A judge in Medellín acquitted ten soldiers on Aug. 6, including a colonel and major, of participation in the massacre of eight civilians at the “peace community” of San José de Apartadó in the northern Urabá region in February 2005. The case has been viewed as a critical measuring stick for the ability of the Colombian court system to render justice in the cases of thousands of killings of civilians in the country’s armed conflict.
The community’s members were protected by an Inter-American Human Rights Court ruling, and received international accompaniment. Among those killed were a community co-founder, Luis Guerra, and three children. An army captain, Guillermo Gordillo, confessed to his participation in the massacre, as did several paramilitary members who said they worked together with the military. The victims were killed by machete, and several of them dismembered.
“This makes me deeply sad, after everything that’s been done to make justice,” said Gloria Cuartas, former mayor of Apartadó, who has been an ally to the Peace Community. Cuartas pointed out that the ruling is inexplicable after the confessions of Gordillo and paramilitary men. Gustavo Araque, attorney for one of the soldiers, said that “the judge was capable of overcoming the political pressure and media war; she ruled in law.”
Meanwhile, new threats by paramilitaries were reported at settlements in Córdoba department affiliated with the community in June and July. On Aug. 6, the commander of the army’s Voltigeros Battalion reportedly said on local radio that he was filing suit against a community member for libel and threats.
Coming on the eve of a US State Department decision on whether to certify Colombia’s human rights record, the ruling on the massacre creates a dilemma for US officials. The US-based Fellowship of Reconciliation, which provides human rights accompaniment for the Peace Community, writes that US officials “will have to decide whether to bend the law by certifying, or to recognize that if even a case that receives extraordinary attention doesn’t receive justice, the US cannot certify progress in human rights.” (FOR Colombia Program, August newsletter)
See our last post on paramilitary terror and citizen peace initiatives in Colombia.