Category Archives: Memory and tribute

CREDHOS a Collective Victim in JEP Case 08: “Today Like yesterday”

On 4 November 2022, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) recognized the Regional Corporation for the Defense of Human Rights (CREDHOS) as a collective victim with a special intervention role in Case 08, the opening of which was announced in late August of this year.[1] This case before the Colombian transitional justice system investigates crimes committed by members of the state security forces and other state agents, in association with paramilitary groups or third party civilians in the context of the armed conflict. Since 1987, when CREDHOS began its work to defend and protect human rights in the city of Barrancabermeja, the organization has documented, in detail, 16 cases of extrajudicial executions against its members, perpetrated by paramilitary groups with the connivance of Colombian state agents, in addition to 10 cases of forced displacement, four assassination attempts, and arbitrary arrests. “Today Like Yesterday: Report on the victimization of human rights defenders in the Magdalena Medio region in the context of the armed conflict (1987-2016) -CREDHOS Case” is the title of the report filed by the organization before the JEP, which details the incidents affecting over 80 members between 1987 and 2016. And, indeed, “today like yesterday” serious attacks continue against the emblematic organization based in Barrancabermeja: on 27 October of this year CREDHOS was declared a military target after publicly denouncing the authorities’ lack of response to escalating violence in Barrancabermeja.[2] CREDHOS also called for answers relative to alleged ties between state authorities and the Gaitan Self-defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) paramilitary group.[3]

Camilo Ayala, lawyer of CREDHOS, intervenes before the JEP (SRVR) in the delivery of the first report on April 20, 2018 in Barrancabermeja.

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“Bring them back alive, because they were taken alive”

The struggle of women in search of their loved ones, victims of enforced disappearance

So many years have gone by since my son was disappeared. Although time goes by, months and years, I won’t stop searching for him or the truth about what happened. Those of us mothers who search for our disappeared loved ones, we don’t see obstacles, we don’t hear discouraging voices; we are strong women with our eyes set on the horizon, searching for those who were taken from us; we are thousands of mothers searching for truth, a body to cry over, and more than anything… that this doesn’t happen again”.

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“We Returned and Here We Are: We Are Genesis”

Operations Genesis and Cacarica: In the face of terror, a resistance story

The Bajo Atrato region, in northeastern Colombian, has been particularly hard hit by violence and the armed conflict. According to the Victims Unit, the registry for this area includes close to 429,820 victims of forced displacement, dispossession, selective murders, and other victimizing acts.[1] One of the cruelest events that marked forever the history of the Atrato River’s Afro-Colombian communities occurred in the Cacarica river basin. Between the 24 and 27 of February 1997, Operation Genesis was executed. It was an offensive led by General Rito Alejo del Río, then commander of the Army’s 17th Brigade, in coordination with the United Self-defense Forces of Colombia (Elmer Cárdenas Bloc) paramilitary group, and under the pretext of taking back control from the FARC-EP guerrillas.[2] In parallel and through joint operations with  Military Troops,[3] the paramilitary group called the Peasant Self-defense Forces of Córdoba and Urabá (ACCU), initiated Operation Cacarica, crossing the Atrato River until they invaded the Salaquí, Truandó, and Perancho river basins.[4]


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The massacre that transformed the Peace Community for ever

On the 21 February 2005, the fields of Mulatos and La Resbalosa in Antioquia were the scene of a horrific crime which once again targetted the local population. The rural division is an area located around five hours from the Peace Community’s main village, la Holandita. Eight people, of whom four were minors, were killed, dismembered and buried in a mass grave. Among the eight victims, seven were members of the Peace Community: Luis Eduardo Guerra, historical leader and founder of the Community, Bellanira Areiza, his partner and Deiner Andrés Guerra, his 11 year old son; Alfonso Bolívar Tuberquia Graciano, the coordinator of the Humanitarian Zone of La Resbalosa, Sandra Milena Muñoz Posso, his wife and Natalia and Santiago, their two children aged 5 years and 20 months.

The massacre was carried out by a commando of around 60 paramilitaries from the Heroes de Tolová Bloc of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) alongside soldiers attached to the Army’s XVII Brigade[1]. These events, which deeply marked the path of resistance of the Peace Community, exposed the viciousness of a war that, rather than combating those who had taken up arms, was waged against small farmers and peasants who were striving towards peace in the midst of so much violence. The militaristic actions against the Peace Community were not new, nor would they cease after the massacre. According to Brígida González, founder and historical leader of the Community, with that massacre they wanted to reaffirm, “once again, that there should be no social organizations” [2].

Brígida Gonzáles, who in addition to being a leader is an artist recognized with the Award for ‘Creativity of Women in Rural Areas’ by the Women’s World Summit Foundation, painted this story, which is now in the National Museum of Bogotá. Her objective through her art is to never forget and to try heal what happened.

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Between hope and hopelessness: commemoration as dignified presence

On 8th July 2021, PBI accompanied the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó in the commemoration of the massacre of La Unión.  As every year, the Community honoured the memory of its victims, tended to the memorial and reaffirmed its commitment to  its resistance in the territory.  The ceremony took place despite acts of intimidation perpetrated by a group of people drinking liquor and playing loud music.  In the face of this attempt to silence them and in the midst of anguish and pain, the members of the community made memories in order to continue building a dignified present and the peace they deserve.

21 years ago, PBI also accompanied the families of the victims in the village of La Union.  The day before, on July 8th, 2000, members of the Peace Community, Rigoberto Guzman, Elodino Rivera, Diofanor Correa, Humberto Sepulveda, Jaime Guzman and Pedro Zapata were assassinated in the village by paramilitaries.  This massacre took place three years after the creation of the Peace Community and was aimed at destroying an important organisational site for the process.  According to Father Javier Giraldo, who has accompanied the community from its beginnings, this massacre was not the product of confrontations in the midst of the armed conflict, nor was it a war crime.  This massacre was planned and carried out with a single and indisputable objective: to wipe out the Peace Community.1

According to the testimonies narrated by Father Javier, around 20 hooded men entered the village, entering first through the Missionary Sisters to cut the telephone.  At that moment, a helicopter from the XVII Brigade flew over the village.  Some of the villagers managed to flee, while others remained in the village.  The hooded men summoned all the villagers, asking them for the whereabouts of the leaders, while separating the women and children from the men.  They then began to shoot at the men, sparing the life of only one of them on the grounds that he was very young.  They threatened the community, giving them 20 days to leave the area.  On leaving the hamlet, they set fire to the community house where there was a public telephone.  As a result of this event, 63 families from the hamlet of La Unión and inhabitants of Arenas Altas were forcibly displaced.

Father Javier Giraldo adds: “After the massacre in La Unión, some government officials came with an energetic attitude, assuring us that they were going to take action immediately. They were going to create a government commission, but this promise never materialised. As a result, people in the Community quickly lost faith”.2

The sole survivor of the massacre remembers that day as if it were yesterday.  It seems as if time has stood still, the dismay at the lack of response and the hopelessness is still palpable. Injustice and impunity were present not only on 8th July 2000, but also in 2021 when the ceremony was not respected and was even mocked by the people on the pavement.

Today, more than twenty years after its creation, violence against the Peace Community has not diminished.  In 2018, 320 people were murdered, countless threats, torture, forced displacement, sexual outrages, looting and armed robbery perpetrated were registered by all the armed actors present in the area for decades: guerrillas, paramilitaries and the National Army.  Because of these acts of violence against them, the community no longer believes in the state’s will to protect them.3

Commemoration is a way of moving forward despite the threats that continue against them.  The members of the Peace Community focus their energies on the memory of their martyrs, remembering with gratitude the gift of life and presence of their assassinated leaders as well as the people who have accompanied them and who are no longer with them, such as Eduar Lanchero.

They speak of “energising memory”.  That same strength we feel in remembering people like Liza Smith, who left us in February this year.  She was hugely committed to peace and social justice and spent many years with PBI and other organisations, accompanying communities in resistance, human rights defenders.  In her writing “The practice of no success”, published in 2016, Liza questions the trap of hope and the difficulties of continuing to struggle when longed-for changes fade as we move forward.  For her, one response is to step out of the binary of hope and hopelessness and seek that broad territory of moral integrity.  One could also refer to the dignity of the present, a space of freedom where we can agitate for dignified everyday action.4

The Peace Community of San José de Apartado is the materialisation of this reflection because it teaches us the value of shared time, the joy of resistance in its hymn, the genuineness of a conversation and the dedication and solidarity within its fabric. It is an example of the power of social bonds, of community.  In the Community the humane struggle for life that reaffirms itself in a dignified present is embodied.  PBI will stand by the Community in this dignified struggle until they have security guarantees and the life they long for and deserve.

  1. J. Giraldo Moreno, “Denuncia sobre San José de Apartadó”, Desde los márgenes: página oficial de Javier Giraldo Moreno, S. J., Noviembre 2003
  2.  J. Giraldo Moreno, “Denuncia sobre San José de Apartadó”, Desde los márgenes: página oficial de Javier Giraldo Moreno, S. J., Noviembre 2003
  3. J. Giraldo Moreno, “Ataques a la Comunidad de San José de Apartadó durante el gobierno del presidente Iván Duque”, Desde los margenes: pagina oficial de Javier Giraldo Moreno, S. J.
  4. L. Smith, “La práctica de ningún éxito”, Arrow Developer, Septiembre 2016