Human Rights Watch urged the Colombian government not to
withdraw the security protection for a former judge who ordered the arrest of Pablo Escobar in 1988.
Judge Sánchez investigated the 1986 murder of El Espectador director Guillermo Cano and issued an arrest warrant for Escobar, a notorious drug trafficker. After receiving serious threats from Escobar and his associates, Judge Sánchez was given a diplomatic post in the United States and assured of constant protection. President Pastrana has announced plans to appoint a replacement for Judge Sánchez as consul in Washington, D.C., which will strip her of the security she still needs.
"Judge Sánchez is still in danger, and she has a right to protection," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of Human Rights Watch. "As the judge in the Escobar case, she was doing nothing more than fulfilling her official duties. The Colombian government cannot abandon her now."
Judge Sánchez received serious threats from Escobar and "The Extraditables" (Los Extraditables), the drug traffickers who worked with him. In one message, "The Extraditables" asserted that if Judge Sánchez charged Escobar, she would "commit an error that would stain your life and would plague you until your dying day. You are perfectly aware that we are capable of executing [you] any place on the planet... be aware that if you call Mr. Pablo Escobar to trial, you will be without forbears or descendants in your genealogical tree." The threat went on to name numerous government employees already murdered on Escobar's orders.
At that time, the government took measures to protect Judge Sánchez, including moving her to a military base and assigning her an armored car. After indicting Escobar, Sánchez retired and was moved by the Colombian government to the post of consul in the city of Detroit, Michigan, for her safety. In 1989, however, her residence in the city became publicly known, which prompted another move to Washington, D.C., where Sánchez has served as consul since 1989.
The Escobar case remains active and continues to place Sánchez in danger. Several others connected to the case, including two judges, were murdered on Escobar's orders. Two associates linked to Cano's murder remain alive. Both President Gaviria and President Samper, two previous presidents of Colombia, extended Sánchez's security measures and reaffirmed her as consul in Washington.
In cases where public servants have received direct, credible, and continuing threats against their lives because they have fulfilled their duties, it is incumbent upon the government to take the necessary measures to protect their lives. Currently, many human rights defenders, government investigators, and journalists are under threat in Colombia because of their work. In some cases, the government has taken measures to protect threatened individuals, including allowing public servants to work outside the country. Given the seriousness of the threat against Sánchez and her family, Human Rights Watch said, the measures adopted to ensure their safety must be renewed.