In 1996 and 1997, two military operations marked the destiny of the people of Lower Atrato: ‘Operation Black September’, which was mainly carried out in Curbarado and Jiguamiando (Choco) and Dabeiba (Antioquia), and ‘Operation Genesis’, in Cacarica and Salaqui (Choco), which caused the forced displacement of approximately 15,000 people, a subsequent militarisation of the area, and more than 70 people were either murdered or disappeared.The Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission (CIJP) represented the public interest in the case against Army general (r) Rito Alejo del Rio, who was investigated for the murder of farmer Marino Lopez, an inhabitant of Bijao Community in Cacarica, during ‘Operation Genesis’.
General (r) Rito Alejo del Rio, who was detained in September 2008, is known in some social, economic and political circles as “the Pacifier of Uraba” despite having been identified as one of the region’s most important supporters of paramilitarism, which he enabled by using his position as the commander of the Army’s 17th Brigade between 1995 and 1997. In August 2012, del Rio was found guilty and sentenced by the Colombian justice system to 25 years’ prison for the murder of Marino Lopez. According to Danilo Rueda, Mr Lopez’ murder was “just one of the facts in more than 200 documented cases of crimes against humanity”.
In 2011, CIJP took ‘Operation Genesis’ to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights which on 27 December 2013 found the Colombian State guilty of the mass forced displacement of 1997, which was developed in conjunction between the Army and the paramilitaries of the Auto Defensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), and of the murder of Marino Lopez. CIJP is monitoring the implementation of the Court’s decision, but states that there have been no important advances to date.
Stories from the field: “Fighting for a decent life, for justice”
In February 2015, during a commemorative event to mark 19 years since Operation Genesis, a victim expressed their disappointment for the lack of will and commitment by the State to provide reparation to the victims: “The Inter-American Court found in our favour, but today we see no reparation, nor any justice. How many millions of pesos were spent in distant places, without saying who will answer for all the years that the families of farmers had to stop working and suffer pain, hunger, exposure and illness. Today the world must know that we have not received reparation. We hope to see truth, justice and integral reparation”.
 CIJP: Colombia : Banacol. Empresa implicada en paramilitarismo y acaparamiento de tierras en Curvaradó y Jiguamiandó, May 2012 Defensoría del Pueblo: Resolución Defensorial No. 025, October 2002
 CIJP: VIII Visita de la Comisión Ética de la Verdad, 15th June 2010
 Verdad Abierta: La Operación Genesis fue denunciada ante la Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, 26th July 2011; Verdad Abierta: Rito Alejo del Río y el asesinato de Marino López, 5th October 2011
 El Espectador: Rito Alejo del Rio, el ‘Pacificador’ condenado, 24th August 2012
 Interview with Danilo Rueda, February 2012
 Operación Verdad Abierta: La Operación Genesis fue denunciada ante la Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, 26th July 2011
 El Tiempo: Colombia, condenada por la operación Génesis, 27th December 2013
 CIJP: La paz es justicia socio ambiental. Declaración Peregrinación al Cacarica, 1st March 2016
 Contagio Radio: Cavida, 19 años de resistencia, memoria y dignidad, 3rd March 2016
* Cover photograph: Charlotte Kesl