Amnesty International today urged the Colombian government and armed groups involved in the country’s internal conflict to respect the right of members of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó to return to the Mulatos hamlet in safety, three years after a massacre on 21 February 2005 forced some of them off their land.
“People across Colombia are being forced into a conflict that has killed or forcibly disappeared tens of thousands of civilians and displaced millions more. The Colombian government must ensure that the right of the civilian population not to be involved in this deadly conflict is protected,” said Susan Lee, Amnesty International’s Americas Programme Director.
“We are extremely worried about the safety of the men, women and children going back to Mulatos particularly because of the abuses committed precisely when the community has in the past tried to resettle abandoned areas of land,” said Susan Lee.
The hamlet of Mulatos is part of the San José de Apartadó Peace Community, located in the department of Antioquia, northwest Colombia. Over the last decade, the Peace Community has urged all combatants to respect their right not to be drawn into the conflict. Since its creation in 1997, more than 160 of its members have been killed or forcibly disappeared, most at the hands of army-backed paramilitaries and the security forces, but also the guerrilla.
On 21 February 2005, eight members of the Peace Community, including a prominent leader, Luis Eduardo Guerra, three children aged 2, 6 and 11, and a 17 year-old woman, were killed and their bodies mutilated. Some of the killings took place in the Mulatos area.
Judicial investigations suggest the killings were carried out by the security forces in coordination with paramilitaries, despite efforts by the Colombian authorities to attribute the massacre to the guerrilla.
“Although we welcome the apparent advances in the criminal investigations into the 2005 massacre, it is incredibly disappointing that little, if no progress has been made into investigating possible chain-of-command responsibility in this case, nor into investigating the vast majority of the more than 160 killings committed against members of the Peace Community,” said Susan Lee.
Despite their supposed demobilization, Amnesty International continues to receive information about ongoing paramilitary activity in the San José de Apartadó area, as well as reports about human rights violations committed by the security forces, often in collusion with paramilitaries.
On 23 December 2007, María Margarita Giraldo Usuga, a member of the Peace Community, was reportedly abducted by members of the army in Arenas Bajas. She was subsequently killed and presented by the army as a guerrilla killed in combat. Her body reportedly showed signs of torture.
On 6 January 2008 members of the army reportedly threatened to kill Margarita’s relatives if they did not publicly admit that she was a guerrilla member. When Margarita’s family members refused, the army reportedly told them to leave the area otherwise paramilitary forces would come to kill them.
Both the Inter-American Court of Human Rights of the Organization of American States and Colombia’s Constitutional Court have called on the Colombian authorities to guarantee the Peace Community’s safety, and to make greater efforts to bring to justice those responsible for attacking it. But the Colombian authorities appear to have taken little action to comply with these requests.