Ten inhabitants of the San Jose de Apartado Peace Community have been assassinated in 2011, despite several pleas for help from the Colombian government and the support of members of U.S. Congress.
“To this day, the pursuit of death and injustice against the community and farmers in the area continues,” said a member of the community that enjoys a special protective status by the Inter-American Court for Human Rights.
According to the community member — who would only talk to Colombia Reports on condition of anonymity — the individuals were killed as a result of “the relationship between the paramilitary and the armed forces, and the so-called ‘social cleansing’, in which people are assassinated who … are considered to be opponents of this system of death.”
Aside from the killings, the Peace Community withstands “illegal detentions, accusations, destruction of subsistence crops, occupation of community spaces by armed forces, the presence of large groups of paramilitaries wherever there are police stations and military bases, illegal registration of residents, and the taking of photos of the peasants in the area,” said the member.
The photos, he claimed, often end up in the hands of the paramilitaries, while lists of names of people in the area to be assassinated end up in the hands of the armed forces. The Peace Community believes that the military and neo-paramilitary groups are acting together.
According to the community member, Colombian security forces “respond to deaths and detentions with harsh words or by not answering their phones.”
The member referred to an incident on July 25, where two paramilitaries in civilian clothes murdered a farmer working along the road to San Jose de Apartado. The community requested that the Ombudsman require enforcement agencies to prosecute the offenders and assist the victim’s family. According to the Peace Community, the Ombudsman responded aggressively, warning community members not to interfere in cases that weren’t its concern.
The community has repeatedly asked the Colombian government for protection. In a February petition to President Juan Manuel Santos, the community outlined acts of aggression against the community members that have occurred in 2011, and asked the president to take measures.
Nineteen similar petitions were made to former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, but to no avail. According to the group, they received no response from the government.
The alleged indifference of Colombian authorities to the danger has alienated the community. “This has led to a widening gap, understood as a contempt for the authority given by the constitutional court,” the community member said.
The Peace Community’s accusations towards security forces and the government have long been supported by non-governmental human rights groups and, since recently, by members of U.S. Congress.
“The Inter-American Court of Human Rights of the Organization of the American States has called on the Colombian authorities to take appropriate measures to guarantee the safety of inhabitants of the Peace Community,” an Amnesty International report stated. “However, the Colombian government has failed to take effective action to implement the Court’s requests.”
Eleven members of the U.S. Congress sent a letter to Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzon in June, urging him “to expeditiously create a Justice Evaluation Commission to examine alleged human rights abuses committed against the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado, and to effectively investigate and prosecute assassinations of members of the Peace Community by paramilitary groups operating in the area.”
“The lack of effective investigation and prosecution of these cases is deeply troubling, particularly in light of the continued U.S. military assistance to the Government of Colombia,” the U.S. Congress members wrote. “As of today, only one conviction of a state agent has resulted from investigations of the killings.”
The San Jose de Apartado Peace Community was established by a group of Colombian farmers in 1997 as a creative approach to resisting the long-standing and drug-fueled armed conflict between the Colombian military, paramilitary fighters and guerrilla groups.
The Peace Community’s location in the Abibe mountains in the northern Uraba region of Antioquia has rendered it a strategic target for armed groups since the 1970’s. The community’s proximity to Panama and the Caribbean Sea, coupled with the fact that a long stretch of the road to Medellin runs through the region, make it highly desirable to Colombian drug traffickers.