San José de Apartadó massacre

On 21st February 2005, eight people were murdered (five adults and three children) from the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado, in a massacre carried out jointly by paramilitaries of the ‘Bloque Héroes de Tolová’ of the ‘Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia’ (AUC) and soldiers of the 17th Brigade of the National Army.[1] Jorge Molano is the lawyer representing Colombian society in the case.

On March 2010, retired Army Captain Guillermo Gordillo was sentenced to 20 years in prison for aggravated murder, acts of barbarity and conspiracy to commit crime.[2] In June 2012, four other soldiers were found guilty for their role in the massacre, the murder of a protected person and aggravated conspiracy to commit crime.[3] “Despite four members of the Army being found guilty, there is blatant impunity for their commanding officers, which makes it necessary to ask the International Criminal Court to open a case on Colombia and charge these generals and colonels, for the crimes against humanity committed against the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado”, Molano explains.[4]

In 2013, Generals Hector Fandiño and Gabriel Jaime Zapata were formally investigated and questioned as suspects in the case and given ten days to clarify their responsibility, which according to Molano, they did not do. On 20th March 2015, the investigation into Zapata was closed after he died.[5] According to a summary of the case published by dhColombia in 2015, the description of the case “reveals a pattern of systematic impunity and disregard for the rights of the victims, where the only people to benefit were the perpetrators”.[6]

During the pilgrimage on 19th February 2010, members of the San Jose de Apartado Peace Community transported the remains of victims of the massacre. Their remains currently rest in a monument to the memory of more than 200 people (from a community of 3000) who were murdered over the course of 15 years. Photography: Damien Fellous

General Fandiño remains under investigation, as do Colonels Jose Orlando Acosta Cely (head of operations at the 17th Brigade at that time), Jose Fernando Castro (head of intelligence at the 17th Brigade at the time) and Nestor Ivan Duque (former commander of the Bejarano Muñoz Battalion of the 17th Brigade). The Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice is currently examining a request for Colonel Orlando Espinosa and Major Jose Fernando Castaño to be exonerated.[7]

The Justice and Peace Chamber of the Medellin Superior Tribunal formally requested the Prosecutor’s Office and the Inspector General’s Office to investigate the role of the Army in the massacre. This decision is based on statements by demobilised paramilitaries from the ‘Heroes de Tolova’ Block, which state that members of the Security Forces accompanied and protected the paramilitaries during their incursion into the places where the massacre took place.[8]


[1] Verdad Abierta: La condena a cuatro militares por la masacre de San José de Apartadó, 14th June 2012
[2] ColomPBIa, PBI Colombia: Primer militar condenado por masacre de San José de Apartadó, 15th April 2010
[3] Verdad Abierta, Op. cit.
[4] Caracol Radio: Piden a la Corte Penal Internacional que 3 generales y 2 coroneles respondan por masacre en San José de Apartadó, 14th June 2012
[5] Interview with Jorge Molano, 16th September 2015
[6] dhColombia y Gloria Cuartas Montoya: Justicia continua favoreciendo a victimarios 10 años después, 11th March 2015
[7] Interview with Jorge Molano, 29th August 2016
[8] dhColombia y Gloria Cuartas Montoya: Justicia continua favoreciendo a victimarios 10 años después, 11th March 2015

(*) Cover photograph: Damien Fellous

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