Peace Community

Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado

The Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado was born twenty years ago in the midst of violence, forced displacement and the murders of its leaders.  The result of these twenty years of violence is overwhelming: 320 people murdered, 350 death threats, 100 acts of torture, 50 displacements.[1]

CDP SJA

Armed conflict and resistance

The farming community of San Jose de Apartado has lived for decades amidst the armed conflict. The economic interests operating in Uraba (Northeastern Colombia) and its geostrategic location[2] converged to make this region one of the hardest hit by the armed conflict. Since the seventies, the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) have been present here.  Incursions by paramilitary groups from 1996 onwards marked an escalation in the conflict between the armed actors, which mainly resulted in attacks against the civilian population.[3]

But instead of joining the thousands of displaced people in the country,[4] in 1997 this farming community created a pioneering initiative in Colombia: the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado, a community that declared itself neutral in the armed conflict and rejected the presence of all the armed groups in its territory.

In the same week it was created, a brutal backlash was unleashed against the Community. “The paramilitaries visited the hamlets and forced the farmers to leave their land, telling them that they had four or five days to leave, and if they didn’t they would kill them”, remembers Father Javier Giraldo. The paramilitaries murdered many farmers to show that they meant what they said.[5]

CDP SJA
The cost of 20 years of violence is overwhelming: 320 members assassinated, 350 death threats, 100 cases of torture and 50 cases of forced displacement.

PBI Coffee Break: “What the peace community lived through in those first months was terrible”, Father Javier Giraldo (May 2017)


In 1998, the first families returned to their lands in the hamlet of La Union, but they forced to become displaced several more times because they received new threats.  Then on 8 July 2000, the paramilitaries entered La Union and assassinated six young people in front of the whole community, a crime that forced people to again become displaced.[6]  Years passed and little by little the families returned to other hamlets, Arenas and La Esperanza, and recovered the lands from where they had fled.

Economic Blockades

In those years the armed groups repeatedly set up checkpoints along the paths and imposed economic blockades, forbidding the transport of food or any merchandise under the threat of death.  Between 2001 and 2002 one of the worst blockades took place, for months they forbade food from being transported on the road between Apartado and San Jose: “no-one could go to town to shop because they wouldn’t be allowed to pass with their food”, remembers Roviro Lopez, a member of the Peace Community.  During those times hundreds of people who took the risk of buying food were murdered.  There was a lot of hunger.  The Community increasingly realised how important it was to get organised and grow their own food so they could be self-sufficient, and that is how they started created community work groups.[7]

The Community therefore concluded that economic strength was important to generate food security as a foundation of their resistance because “to deal with the war you’ve got to be very organised”.[8]

Massacres and more massacres: Mulatos and la Resbalosa

One of the events that had the greatest impact on the Peace Community was the massacre of 21 February 2005.  That day, eight people were murdered near the hamlets of Mulatos and La Resbalosa, seven of them members of the Peace Community, including three children and the Community’s leader, Luis Eduardo Guerra.[9]  Because of his role in the killings, in March 2010 Guillermo Gordillo, a retired Army captain, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for aggravated homicide, acts of barbarity, and conspiracy to commit a crime.[10] In June 2012 four other soldiers were convicted for their role in the massacre, on charges of homicide of a protected person and aggravated conspiracy to commit a crime.[11]

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Judicial: San José de Apartadó massacre (May 2016)


Jorge Molano, lawyer: “Legally speaking, the massacre of 21 February is one of the crimes attributed to the Security Forces.  The investigative bodies have focused on examining the responsibility of those who physically carried out the crimes, especially the lower ranking troops. The Public Prosecutor has taken more than five years to investigate whom within the 17th Brigade acted in a way that decidedly contributed to the massacre’s execution. Twelve years after the massacre, what can we say?  Approximately thirty paramilitaries have been convicted, but none of the paramilitary leaders have. To date, Don Berna has given no explanation to the judicial authorities about these events.  Approximately three hundred and fifty members of the Security Forces took part in the massacre, but only four of them have been convicted.  So the impunity in the case of the San Jose de Apartado massacre, in terms of the involvement of State agents, is for about 99.4% of the perpetrators.”[12]

Impunity for human rights violations

On the twentieth anniversary of its resistance in 2017, the Peace Community counted 326 of its members murdered, and more than 4,000 human rights violations committed against them. [13]  To date, most of the human rights violations have gone unpunished, lawyer Jorge Molano confirms.  “It is only in the case of the massacre of 21 February 2005 and a second incident, that there have been any results in terms of progress in the investigations”.[14]

A break with the Colombian State

Since the massacre of Mulatos and La Resbalosa, the Peace Community has not engaged with Colombian State institutions because it considers that justice has not been done.  The only contact by the Community has been with the Constitutional Court, which issued three judgements in its favour. The most important of those was Sentence 1025 of 2007 which ordered the Colombian Government to provide the names of the members of the Security Forces who were present in the area at the time of the 2005 massacre.  In 2012, the Constitutional Court called an evaluation session with Government institutions, resulting in Order 164 which included five orders. Amongst them was an order for the members of the Government to retract the defamatory statements they had made against the Community, an order to create a commission to evaluate justice for over three hundred murders, and to respect the humanitarian zones where the civilian population can seek refuge, amongst others.[15] According to Father Javier Giraldo, the State has tried to comply with some of the orders, but has never ensured complete compliance, which is why he considers that the Court’s judgement has not been complied with.[16]

Restructuring of the armed conflict

After the demobilisation of the paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) between 2003 and 2006, new illegal armed groups emerged. According to the Imminent Risk Report 031-16 by the Human Rights Ombudsman, published in September 2016, communities in the hamlets “have been visited by men who identify themselves as members of the AGC (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia), demanding collaboration and support from the civilian population to consolidate their presence in the area, and they threaten to kill anyone who refuses”.[17] Since the signature of the Peace Agreement in 2016 and the demobilisation of the FARC in 2017, the AGC’s presence is increasingly visible, and they are taking over the areas formerly controlled by the FARC.


Current affairs: Reconfiguration of the armed conflict in the midst of the peace process (July 2017)


Resilience

Even if smears, threats and defamation continue to take place against the Peace Community, it has succeeded in establishing a degree of dissuasion against the armed actors thanks to its legitimacy with the international community. In 2014, German Graciano Posso, the Peace Community’s legal representative since 2013, was chosen by the UN to be part of the delegation of victims which travelled to Havana to take part in the peace negotiations between the government and the FARC guerrillas.[18] On 23 March 2017, the Community celebrated 20 years of peaceful resistance and continues to be an inspiring and alternative role model of community living.


Land and territory: Twenty years of resistance (April 2017)


Violence has led the community to seek out new alternatives for development.  They began working on a model of food sovereignty: recovering native seeds from the area, they grow cacao, (which today is exported to several European countries and undergoes numerous checks to ensure ethical trade standards are being met), they sow subsistence food crops. They have also sought alternative educational models for their teachers, education which is centred around love for the earth.  They subsequently built the University of Resistance and have been building up these models which they continue to work with do this day.[19]

Jesús Emilio Tuberquia
Jesus Emilio Tuberquia: “Many human beings don’t know how cacao is grown, where it is produced, who produces it, the difficulties of producing it and putting it on the market. How it is grown, from harvesting the seeds, preparing the ground, looking after the plants, all the work after the harvest, from gathering it to fermenting it, drying it, bringing it down to the store; afterwards how it is transported to Europe or the United States. To do this we have a planning schedule, internal coordination, there are working groups, the monitoring group, support from the Internal Council for the whole process, all the work to obtain organic certification; it is a very long process.” Photo: Alejandro González

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Tales from the field: Cacao is sowing life (May 2017)

Tales from the field: Exchanging knowledge (March 2017)


Several of the Community’s hamlets are almost self-sufficient for food, and have succeeded in selling some agricultural products which generate financial returns. Together with other communities they created the Farmers’ University, a project to exchange knowledge between rural communities living in the midst of armed conflict.  The project aims to demonstrate that resistance is an everyday issue. Increasing the capacity of farming families to sustain themselves has been an important objective.[20]

In recent years the Community has developed its production of organic cacao: Chopaz.  Today the Community has 175 hectares of cacao crops and produces around 70 tonnes, 50 of which are sold in the United Kingdom and Germany. The earnings enable the Community to sustain itself financially, build infrastructure, support education and training for its members, and buy the products which it does not produce itself.[21]

Awards

“We will not stand down in the face of weapons, we will continue to work, united, and say ‘no’ to war” are the defiant words of Jesus Emilio Tuberquia, the Community’s former legal representative during six years (2007-2013).[22]

In September 2011, the San Jose de Apartado Peace Community was chosen as one of the three finalists for the Sakharov Prize for the Freedom of Thought, which the European Parliament awards each year to defenders of freedom. This farming community deserved the nomination for “the courage, resilience and dedication to the values of peace and justice […] in an environment of brutality and destruction”.[23]

In 2014, the Embassies of France and Germany, granted an honourable mention to it for its humanitarian work as part of the “Antonio Nariño Franco-German Prize for Human Rights”. [24]

In 2015, German Graciano Posso, the Peace Community’s legal representative since 2013, was recognised as one of Colombia’s greatest leaders by Semana magazine and the Leadership and Democracy Foundation, for his work in support of non-violence.[25]

CDP SJA Ruby

CDP SJA
Photo: Charlotte Kesl

Smears and threats

Since it was created, the Peace Community has been the target of constant threats and smears. The Community maintains a register of every violation of its rights in periodic statements which can be found on its website: www.cdpsanjose.org.


Threats: 201420152016

graffiti CDP SJA threat
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.

Protection measures

In December 1997, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordered precautionary measures of protection for the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado’s members, in light of 43 of its members having been murdered since it declared its neutrality in the armed conflict in March that year. [26]

In 2000, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered provisional measures of protection for 189 Community members. That same year, the Court ratified the order of the Court’s president and asked “the Colombian State to grant, without delay, the measures necessary to protect the life and personal integrity of all the other members of the Peace Community of San Jose the Apartado”.[27]

On 18 June 2002, the Court widened the measures’ remit and ordered that “the State guarantee the necessary security conditions between San Jose de Apartado and Apartado (…) to ensure that the Peace Community’s members can receive and transport products, supplies and food in an effective and permanent manner”.  These were measures against the economic blockades that the Peace Community’s members were suffering during their movements between San Jose and Apartado. In 2008 and 2010 the provisional measures were re-confirmed.

The provisional measures granted by the Inter-American Court were ratified by the Colombian Constitutional Court with sentence T-1025 which established that the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado and the State should agree measures to ensure the Community’s population is protected.[28]

In June 2017, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a new resolution in which it reiterates an order for the Colombian State to “maintain the measures adopted and immediately implement those necessary to effectively protect the lives and personal integrity of members of the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado, particularly with regards to the alleged presence of illegal armed groups in the Community’s hamlets in recent months”.[29]

International Accompaniment

PBI has accompanied the Peace Community since 1999. The international organisations Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and Operazione Colombia also accompany the Community.  This is greatly valued by the Community’s members who have expressed that “Whilst there is international solidarity, the Peace Community’s project will continue”.

Sirly con Isaline y Lisa
Sirly con Isaline y Lisa

Footnotes:

[1] Padre Javier Giraldo, statement, 23 March 2017 in la Holandita, Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado
[2] Uraba’s geostrategic importance is due to its proximity to the Panama canal and its natural resources. PBI Colombia: Urabá: violencia y territorio en la historia contemporánea, September 2010
[3] Hernández Delgado, Esperanza: Resistencia civil artesana de paz. Universidad Javeriana, 2004
[4] According to CODHES’ data, around 438,000 Colombians fled the violence between 1996 and 1997 to save their lives.  Un País que huye. Desplazamiento y violencia en una nación fragmentada. CODHES. 2003
[5] PBI Colombia: “Durante varios años la comunidad de paz vivió una situación de terror”, 5 May 2017
[6] PBI Colombia: “Durante varios años la comunidad de paz vivió una situación de terror”, 5 May 2017
[7] PBI Colombia: Cacao para sembrar vida, 11 May 2017
[8] Op. cit. Hernández Delgado, Esperanza and interview with Berta Tuberquia, member of the Peace Community
[9] Fusil o Toga, Toga y Fusil, Javier Giraldo Moreno, S.J. Page 189
[10] First solider found guilty of the San Jose de Apartado massacre. In: ColomPBIa, PBI Colombia, 15 April 2010
[11] La condena a cuatro militares por la masacre de San José de Apartadó. In: Verdad Abierta, 14 June 2012
[12] Interview with Jorge Molano, lawyer, March 2017
[13] Colombia Plural, ¿Por qué resiste la comunidad de paz de San José de Apartadó?, 3 January 2017
[14] Interview with Jorge Molano, lawyer, March 2017
[15] Corte Constitucional: Sentence 1025 of 2007, Auto 164 of 2012
[16] Statement by Father Javier Giraldo, Apartado, March 2017
[17] Verdad Abierta: En San José de Apartadó exigen verificar presencia paramilitar, 8 November 2016
[18] PNUD Colombia, Cuarta delegación de víctimas viaja a La Habana, 1 November 2014
[19] PBI Colombia: Veinte años de resistencia, 31 March 2017
[20] Comunidades de Paz de San José de Apartadó – Universidad Campesina. In: Educación para la Solidaridad. 24 March 2011
[21] PBI Colombia, Cacao para sembrar vida, 11 May 2017
[22] Hernández Delgado, Op. cit.
[23] Sakharov Prize 2011 for the Freedom of Thought. In : European Parliament. 15 December 2011
[24] French Embassy in Colombia, Los Embajadores de Alemania, Günter Kniess y Francia Jean-Marc Laforêt, visitaron “La Comunidad de Paz San José de Apartadó”, 27 March 2015
[25] Semana, El defensor de la no violencia, 2015
[26] Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: Precautionary measures 1997
[27] Resolution of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, 24 November 2000: Provisional Measures – Case of the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado
[28] Sentencia de Tutela nº 1025/07 de Corte Constitucional, 3 December 2007
[29] Inter-American Court H.R., Matter of Peace Community of San José de Apartadó regarding Colombia. Provisional Measures. Order of the President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights of June 26, 2017.

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