Peace Community of San José de Apartadó. The peace community of San José was established in 1997, and does not support any actor in Colombia’s armed conflict. More than 180 community members have been killed, and in 2000 the Inter-American Human Rights Court issued measures for the community’s protection, recognizing the community’s choice not to participate in the war, and specifically requiring that the Colombian state consult with the community about measures for its members’ security. FOR has had a permanent observation team in San José since 2002, while Peace Brigades International and other international groups have also accompanied the community for many years. In February 2005, members of the Army and paramilitary groups carried out a massacre of eight San José residents, including the peace community’s co-founder and three children.
Constitutional Court ruling. Last July, the Colombian Constitutional Court issued a ruling, Auto 164/12(pdf), which requires the state to address its noncompliance with earlier rulings by both the Constitutional Court and Inter-American Court. The Constitutional Court’s requirement to issue a retraction of statements by President Uribe stigmatizing peace community members is expected to lead to a public retraction by the Santos administration. Furthermore, the Court ordered the Ministry of Interior to coordinate a multiagency effort to ensure that the Colombian Armed Forces abide by International Humanitarian Law provisions, particularly as they relate to the principle of distinction and the respect for humanitarian zones, as requested by the Peace Community. (Sections 29.4 and 30.5)
Army camp on peace community land. From at least April 1 until approximately April 22, Army troops from the 24th Mobile Brigade, part of the Nudo de Paramillo Task Force in the 7th Division, established an encampment on private property within a farm belonging to the peace community of San José. Approximately 25 troops remained on the site, which is atop a crest between the settlements of La Unión (where FOR team and peace community members live) and Arenas Altas. During that time, the Army regularly landed helicopters on the site.
Combat puts FOR and civilians at risk. On Tuesday, April 9, presumed FARC combatants fired at Army soldiers from a lower crest, between La Unión and the Army encampment. The Army returned fire, and in doing so shot directly into the settlement of La Unión. At that moment, an FOR team member was on the far side of La Unión, in the direct line of fire from the Army. The La Unión civilian settlement was clearly visible to the Army position.
Violation of court decisions. The establishment of the Army encampment, on peace community private property, at a point that reasonably can be expected to draw guerrilla attack, and without consultation with the peace community, violates the Constitutional Court ruling in multiple manners, and puts the civilian population in the peace community, as well as FOR observers who live there, at increased risk of serious injury or death. When an FOR representative raised this issue on April 11 with Col. Saulo Daza Ochoa, XVII Brigade chief of staff, he insisted that there was no peace community farm there, that the Army can go onto every centimeter, and that war is just like that, civilians are affected by crossfire. While Army troops have apparently left the encampment, we remain concerned about this action.
Hooded soldiers issue threats. On Tuesday, April 16, local residents encountered several military troops on a path between the Army encampment and the Arenas Altas settlement. The troops were hooded, and when asked to identify themselves, one said they were from the 24th Mobile Brigade. Others scolded him for identifying their unit, and they threatened the residents. In an area with a long history of paramilitary operations, the presence of hooded soldiers, furtively operating as an Army unit, is extremely disturbing.
Please take action. Please ask US Embassy officials to contact Army officers responsible for the behavior of the 24th Mobile Brigade and 17th Brigade, in the Ministry of Defense, 7th Division Command, and in the brigades themselves, to convey their concerns about the establishment of an encampment by 24th Mobile Brigade troops on Peace Community land, without the required consultation, at a point likely to lead to combat that puts civilians and US citizens at risk, in violation of the Constitutional Court decision.
Please contact: U.S. Embassy human rights officer Adam Lenert, at email@example.com with your concerns.