Operation Orion

The Corporation for Judicial Freedom (CJL) represents relatives of the victims of Operation Orion which, according to the National Centre for Reparation and Reconciliation, was “the largest urban military operation ever to take place in Colombia”,[1] which left one person dead, 28 injured and 355 arrested.[2]

The military intervention took place in District 13, in the western centre of Medellin, between 16th and 19th October 2002, however, victims state that the operation carried on into the beginning of 2003.[3] More than 1,500 troops from the 4th Brigade took part, in conjunction with the Department of Administrative Security (DAS, now dismantled), Police special forces and members of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, to fight the urban militias of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the People’s Armed Commandos (CAP) which operated in District 13, which was at the time one of the most conflict ridden areas in the Antioquian capital.[4]

Operation Orion was the last in a series of military operations carried out in 2002 and the beginning of the policy of ‘Democratic Security’.[5] Diego Herrera, President of the Popular Training Institute (IPC), affirms that with Operation Orion came the incursion and takeover by the ‘Cacique Nutibara’ Block of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) paramilitary group, under the command of Diego Fernando Murillo Bejarano, alias ‘Don Berna’: “Orion enabled them to get rid of one armed group (the guerrillas), to let in another one, which ended up controlling District 13. This was the first foothold of what became a paramilitary hegemony over the whole of Medellin”.[6]

Thanks to CJL’s work, in December 2011, the former commander of the Army, General Mario Montoya, gave testimony to the Supreme Court of Justice in the prosecution against him for his alleged links to the paramilitaries in carrying out Operation Orion,[7] and investigations were opened into General (retired) Leonardo Gallego, who was the commander of the Medellin Metropolitan Police at the time.[8]

In October 2015, the Justice and Peace Tribunal ordered an investigation into the President of the Republic at that time, current Senator Alvaro Uribe Velez, for “promoting, abetting and supporting paramilitary groups” in the case of Operation Orion.[9] In the meantime, no-one has admitted responsibility for what happened during Operation Orion:[10] “There is little commitment from demobilised paramilitaries from this block (‘Cacique Nutibara’) to help shed light on events and look for the disappeared. There is an enormous lack of progress for the rights of victims. There is no truth, no justice and no reparation”,[11] warns Adriana Arboleda of CJL.

Additionally, according to lawyer Maria Victoria Fallon, Director of the Interdisciplinary Human Rights Group (GIDH), who represents victims of Operation Orion, whilst “the investigations into the demobilised paramilitaries from the ‘Cacique Nutibara’ Block have advanced and there is a verdict, (…) with regards to the responsibility of the Army and the Police who permitted the ‘Cacique Nutibara’ Block to enter in the wake of Operation Orion and carry out all kinds of violations in District 13, they are not moving forward as they should.”[12]

Because of these facts, and particularly the unlawful arrests and the lack of protection for five human rights defenders, and the death of one of them, Ana Teresa Yarce, during the operation; in January 2017, the IACourtHR condemned the Colombian State[13] and ordered it to publicly apologise.[14]


Footnotes:

[1] Semana: La foto que destapó los desmanes de la operación Orión, 15th August 2015
[2] According the Centre for Research and Popular Education (CINEP), of the 355 people detained, at least 185 were released after several days of arbitrary detention and 170 people were prosecuted. The charges against them included terrorism, conspiracy to commit crime, kidnapping, extortion and homicide. Political Violence Database. CINEP and Justicia y Paz: Comuna 13, la otra versión, May 2003
[3] El Tiempo: Operación Orión: 14 años sin verdad, justicia ni reparación, 16th October 2016
[4] Verdad Abierta: La operación que tiene enredado al general (r) Montoya, 14th December 2011; IPC: Operación Orión: 14 años de negación e impunidad, 24th October 2016
[5] CJL: 13 años de la Operación Orión, seguimos resistiendo contra la impunidad, 16th October 2015; Interview with Oscar Correa, 9th October 2015
[6] Semana: La foto que destapó los desmanes de la operación Orión, 15th August 2015
[7] El Espectador: General Montoya rinde versión libre por Operación Orión, 19th December 2011; Semana: General Montoya, llamado a versión libre por operación Orión, 14th December 2011
[8] Ibid. Semana
[9] Noticias Caracol: Por paramilitarismo en Operación Orión, tribunal pidió investigar a Uribe, 16th October 2015; for detailled information on District 13 and the crimes committed there: Las2orillas: Operación Orión: la orden de Uribe que puede enredarlo duro con la justicia
[10] Interview with Óscar Correa, 9th October 2015
[11] El Tiempo: Operación Orión: 14 años sin verdad, justicia ni reparación, 16th October 2016
[12] WRadio: Esperamos que fallo de la CIDH impulse investigaciones sobre Operación Orión: víctimas, 11th January 2017
[13] El Tiempo: CIDH condena al Estado por la Operación Orión, 11th January 2017
[14] Semana: La condena por Orión, 14th January 2017; WRadio: Esperamos que fallo de la CIDH impulse investigaciones sobre Operación Orión: víctimas, 11th January 2017; El Espectador: Corte Interamericana condena al Estado por abusos en la Comuna 13 de Medellín, 10th January 2017

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