Campaigners to ‘jam faxes’ in support of Colombia peace community

Thousands of activists are set to inundate Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos with faxes urging him to boost protection for a community in the country’s north-west seven years on from a massacre there that left several dead including four children.The “faxjam”, organized by Amnesty International, marks the anniversary of the massacre of eight members of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó in 2005 and highlights the ongoing threats and attacks the community faces. On 21 February 2005, paramilitaries operating with Colombia’s armed forces brutally killed the community’s spokesperson Luis Eduardo Guerra and seven others, including four children. Although at least some of the paramilitaries involved have been investigated and brought to justice, to date only one member of the armed forces has been convicted over the massacre, and community members face ongoing threats and attacks from the security forces, paramilitaries operating with them and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). “It’s shocking that seven years have passed and the Colombian authorities have yet to fully investigate and bring to justice all those involved in the 2005 massacre at San José de Apartadó, as well as scores of other killings of community members,” said Susan Lee, Americas Programme Director at Amnesty International. “We’re calling on people around the world to join with us to call on Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos to end this impunity and ensure that community members can continue their peaceful defiance of the ongoing fighting, free from threats and attacks.”On 23 March 1997, rural farmers from several hamlets around the village of San José de Apartadó in Colombia’s north-western Antioquia region came together to establish a “peace community” dedicated to nonviolence and their right not to be drawn into the country’s longstanding internal armed conflict. Since its founding, the community has grown to more than 1,350 residents and has frequently come under attack and intimidation from all parties to the armed conflict. More than 170 of its members and other civilians living in the area have been killed or forcibly disappeared, while many others have been sexually assaulted or threatened.Paramilitaries, often operating in collusion with the Colombian Army – who label the villagers as subversives – are responsible for the majority of the killings. Armed guerrilla groups have also killed community members. As recently as 4 February, a member of the community came under fire by paramilitaries operating in the area. Two paramilitaries on a motorbike shot at Jesús Emilio Tuberquia, the peace community’s legal representative, in the town of Apartadó. He escaped the shooting, which took place only around 100m from a police control post.The attack came just days after Colombian Army forces had entered several hamlets in the Peace Community, where they destroyed crops, detained one resident and threatened to “exterminate” others. Days before, the paramilitaries made similar threats to members of the Peace Community nearby.“The Colombian authorities must do everything in their power to bring an end to the ongoing attacks and intimidation against the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó,” said Susan Lee. “The community members must be granted protection in line with their wishes.”The faxjam action on San José de Apartadó – which runs from 21-27 February – is the second Amnesty International has undertaken in recent weeks. Last month, the organization led a campaign to flood the Guatemalan Attorney General’s office with faxes urging added protection for a prominent human rights defender. Norma Cruz had received numerous death threats because of her work to defend women and girls at risk of violence. A day after the action was launched, Cruz received a call from Guatemala’s Presidential Human Rights Committee to ask about her security. When speaking with Cruz, the caller made reference to Amnesty International’s campaign. “When the world spoke out in defence of Norma Cruz, the Guatemalan authorities stood up and paid attention – now we’re hoping that Colombia’s President will do the same and take action to protect those living in San José de Apartadó,” said Susan Lee.