Saturday, February 13, 2010

Five years after massacre, real justice still distant

February 20th update: A version of this was published on, under the title “Five Years After Colombian Massacre, Justice Is Still Elusive.” Check it out!

February 21st marks 5 years since 8 people, including 3 children, from the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, Colombia, were brutally massacred. Horror about the crime – in which some of the bodies were beheaded, and the rest cut into pieces before being thrown into a common grave – led to a six-month suspension of U.S. military aid because the 17th Brigade, implicated in the crime, received U.S. assistance at the time. Ample evidence points to military-paramilitary collaboration in the crime, yet five years later, not a single individual has been punished for the crime.

This case is emblematic not just as an example of the brutality suffered by civilians at the hands of the Colombian military and paramilitaries, but also of the Colombian state's efforts to maintain impunity in such cases, particularly for those high in the chain of command. While the Peace Community always insisted that the army and paramilitaries committed the crime, the Colombian government tried to place blame on the Community itself. Shortly after the massacre, President Uribe publicly accused the Community of guerrilla collaboration, backing up Army officials who claimed that the FARC had committed the massacre to punish the Community for collaboration gone awry. It has since been proved that army officials paid false witnesses to testify that the FARC committed the massacre.

Several former paramilitaries have admitted their participation in the massacre and described the military’s role. After being implicated by these testimonies, Captain Guillermo Gordillo, who commanded one of the companies involved in the military operation during which the massacre took place, pled guilty in exchange for a lesser charge. As a result of these testimonies, ten low-ranking soldiers have been charged with collaboration in the massacre. Nonetheless, there are over a hundred soldiers who participated in the operation, not to mention the superiors who ordered or had knowledge of it.