Thursday, September 9, 2010

Soldiers off the hook for 2005 Peace Community massacre

Despite lots of credible evidence and international attention, Colombian government and military are officially off the hook for the February 2005 massacre in the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado in which four adults and four children were brutally murdered. On August 18, a judge in Medellin exonerated ten members of the Colombian military who had been on trial for participation in the massacre in a more-than-100 page sentence that had me alternating between tears and sighs of frustration as I read it.

As I wrote in an article on Alternet earlier this year, the 2005 massacre 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. While the Peace Community has always insisted that the army and paramilitaries committed the crime, initially the Colombian government tried to lay blame on the victimized community itself. In fact, shortly after the massacre Colombian President Álvaro Uribe himself publicly accused the community of guerrilla collaboration, backing up army officials who claimed the FARC had committed the massacre to punish the community for collaboration gone awry. It has since been proven that army officials paid false witnesses to testify that the FARC committed the massacre.

Despite such revelations of witness buying, this ruling allows the government to again claim innocence and place blame solely on the paramilitaries. Sadly, the ruling, though extremely frustrating, is not terribly surprising, in spite of the strong evidence against the soldiers. Colombia is, after all, a country with a sky-high impunity rate (the ruling against retired Colonel Plazas Vega I wrote about recently was the first of its kind), the trial took place in a city notorious for military/paramilitary control over government institutions, and the ruling was handed down by a judge who likely received all kinds of pressure to let the soldiers off the hook.

For better or worse, a careful reading of the ruling reveals some faulty logic on the part of the judge that leaves plenty of room open for an appeal. The legal team representing the families of the victims of the massacre did an analysis of the ruling (including the very-at-risk human rights lawyer Jorge Molano, who I wrote about last year), and I’ve taken some points from that as well as added a bit of my own analysis: