimenez Naranjo, also known as "Macaco," in 2010. They amended the complaint two years later to reflect changes in how the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted the Alien Tort Statute. Both complaints alleged extrajudicial killing, torture, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
During Colombia's 40-year civil war, the government regularly used the AUC to battle leftist guerillas in remote areas. These paramilitaries have been implicated in numerous instances of torture and murder of civilians as well as the trafficking of cocaine to the United States.
According to plaintiffs, paramilitary soldiers acting under the direction of Jimenez Naranjo murdered Eduardo Estrada and Alma Rosa Jaramillo in the summer of 2001. Estrada and Jaramillo belonged to the Program for Peace and Development, a non-governmental organization that strives to give farmers alternatives to growing coca plants, which are used to make cocaine.
During that time, the paramilitaries used violence to ensure the drug trade flourished in the Middle Magdalena River region of Colombia.
On June 28, 2001, soldiers affiliated with the BCB stopped a public vehicle and removed Alma Rosa Jaramillo. Days later, her mutilated torso - showing signs of torture -- was found in a river, the complaint says.
On July 16, 2001, a gunman shot Estrada three times in the back of the head in front of Jane Doe, a relative, near their home. Doe passed out and when she came to, the gunman stood over her with a gun, and then fled, the plaintiffs say.
The complaint states that the murder occurred 300 meters from a police station, but the couple did not receive any help. Government soldiers also passed by without assisting.
The family members began legal proceedings in Colombia until the United States extradited Jimenez Naranjo to face drug charges. He is currently serving a 33-year sentence in a Miami federal prison for drug trafficking and narco-terrorism.
Judge Torres said relatives of Eduardo Estrada and Jane Doe can pursue their Torture Victim Protection Act claims against Jimenez Naranjo, while those of Alma Rosa Jaramillo could not.
"The representative of Plaintiff Alma Rosa Jaramillo does not sufficiently plead a direct or symbiotic relationship between the government and the BCB to link the government to her killing," the judge wrote.
The same fate befell a separate claim by Jesus Cabrera Jaramillo, Alma Rosa's son, and for the same reason - lack of evidence to connect the government and the BCB to the actions alleged.
Judge Torres dismissed all claims made under the Alien Tort Statute, because the parties involved are Colombian nationals and the events happened solely in Columbia.
In the past, the Alien Tort Statute has been used by foreigners to address human rights violations committed in other countries. However, in 2013, the Supreme Court ruled the law doesn't affect actions in other countries involving non-citizens.
Responding to the dismissal of Jesus Cabrera Jaramillo's claims, Almudena Bernabeu, an attorney with the Center for Justice and Accountability, said, "We are working on bringing evidence to the judge's attention. Hopefully, he will reverse this decision."
Bernabeu said she is aware of only three other cases moving through the courts that address the crimes committed by paramilitaries in Colombia.
"This [case] may be the only one to survive in U.S. courts," she said. "This may be the best one to get justice for victims of the Colombian civil war."
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