Peace Community

San Jose de Apartado Peace Community

Armed Conflict and Resistance

San Jose de Apartado’s peasant farmer population has lived for decades in the midst of armed conflict.  Economic interests in the region of Uraba (Northwest Colombia) and its geostrategic position[1] converged to make this region one of the focal points of the armed conflict.   Since the 1970s, the guerrilla organisations the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Popular Liberation Army (EPL) have been present in the region.  The arrival of paramilitary groups in 1996 sparked an escalation of the conflict between different armed actors, though this was primarily carried out through aggression against the civilian population.[2]  However, rather than joining the country’s thousands of displaced people[3], this peasant farmer community pioneered a new model in 1997 in the region of Uraba: the San Jose de Apartado Peace Community—a community that has declared its neutrality in the armed conflict and rejected the presence of all armed groups in its territory.

“We will not give in to armed pressure.  We continue to work in a united way saying ‘no’ to war.”  These are the defiant words of community representative Jesus Emilio Tuberquia.[4]  As a result of their resistance and struggle, 210 members of the Community have been killed by the distinct armed actors in the conflict.[5]

One of the most impactful incidents of violence faced by the Community was the massacre that took place 21 February 2005.  On that day, 8 people were killed and dismembered in the hamlets of Mulatos and La Resbalosa.  Seven victims were members of the Peace Community including three children and the community´s historic leader Luis Eduardo Guerra.[6]  In March 2010, retired National Army Capitan Guillermo Gordillo was sentenced to 20 years in prison as a co-author of the crimes of aggravated homicide, acts of barbarism, and conspiracy.[7]  In June 2012, another four military officials were found guilty in the massacre as co-authors of the crimes of murder of a protected person and aggravated conspiracy.[8]

However, with respect to the numerous other human rights violations denounced by the Peace Community, the majority have remained in impunity.[9]

One of the central concerns today is the strengthening of illegal armed groups that emerged in the region after the demobilisation of the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) between 2003 and 2006.  According to Jesuit priest Javier Giraldo, who has denounced human rights violations against the Community, “this is the principal concern because [in 2011] there were 11 killings in this area.”  He adds, “In various cases the military was there nearby or very close; there is strong complicity.” [10]  The Peace Community itself[11], the Human Rights Ombudsman´s Office[12], and also human rights defender and Congress member Ivan Cepeda[13] have all warned of the risks faced by the civilian population due to the alleged activities of illegal armed groups in the region.   Despite the continued stigmatisation, threats, and defamation directed at the Community, these statements of concern helped dissuade armed actors to some extent due to the legitimacy of the Community´s project internationally.

Economic Resistance and Return to Rural Areas

Since its inception, the Community has faced economic blockades and as a result considered it important to strengthen their economic situation, especially food security, as a part of their resistance.[14]  Despite the risks, the Community has tried to achieve a certain degree of normalcy in day to day life and in their internal organization. “To face war we have to be very organised” says Berta Tuberquia, one of the Community Representatives.  In 2005, after eight years of resistance to forced displacement, the Community began a return to the rural hamlets in the hills surrounding the town of San Jose de Apartado.  This was an important step in the work of the Community and in the lives of peasant farmers who, after many years of displacement, could return to their plots of land and cultivate banana, cacao, beans, and fruit for their subsistence.  It was a successful return in that—with the help of internal organization’s capacities as well as international accompaniment—many families were able to return to areas where the Community describes on-going pressures and the explicit threat of displacement against the civilian population.[15]

Several of the Community’s hamlets are nearly self-sufficient in terms of food production and have also been able to sell some agricultural products to provide additional financial resources.  Together with other communities, they have created the Peasant Farmer University which is a project of exchange between rural communities living in the midst of conflict.  This project aims to demonstrate that resisting [war] is an issue of everyday life and practice.  Another important objective has been to increase the capacity of peasant farmer families to be self-sufficient. [16]


In September 2011, the San Jose de Apartado Peace Community became one of the three finalists for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Award for Liberty of Thought, awarded each year to defenders of this freedom.  This peasant farmer community was deemed worthy of the nomination for their “courage, resistance, and dedication to the values of peace and justice [….] in an environment of brutality and destruction.” [17]

Stigmatisation and Threats

Since its creation, the Peace Community has been the object of threats and stigmatisation.

Protection Measures

In December 1997, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights requested the adoption of precautionary measures on the behalf of the members of the San Jose de Apartado Peace Community taking into account the killings of 43 members since they had declared their neutrality in the armed conflict that same year. [18]  In 2000, the president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights requested provisional measures for 189 members of the community. [19]  Since then, the Inter-American Commission and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have recommended that the Colombian State take measures to guarantee adequate protection for the Peace Community.[20]  The provisional measures issued by the Inter-American Court were ratified by the Colombian Constitutional Court through sentence T-1025 which establishes that the San Jose de Apartado Peace Community and the State should agree upon the measures by which the Community will be protected.[21]

International Accompaniment

PBI has accompanied the Peace Community since 1999.  US-based organisation Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and Italian-based Operazione Colomba also accompany the community.  This accompaniment is very much valued by the Community which has expressed “while there is international solidarity, the project of the Peace Community will be maintained.”

For more information

[1] Uraba is of  geostrategic importance due to its location near the Panama Canal and its natural resources.. PBI Colombia: Uraba: Violence and Territory in Contemporary History, September 2010

[2] Hernández Delgado, Esperanza: Resistencia civil artesana de paz. Javeriana University, 2004

[3] According to statistics provided by CODHES, some 438.000 Colombians fled the violence between 1996 and 1997 to protect their own lives. Un País que huye. Desplazamiento y violencia en una nación fragmentada. CODHES. 2003

[4] Hernández Delgado, ibid.

[6] Fusil o Toga, Toga y Fusil, Javier Giraldo Moreno, S.J. Page 189.

[7] First military member convicted for the massacre of San Jose de Apartado. In: ColomPBIa, PBI Colombia, 15 April 2010

[9]  Carta al Embajador de Estados Unidos en Colombia Peter Michael McKenley. In: Desde los márgenes – Javier Giraldo. 6 October 2011

[10] Interview with Padre Javier Giraldo, 29 December 2011

[11] Comunidad de Paz de San José de Apartadó: Paramilitares continúan presentes y actuantes en San José de Apartadó. El gobierno sabe, calla consiente y mira para otro lado. 3 January 2012

[12] Defensor del Pueblo rechaza paro armado en Urabá. In: Defensoría del Pueblo de Colombia. 6 January  2012; Población de Urabá en riesgo ante amenazas de un nuevo grupo al margen de la ley. In: Defensoría del Pueblo de Colombia. 16 October 2008

[14] Hernández Delgado, Esperanza. Ibid.

[15] Descaro y desfachatez sin límites. In: Comunidad de Paz de San José de Apartadó. 2 February 2012

[16] Comunidades de Paz de San José de Apartadó – Universidad Campesina. In: Educación para la Solidaridad. 24 March 2011

[17] Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought 2011. In: European Parliament. 15 December 2011

[18] Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: Precautionary measures 1997

[19] In November 2000, the Court ratified the demand made by the it´s President to request the “State of Colombia to adopt, without delay, such measures as are necessary to protect the lives and the right to humane treatment of all other members of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó.” Resolution of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, 24 November 2000: Provisional Measures sought by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights—Case of the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado.

[20] 18 June 2002, the Court broadens the measures and requires: “That the State guarantees the required security conditions along the route between San José de Apartadó and Apartadó, at the public transportation terminal in Apartadó…to ensure that the members of the Peace Community effectively and permanently can transport and receive products, supplies, and foodstuffs.” This measure was in response to economic blockade suffered by the community in their transit between San Jose and Apartado.  In 2008 and 2010 the Court re-affirms these provisional measures.

[21] Sentencia de Tutela nº 1025/07 Colombian Constitutional Court, 3 December 2007.

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