Berkeley Law Clinic Reps Colombian Murder Victim

Attention: reporters and editors covering Colombia, human rights, legal news

Media contacts:
Susan Gluss, 510.642.6936,
Roxanna Altholz, 510-643-8781, raltholz@law.berkeley


WHAT: U.S. judge scheduled to sentence Colombian paramilitary commander Diego Fernando Murillo (alias “Don Berna”), an admitted murderer and drug trafficker.
Roxanna Altholz, associate director of the International Human Rights Law Clinic at UC Berkeley School of Law, and Wilson, Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati are representing the mother of one of the dozens of Colombian residents murdered under paramilitary commander Murillo’s orders. Facing up to 33 years in prison in the United States on drug charges, Diego Fernando Murillo requested a reduced sentence based on a promise to reveal how he committed the murders in Colombia. The victim’s family opposes the request because Murillo continues to withhold what he knows about his human rights crimes.

WHEN: Wednesday, April 22, 2009
TIME: 10:30 A.M. ET
WHERE: Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Courthouse, 500 Pearl Street, in New York City

WHO:   Roxanna Altholz, Associate Director of the International Human Rights Law Clinic, UC Berkeley School of Law; Ivan Cepeda, Director of the National Movement of Victims’ of State Crimes in Colombia
BACKGROUND: During the last 30 years, members of the right-wing paramilitary group, Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), murdered tens of thousands of Colombian civilians. Extradited from Colombia in May 2008, fifteen of AUC’s most prominent and violent commanders currently await sentencing on drug charges in U.S. prisons. Despite promises to aid the victims’ struggle for justice, the United States government has not investigated or indicted any of the drug defendants for human rights violations committed in Colombia, or made contact with Colombian victims. The U.S. government has reached plea agreements with at least six of the fifteen paramilitaries. None of the agreements incentivizes the paramilitary leaders to provide information about their involvement in disappearances, massacres, and torture of innocent civilians.
The mother of a murder victim will ask the court to impose the maximum penalty on Diego Murillo, the former de facto leader of the AUC, or adjourn the sentencing until he can reveal the truth about how her son was murdered.

The successor to Pablo Escobar’s drug empire, Murillo’s drug enterprise was inextricably intertwined with human rights violations. He disappeared and murdered individuals who threatened his control of laboratories and smuggling routes. He also used drug profits to finance military campaigns to dispute control of strategic drug corridors. The mother’s son was a casualty of one of these campaigns.
In March, the U.S. trial judge delayed Murillo’s sentencing and ordered him to cooperate with Colombia’s truth-telling process. The judge also denied the victim’s mother’s request to be recognized as a “crime victim” under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA), which would allow her to participate in the sentencing.
Editors: Ivan Cepeda, Director of the National Movement for Victims of State Crimes, an umbrella organization of more than 200 Colombian human rights organizations will attend the sentencing.  Roxanna Altholz and Ivan Cepeda will be available for interviews after the Wednesday court hearing in NYC.
The U.S. has removed these alleged war criminals from our streets, but with that, also our ability to attain the truth. Peace will not come to Colombia until we learn the names of the political and economic figures paramilitaries worked with to abduct and kill our citizens.” Ivan Cepeda

U.S. Courts should not provide legal leniency to a mass murderer. He must reveal the truth about his crimes so families can bury their loved ones properly or find peace with their tragic loss.” Roxanna Altholz