No Justice in Colombian Journalist Hit

RFK Human Rights and partner organizations are currently negotiating a compliance agreement with the state to implement the IACHR recommendations regarding the case. As part of this compliance agreement, on February 9, 2024, the Colombian government will recognize its responsibility for the prevailing impunity in the case and sign an agreement with the Cano family that includes the commitment to reactivate the investigation of the murder and the production of a documentary on Guillermo Cano and the violence suffered by members of El Espectador.

Murder of Iconic Colombian Editor Guillermo Cano—Plus Deaths of Many More—Accentuates Dangers Faced by Journalists and importance of combating impunity

One of Colombian journalist Guillermo Cano’s missions was writing about the ills perpetrated by his country’s drug cartels in the national newspaper El Espectador. In response to that work, on the night of December 17, 1986, while leaving the newspaper office, he was brutally murdered by hit men linked to Pablo Escobar’s powerful Medellín cartel. After almost a decade of impunity, in 1995 four men were found guilty of conspiring to commit murder. On appeal, all but one of the convictions was overturned.

As director of El Espectador for 34 years, Cano was among Colombia’s most loved journalists. He started out covering bullfights and sporting events for the paper his father founded, before moving to politics and, eventually, open criticism of the destructive and deadly impacts of drug cartels in Colombia. The day after Cano’s death, thousands lined the streets for his wake at the El Espectador office, and all Colombian media—from radio to newspapers to movie theaters—ceased all operations for an entire day in solidarity.

Violence against El Espectador journalists and others continued following Cano’s death, with multiple other El Espectador journalists murdered, along with eight judges, investigators, and attorneys connected with Cano’s case. In 1989, the El Espectador building was car-bombed, killing at least one person and injuring more than 80 others. Undaunted, El Espectador published a paper the next day.

Why is This a Key Case?

Driven by almost blanket impunity, deadly cartel violence in Colombia persists to this day, as 52 journalists have been killed in the country since 1992 and death threats remain constant. Many journalists have fled the country, and those that remain often require 24-hour armed security details. Unfortunately, Colombia is not unique, as countless methods are used to silence journalists around the world, from arbitrary detention to murder.

How is RFK Human Rights Supporting Guillermo’s Case?

After an individual petition against Colombia was filed by the Inter-American Press Association (SIP) in 1997 to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), RFK Human Rights and the Freedom of the Press Foundation (FLIP) joined the representation in 2018 on behalf of Guillermo’s family to reactivate the case and secure reparations, including nonrepetition measures.

Name of the case (as it appears in the respective legal mechanism)

Guillermo Cano Isaza v. Colombia

Month/Year of filing

February 1997 (RFKHR joined as co-counsel in 2018)

Legal mechanism in which the case is being litigated

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)

Rights and legal instruments alleged violated (OR found to have been violated)

Articles 1.1 (obligation to respect rights), 4 (right to life), 13 (freedom of thought and expression), 8 (right to a fair trial), and 25 (right to judicial protection) of the American Convention on Human Rights

Procedural stage

Supervision of compliance with IACHR recommendations


RFKHR, Inter-American Press Association (IAPA), and the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP)

Case Partners

  • Inter-American Press Association (IAPA)

    We partnered to seek justice for Latin American journalists whose murders or disappearances have been mired in impunity, such as Nelson Carvajal v. Colombia, Alfredo Jiménez Mota v. Mexico, and Guillermo Cano v. Colombia.

  • Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP)

    Our collaboration reactivated the case of Guillermo Cano, a Colombian journalist brutally murdered by Pablo Escobar’s hit men, to secure reparations and nonrepetition measures from the state of Colombia.