Historic JEP Hearing in Cacarica

This 4 March was not any old Monday for the Bajo Atrato communities, and in particular for the Nueva Esperanza en Dios (New Hope in God) Humanitarian Zone, located in the Cacarica river basin (Chocó). At the close of their memory festival to commemorate the 22nd anniversary of Operation Genesis and the resulting forced displacement of thousands, for the first time a judicial authority visited their territory. The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) visited the zone accompanied by two members of the Truth Commission, and delegates from the UN Verification Mission and the MAPP-OAS.

Helicoptero 1

The delegation arrived by helicopter in the morning, and were received by inhabitants of the Nueva Esperanza Humanitarian Zone and other river basins in the Bajo Atrato who had traveled to participate in the hearing. They received the group singing their hymn “Óyeme Chocó, óyeme por favor, tú no tienes por que estar sufriendo así …” (Listen to me Choco, listen to me please, you don’t have to suffer this way).  The population’s emotion and hope filled the air.


The judicial hearing was held to collect the testimonies of the armed conflict’s victims, victims of distinct military and paramilitary operations that took place between 1995 and 1997 in the Bajo Atrato’s multiple river basins, as well as violence committed by the then FARC-EP guerrilla. This hearing was the first to be held in a rural region, isolated and historically abandoned by the State. It represents a historic and symbolic moment that generates great hope for the communities of the Bajo Atrato.[1] Visits and hearings in the rural areas make it possible for the judges to collect more testimonies and expand on the information required for their analyses and investigations in preparation for the hearings to acknowledge incidents (audiencias de reconocimiento de los hechos), for example, the case of retired General Rito Alejo de Rio will appear before the JEP[2] as well as the investigation of case 004 that looks into the victimizing incidents that occurred in distinct municipalities of Urabá between 1985 and 2016.[3]

The two magistrates of the JEP Nadiezda Narazha Henriquez and María Pilar Valencia anad Angela salazar, commissioner of the Truth Commission

For the communities of the Bajo Atrato once again there is hope that they will learn the truth about the violence that they suffered, why they were forcefully displaced after the aerial bombings and paramilitary incursions in their territories, why their loved ones were disappeared or assassinated, and why peace has yet to reach their territories. The JEP makes it possible for the communities to ask different actors about the truth regarding the victimizing incidents and opens a space those affected to be listened to.

Operation Genesis[4] took place between 24 and 27 February, 1997 and generated the forced displacement of over 4,000 individuals, in addition to the disappearances and killing of peasants from the area. The displaced families sought shelter in different places, but the majority lived in the sports coliseum of Turbo (Antioquia) for about three years, under inhumane conditions. An IACHR ruling convicted the Colombian State,[5] for not protecting the civilian population and for violating their human rights, among others. It also ruled against retired General Rito Alejo del Rio for his role in the murder of peasant Marino Lopez,[6] however, there was not a ruling regarding his responsibility in many other incidents that took place while he was commander of the XVII Brigade. There were convictions in the framework of the Justice and Peace Law and the demobilization of the Elmer Cardenas Bloc of the United Self-defense Forces of Colombia (AUC),[7] but there has yet to be a true and in-depth legal investigation of the complaints filed for the XVII Brigade’s role together with the AUC in this military/paramilitary operation.

Cacarica’s leaders, members of the organization Communities of Self-determination, Life, and Dignity (CAVIDA- Comunidades de Autodeterminación Vida y Dignidad), have this aspiration and their hearts are also open for reconciliation. During the hearing they proposed ideas for alternative sanctions, because they do not believe in jail time as a punishment. As one female leader stated, “when they get out of jail their souls have not been healed.” For that reason the have also joined the Peace University,[8] which aims to carry out acts of recognition with meetings between “the affected and responsible parties” to create a dialogue, and to create the opportunity to forgive, to get to know each other, and for reconciliation, among other activities that will facilitate an adoption of the restorative sanctions proposed by the communities.

Nathalie Bienfait

Despedida JEP

[1] Contagio Radio: Jep y Comunidades hacen Historia con primera audiencia en zona rural del Cacarica, 5 March 2019

[2] El Tiempo: General (r) Rito Alejo del Río ya está libre, 28 September 2017

[3] Colombia 2020: El caso 004 de la JEP le pondrá la lupa al Urabá, 25 September 2018; JEP: JEP prioriza situación territorial en la región de Urabá, 25 September 2018

[4] PBI Colombia: Operación Genesis vs. Colombia, 10 March 2016

[5] “This high court declared Colombia responsible for three issues: the first is the mass displacement generated by, according to the IACHR, the actions of “paramilitary groups in collaboration with members of the Colombian Armed Forces;” the second refers to an illegal takeover of land pertaining to the Afro-descendant communities; and third “the cruel, inhumane, and degrading acts suffered by Mr. Marino in the settlement of Bijao, in addition to lose of life, committed by members of paramilitary groups”, Verdad Abierta: Estado no protegió a comunidades durante Operación Génesis, 28 December 2013

[6] Semana: Exgeneral Rito Alejo del Río condenado a 25 años, 24 August 2012

[7] El Colombiano: Nueva condena contra Fredy Rendón, alias el “alemán”, 9 June 2018; El País: Condena simbólica para 28 exparamilitares que dejaron más de 6.000 víctimas en Colombia, 9 June 2018

[8] Contagio Radio: Lanzan propuestas de Universidades de Paz, 9 November 2018

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