Colombia’s Constitutional Court has issued a ruling upholding the rights of the San José de Apartadó Peace Community in the northern war-torn Urabá region, ordering the Colombian government to take steps to end the state of impunity in the crimes committed against the community since its formation ten years ago.
The high court was reviewing a Peace Community’s writ of protection demanding that the Colombian Ministry of Defense disclose the names of the military personal involved in operations on specific dates when rights violations took place. For years, the Ministry of Defense had refused to disclose such information, alleging that it would compromise any criminal or disciplinary investigations. Siding with the Peace Community, the Court rejected the Defense Ministry’s assertion, saying that revealing the names of the military personnel was essential to the Peace Community’s right to pursue justice, including within the international system.
In the ruling issued Jan. 22, the Court went beyond the specific request and examined the bulk of the violations against the Peace Community over the last 10 years and found that justice, truth and reparation had not been achieved. Echoing a longstanding claim of the Peace Community, the Court found that “Members of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó have been persecuted and murdered without the state having made sufficient effort for the protection of their rights, without the crimes having been properly investigated, their authors being punished and the victims’ rights effectively protected.”
Indeed, the Court looked into over 150 murders of Peace Community members and found that in none of those murders has a culprit been brought to justice. The Court ordered the Prosecutor General’s office to assemble an inventory of the crimes against the Peace Community and the status of the investigations.
The Court also addressed two issues that are at the center of the very difficult relationship between the Peace Community and the Colombian government: the placement of the National Police post in the center of San José de Apartadó shortly after the February 2005 massacre that prompted the displacement of the Peace Community to a new settlement; and its refusal to provide testimony before the Colombian courts. On the police post, the Court reaffirmed the principle of distinction between combatants and civilian non-combatants under International Humanitarian Law. The Court called on the Peace Community to cooperate with the justice system, but declared that “such cooperation needs to be voluntary, guarded by an effective protection, must not generate retaliation and must respond to a new climate of trust.” The Court called on the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office to work to restore the trust between the Peace Community and the Colombian government. (Fellowship of Reconciliation Colombia Program, February monthly update; San José de Apartadó Peace Community statement, Jan. 24)