July 23, 2014
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PBI Colombia: Victims do exist in Colombia - social movements in solidarity together

Demonstration by the small farmers of Las Pavas in Bogotá, December 2011

“We are victims without land, bread, justice, or peace. We are millions and we don’t want to become more.”(1) Under this slogan a diverse group of Colombian community and social organisations met on December 14, 2011 in the Plaza de Bolívar in Bogotá. They came together as an expression of solidarity with victims of human rights violations in Colombia, and to protest against recent public statements made by government officials (2) against victims and the human rights organisations that represent them. (3)

Among those present were more than a hundred small-scale farmers from the Las Pavas community in Bolívar. They have been the target of media attacks, accusing them of misrepresenting themselves as victims after Myriam Martínez, the Regional Prosecutor for Cartagena, alleged in November 2011 that there had never been neither displacement nor a paramilitary presence in Las Pavas. (4)

Peace Brigades International was also present at the event, accompanying the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective (CCAJAR), which has also been accused by high-ranking state officials (5) regarding the case of the Mapiripán massacre. (6)

The “Mapiripán Scandal,” as it is known in the media, started after Mariela Contreras, a woman previously  recognised as a victim of the Mapiripán massacre by her lawyers, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACoHR), publically admitted that she was a victim, but not of that massacre. (7)  According to CCAJAR lawyer Alirio Uribe, it is concerned that, before actually investigating the situation, high level Colombian government officials made public statements downplaying the seriousness of the massacre and questioning the legitimacy of Mapiripán victims, CCAJAR, and the Inter-American System of Human Rights. (8) Important international NGOs and human rights experts have openly denounced such attacks. (9)

What happened in Mapiripán?

Mapiripán is a municipality in the Department of Meta that became an important thoroughfare for drug traffickers in the early 1990s. This was due to its strategic position affording easy access to main roads, an airport, and the Guaviare River. As a result, there were fierce battles in the area between paramilitary groups, drug trafficking organisations, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). (10)

On July 12, 1997, one hundred paramilitaries from Urabá (Necoclí and Apartadó) pertaining to the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) landed in San José del Guaviare. They were picked up by the Army and transported to training facilities belonging to the Army’s 2nd Mobile Brigade, without any impediment. (11) With this support, the AUC arrived in Mapiripán on July 15, 1997 by land and by sea, and took control of the town, communications, and government offices. For six days, the paramilitaries restricted the villagers’ movement, and proceeded to detain, torture, execute, and the discard the bodies of many victims.(12)

On September 5, 2003, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) submitted the Mapiripán massacre case to the IACoHR, which ultimately found that the Colombian State had violated the rights to life, personal integrity, and personal freedom of the alleged victims. (13)

The Colombian State recognised its responsibility in the matter in a written statement submitted to the IACoHR on March 4, 2005. In a sentence delivered on September 15, 2005, the IACoHR noted that, “by making this recognition, the State expressly accepts that, although yet to be fully determined, there were approximately 49 victims that were executed or disappeared.” (14)

Given the situation, it is shocking that Mariela Contreras, who had been legally recognised as a victim, would say seven years later that she is a victim, but not of Mapiripán. Alirio Uribe notes: “This is very serious and highly unusual in a case where there have been more than ten national judgments; where there are more than 30 convicted military soldiers and paramilitaries; where there has been an international judgment condemning the Colombian state; and where the State has accepted responsibility. It is not normal that a witness would recant under these circumstances. This has been a huge surprise for everyone: for the Public Prosecutor, for us as lawyers of the victims, and also for the Inter-American Court.”

In the wake of the scandal, the IACoHR ordered a compliance hearing that was held in Costa Rica on November 23, 2011. During the hearing, the State was afforded three months to provide evidence to corroborate its claims, as it did not provide such evidence at the hearing. However, one thing is not in doubt: there was indeed a massacre and there were dozens of victims.

While the hearing was taking place, there was an action in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bogotá in solidarity with CCAJAR’s work. PBI was present and accompanied this event.

These events definitely represent a challenge for social movements in Colombia, for victims, for their representatives, and for the Inter-American System of Human Rights. As a result, communities from Las Pavas and other places, social organisations, and human rights representatives have come together in solidarity and publically affirmed that victims do exist in Colombia. They demand a public apology for statements made by the government that only serve to stigmatise them and increase the vulnerability and risk to their members. (15)

1 “Víctimas de Las Pavas se congregarán en la Plaza de Bolívar,” José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective, 14 December 2011.
2 For example, when referencing the Las Pavas case, the Public Prosecutor stated in a radio interview that, “there was no displacement. Documents exist that prove that a group of people were negotiating the terms of the eviction and were setting 40% of a commercial contract for the land.” “Fiscal: No hubo desplazamiento en Las Pavas” [“Public Prosecutor: ‘There was no displacement in Las Pavas’”] El Espectador, 1 December 2011.
3 “Colombia: Efforts to discredit the human rights Lawyers Collective are making them vulnerable to attacks,” Amnesty International, 22 November 2011.
4 “Los sonados casos de la fiscal que negó que los campesinos de Las Pavas fueran víctimas,” La Silla Vacía, 15 December 2011.
5 Remarks from President Juan Manuel Santos while presenting the book, Superando la Corrupción, by Bertrand de Speville, Colombia’s Presidency, 27 October 2011.
6 “Organizations Across North America Express Support for CCAJAR and the Inter-American Human Rights System,” Latin America Working Group, 21 November 2011.
7 “Fiscalía denuncia falsos muertos en masacre de Mapiripán,” El Tiempo, 26 October 2011.
8 Interview with Alirio Uribe, CCAJAR, Bogotá, December 2011.
9 “ONG norteamericanas y expertos en derechos humanos condenan el ataque de Colombia al Sistema Interamericano,” Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo, 14 December 2011.
10 Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Case of the Mapiripán Massacre v. Colombia, Judgement of 15 September 2005, P.43, Par. 96.23 and 96.24.
11 “According to the Attorney General’s Office, the Colombian Army allowed the airplanes that brought said paramilitaries to land without recording them in the books or any other way, and allowed them to freely board the trucks that awaited the group there, ‘as if it were a military operation, customarily exempted from said control,’” Ibid, Par. 96.31.
12 Ibid. P.45, Par. 96.34, et seq.
13 Ibid. P.1, Par. 1, et seq.
14 Ibid.
15  “Víctimas de las Pavas le exigieron a Santos respeto,” National Movement of Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE), 15 December 2011.

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