February 21 commemorated the Mulatos and La Resbalosa massacre perpetrated by the XVII Brigade of the Army and the United Self-defense Forces of Colombia (AUC, in Spanish) paramilitary group, in which eight individuals were killed, seven of whom were members of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó and three of whom were minors. In 2005, during Operation Fénix, around 60 paramilitary members, together with army troops, assassinated Peace Community leader, Luis Eduardo Guerra and his family in the hamlet of Mulatos, and then killed the family of Alfonso Bolívar, a leader of the Resbalosa humanitarian zone. Since then, this day is remembered each year in the rural communities, as an act of memory and to denounce the ongoing impunity in the country.
Almost two years after the 2021 National Strike, the high-ranking members of state security forces investigated for serious human rights violations committed during the repression of protests remain in total impunity. Of the 3,169 criminal acts reported, the Prosecutor General’s Office only attributed 65 cases to the state security forces, of which 11 were archived and, to date, there have been no convictions. Meanwhile, 230 young people are being prosecuted for leading the protest.
Among other serious human rights violations committed in the context of the protests, enforced disappearance was a systematic practice, the full scope of which is still unknown. Several human rights organizations have collected testimonies and complaints about individuals disappeared during the 2021 protests and highlight the impunity surrounding these cases. Recently, Sergio Venegas, a businessman in charge of administering cemeteries in Bogotá, accused the National Police of using crematorium ovens to disappear up to 300 individuals during the National Strike. Alberto Yepes, coordinator of the human rights observatory at the Coordination Colombia Europe United States (CCEEU), indicates that the whereabouts of 87 individuals who may have been disappeared at the Bogotá cemeteries are still unknown.
Eighteen years ago, an event took place that profoundly impacted the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó: the Massacre of Mulatos and La Resbalosa, during which eight people, three of them minors, were cruelly murdered. This massacre, perpetrated by the XVII Brigade of the Colombian Army together with the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), the paramilitary group that existed in the territory at the time, marked a milestone of separation with the State due to the lack of security guarantees and its responsibility for the impunity of these and other acts of violence that the Peace Community has faced since its creation. The community, which declared itself a Peace Community on March 23rd 1997 as a strategy of resistance and survival in their territory in the midst of the armed conflict, has not ceased to be the target of acts of violence by both legal and illegal armed actors.
Now, with the strength and determination accumulated over years of resistance and struggle, the Community paid tribute to the 8 people murdered, 7 of whom were members of the Peace Community: Luis Eduardo Guerra, Bellanira Areiza, Deiner Guerra, Alfonso Bolívar Tuberquia, Sandra Muñoz, Natalia Tuberquia Muñoz and Santiago Tuberquia Muñoz. In this commemorative and solemn act, the children of the Peace Community sang songs to remember their lost family members. Each member, physically absent, yet inevitably present in the collective memory to continue defending the land and demanding justice, was remembered.
We offer a warm welcome to our seven new field brigadistas who will accompany human rights defenders and organizations from the Apartado, Barrancabermeja and Bogota Teams
“Two weeks ago we arrived in Bogotá. Seven people of different nationalities, with different backgrounds and perspectives, but all with the same desire to continue strengthening PBI’s Colombia project. It’s interesting to learn from PBI’s 30 years in Colombia and how it’s international character plays a role in defence of human rights, acting as a bridge between the civil society organizations, human rights defenders, and the international community. Behind two intense weeks of training, it is hard to be separated, but we are full of enthusiasm to arrive in the field and get to work.”
Human rights and social movements are unique experiences that would be impossible without groups of people coming together with a common aim. Social struggles and the defense of human rights are inevitably collective. Why? Because the systems of power—capitalist, heteropatriarchal, and colonial—and socio-political violence are too tenacious to face alone. Collectively we can discover that the impacts of violence are more common than we had imagined. What I experience may also experienced by my colleague, and this helps free us from the guilt or discomfort that arises from the fact that we feel affected. And because the human rights violations we fight touch a collective fiber, beyond a specific damage, beyond the victimizing act, they move our sense of humanity.
It is common to hear that defending human rights can cause deep feelings of isolation, which can sometimes be alleviated through acts of solidarity, camaraderie, and alliances. Psychosocial accompaniment takes into account this solitude, places it at the center, creates a framework of understanding, and seeks to transform it. In this context, loneliness is easily tied to hopelessness. If I feel alone, I don’t see myself as capable and if I don’t see myself as capable, I stop believing in what I want to achieve. One of the main objectives of sociopolitical violence is precisely to divide, to create feelings of loneliness, incapacity, and hopelessness. What can we do to not fall into despair? How can we build hope? This is one of the big questions. A possible answer is: believe in and strengthen the collective, the process, so that they can provide balance for our wavering sense of humanity.