439.11c Colom, Eduardo/27

The Secretary of State to the Minister in the Dominican Republic (Schoenfeld)

No. 241

Sir: Reference is made to despatch No. 1142 of September 5, 1933,21 and to previous correspondence from your Legation, regarding the murder in the Dominican Republic of Eduardo Colom y Piris, an American citizen.

It appears from the record in this case that Colom was arrested on April 29, 1933, while in the Duarte Park in San Pedro de Macorís, on account of certain alleged remarks concerning the President of the Dominican Republic, which remarks, if made, and if they could be construed as an offense under the laws of the Dominican Republic, must have constituted a minor offense. It further appears that, while [Page 203] Colom was being held in jail awaiting investigation or trial he was secretly removed therefrom by Lieutenant Sindulfo Benavides Minaya, an officer of the Corps of Aides to the President of the Dominican Republic, and was summarily executed by such officer without any pretense of legal justification therefor, except alleged statements derogatory to the President. Sindulfo Benavides Minaya must have been in chargé of the jail or have been assisted in obtaining custody of the victim by the official who was in chargé of it. In these circumstances, this Government has no other alternative than to hold the Dominican Government responsible for the death of the American citizen in question. This fact is not modified, in any way, by the circumstance of the killing of Minaya during an alleged attempt to escape while under arrest awaiting trial for the murder of Colom.

In this connection, special reference is made to the decisions of the General Claims Commission, United States and Mexico, in the not entirely dissimilar cases of Francisco Quintanilla et al., and of Thomas H. Youmans.22

In the Quintanilla case, a Mexican citizen had been taken into custody by an American deputy sheriff and later found murdered. Although there was no evidence to indicate that the murder had been committed by the deputy sheriff, the Commission held that:

“under international law these circumstances present a case for which a Government must be held liable. …23 The Government can be held liable if it is proven that it has treated him [the foreigner]24 cruelly, harshly, unlawfully; so much the more it is liable if it can say only that it took him into custody—either in jail or in some other place and form—and that it ignores what happened to him.”

The circumstances in the Youmans case were briefly as follows: Youmans and his companions had been attacked by a mob of Mexicans who had surrounded a house in which they had sought refuge. After endeavoring unsuccessfully to quiet the mob, the mayor of the municipality had ordered that state troops proceed to the scene of the disturbance to quell the riot. Upon arriving at the scene of the riot, the troops, instead of dispersing the mob, opened fire on the house, causing the death of one of the Americans. Several members of the mob approached the house from the rear and set fire to the roof. Youmans and his remaining companions were forced to leave the house and, as they did so, were killed by the troops and members of the mob. In holding the Mexican Government responsible in damages for the deaths resulting from failure to provide adequate [Page 204] protection to the murdered men and for the action of the troops in participating in the murder, the Commission said:

“Evidence before the Commission does not disclose whose weapons killed the Americans, but the participation of soldiers with members of the mob is established. It cannot properly be said that adequate protection is afforded to foreigners in a case in which the proper agencies of the law to afford protection participate in murder.”

These are but two of many available evidences of the applicable principle of international law which establish the existence of liability for wrongful death of foreigners at the hands of officials, under such circumstances as obtained in this case.

Whereas, in the two cases just mentioned, there was no evidence to show that the deaths in question resulted from the acts of the respective officials involved, it seems to be clearly established in the present case, by the confession of the murderer as well as by other evidence, that the murder was the act of an official of the Government of the Dominican Republic who was charged by that Government with the duty of protecting the life which he destroyed.

You will, therefore, present to the Foreign Office a formal claim for the death of Colom in the sum of $5,000 and give expression to this Government’s hope and expectation that this most revolting murder will be properly disavowed and requited by the prompt payment of the indemnity so clearly owing to the heirs of the deceased.

Very truly yours,

For the Secretary of State:
R. Walton Moore
  1. Not printed.
  2. General Claims Commission, United States and Mexico, 1923, Opinions of Commissioners (1927), p. 136, docket 532, and p. 150, docket 271.
  3. Omission indicated in the original instruction.
  4. Brackets appear in the original instruction.