Report of the Fifth Visit of the Ethic Commission to Colombia Exhuming the Memory of Graves

Ethic Commission to Colombia

auf Initiative der Bewegung der Opfer von Verbrechen des Staates (MOVICE) hat sich die Ethikkommission gebildet. Sie besteht aus Mitgliedern verschiedener Länder, die sich mit den Berichten von Opfern beschäftigen und damit zur Aufklärung der Wahrheit beitragen

From October 31 to November 7, 2008, six members of the Ethic Truth Commission came on the Commission s fifth visit Colombia. The aims was to exhume the memory held in mass graves and support the rights of the families of people who were forcibly disappeared to search for and exhume their loved ones, and bury them with dignity.

Commission members Mirta Acuña de Baravelle (Argentina), Libertad Sánchez (Spain), Vicenta Font (Spain), Mary Bricker Jenkins (USA), Steven Nathan Haymes (USA) and François Houtart (Belgium) visited communities and families of victims of multiple crimes in the departments of Sucre, Chocó, Antioquia and Putumayo. Their aim was to safeguard and honor memory, given the fact that .the Colombian state provides no democratic guarantees for the victims, their families and witnesses.

We gathered a total of 22 confidential testimonies and 35 public testimonies; we received 17 objects for the Houses of Memory outside Colombia and took part in 11 ceremonies honoring the victims of forced disappearances, extrajudicial executions and many other crimes such as killings, torture, sexual violence, aerial bombardment.

We visited cemeteries that had been profaned and sites where people who had been forcibly disappeared might be buried. In a public ceremony we were also presented with the Preliminary Report on Damage Caused by Forced Displacement in Communities of the Bajo Atrato (Chocó) and Dabeiba (Antioquia).

We met members of the Movement of the Victims of State Crime (MOVICE), the international aid agencies that support it, and during the Minga organized by indigenous peoples and social and community organizations, we interviewed a delegate of the Colombian National Organization of Indigenous Peoples (ONIC), who explained to us the reason for the Minga and the repressive response of the part of the government.

Visit to Sucre

The second visit to Sucre by Commission members Mirta Acuña de Baravalle and Libertad Sánchez lasted from November 1 to 3. We took part in various activities in San Onofre and Ovejas, including a tour of La Alemania farm, hearing testimonies, visiting three sites where acts of violence had occurred, documenting graves, and sharing with members of this community their stories and symbolic acts. We also shared the experiences, perceptions, feelings, concerns and dreams of people who had suffered from violence in Ovejas.

We received five confidential testimonies (2 men, 2 women, 1 young person) and, in addition, several people gave a collective account of their experiences, of what happened, and what they hope will happen now.

In these testimonies, people told of the events that produced multiple forced displacements in both San Onofre and Ovejas, killings by the paramilitary block Montes de Maria (some in uniform and some in civilian clothes but all part of this same group), killings carried out by or in collusion with the Colombian army and police, torture, beatings, threats, attempted murder, false accusations of being insurgents, forced disappearances, and cases of sexual violence.

Victims told us that they used women as slaves, making them clean the houses and do all the chores, & one Friday they abducted a woman called Balzudi (from Berruga), they raped her, sewed up her mouth and her& (the witness pointed to her genitals) with barbed wire. (Testimony from La Alemania farm)

Our visit confirmed the destruction, both in terms of material goods and in human lives.

San Onofre La Alemania farm was turned into a paramilitary torture centre

La Alemania farm was land given to peasant farmers by INCODER (INCORA) in 1997. Shortly afterwards, a group of paramilitaries arrived and stole 600 head of cattle from them, with the collusion of the Colombian army, police, and several mayors of surrounding towns. This deprived the farmers of their livelihood. The paramilitaries then committed 7 murders and forcibly disappeared 2 other people.

The farm became a paramilitary camp and torture centre commanded by Rodrigo Mercado Peludo, alias Cadena . Over a period of months, all the inhabitants of the farm were forcibly displaced.

Because they were displaced, the former inhabitants could not pay the loans incurred on the farm, and risk losing it because of arrears in payment. Many of the farm´s co-owners were forced to flee to nearby regions of Sucre, the Caribbean coast, or into exile in Venezuela. This not only destroyed their close family ties but also their livelihoods.

Despite everything that has happened to them, only six people out of a group of over forty, have been given displaced person status. The rest, although their experience during the events was the same, have not managed to get recognition from the Colombian government. The inhabitants of La Alemania are asking that the farm not be put impounded, that their special situation be recognized, and that the events leading up to their forced displacement should not go unpunished.

Graves and exhumations failure to respect the rights of the families

On the tour of the farm we found several sites that could contain graves. Six graves had been excavated by the line of the fence, but there was no way of telling if there had been any bodies there, or who they were. We did have information, however, that the Attorney General´s office had found two graves with four bodies, that bodies had been tipped into a well, and also thrown behind a house that the owner wants to return to and reconstruct.

It is also known that there are other graves on the farm. These must be found, studied, and exhumed with dignity so that the bodies can be handed over to their families, in accordance with international protocols pertaining to these procedures, respecting the culture of the victims and their families, and without destroying any of the evidence that could lead to those responsible for these crimes being brought to justice.

We found the opposite to be true; the Attorney General s office totally disregards the rights of the families. At no time did it inform the legal owners that it was entering the farm to search for and/or exhume graves, thereby disregarding the rights of the families of the victims to take part in the search process, despite the fact that co-owners of La Alemania farm are among the disappeared.

In addition, the paramilitaries, even those that are now in jail, are still intimidating the families that are searching for their loved ones. They threaten that the members of their group who are still not in custody will carry out their orders if any type of denunciation is made. This demonstrates the level of impunity and disregard for justice in Colombia.

The Attorney General s office has no contact with the victims´ families, they are totally unprotected. The lack of rigorous investigation prevents any exhumed bodies being identified and makes it impossible for families to recover their loved ones. Because the families do not know what stage (if any) the Attorney General s office investigations are at, they have no way of knowing if any of the bodies have been found. They are concerned that remains may be kept in boxes as Persons Unknown, with the possibility that these may then be destroyed, as apparently has gone on, and is still going on, in other places.

To all this uncertainty, is added the fact that there is apparently a civilian searching for graves at La Alemania , in a place where maize is being sown (the name of this person is not known). The concern here is that the bodies or other evidence may possibly be destroyed or hidden.

Many of La Alemania´s co-owners see a return to the farm as the only way of giving their life a dignified meaning again, that is, returning to their land and farming it for a living. They are also determined to carry on with the search for truth and justice for their loved ones, families and/or neighbors.

Ovejas: Peasant farmers´ leaders are still being persecuted

In Ovejas, we heard testimonies of the continued persecution of peasant farmers´ leaders and their families, victims of killings and forced disappearances by the paramilitary groups and/or members of the Colombian army and police. As a result they have been displaced several times, unable to find a place where they are safe from false accusations and unsubstantiated claims.

The consequences of this persecution, on both individuals and families as a whole, especially on children who had to witness very violent acts, are seen in the stories, expressions and emotions with which they share their experiences with us.

These families also know that despite having denounced the crimes to the authorities, no concrete results have come out of the investigations, and so far the crimes have still gone unpunished.

A Legitimate Democratic State should:

– Give Displaced Persons´ status to all the members of La Alemania farm, recognizing that they are victims of violence, and that they were displaced by force. Failing to recognize this situation is extremely serious.

– Respect the declaration protecting La Alemania farm under Decree 250 of 2005, preventing the farm from being put up for auction and giving the owners the chance to renegotiate the debt given that they are the victims of socio-political violence and crimes against humanity.

– Carry out searches together with the families of the disappeared, in accordance with all the international protocols pertaining to exhumations and giving the appropriate psychosocial support to the victims. It goes without saying that the Colombian state should be listening to the victims and involving them at all stages of the exhumation process.

– Locate, mark and protect any graves there might be in La Alemania , so that the owners do not destroy any existing evidence in the process of cultivating their fields or grazing their cattle.

Ethic Commission Visit to Curvaradó, Bajo Atrato, Chocó

Commission members Mary Bricker-Jenkins and Viventa Font Gregori went to Curvaradó from November 1 to 3. They visited the Humanitarian Zones of Andalucía, and the communities of Caño Manso and Camelias. Also present were representatives of the communities of El Tesoro, No Hay Como Dios and Caracolí from Curvaradó, from the Nueva Esperanza Humanitarian Zone and from Jiguamiandó. They came to share their experiences of forced displacement, the methods used to displace them, and the support received from the Ethic Commission in demanding their rights.

Since this is the fifth visit to Jiguamiandó and Curvaradó, we won´t repeat details of the displacement and usurpation of lands set out in previous reports.

Over the two days we heard 6 confidential testimonies (4 men and 2 women), including 4 cases of forced disappearance. We also heard collective testimonies from 8 communities, and witnesses of the recent assassination of community leader Walberto Hoyos in Caño Manso. We went with the communities to two cemeteries that had been profaned and helped search for the remains of a disappeared family member in Camelias.

Andalucía: Cemetery profaned to cultivate oil palm

Members of the Andalucía Humanitarian Zone showed us the remains of what used to be their cemetery; the first Christian burial had been in 1963. When the population was forcibly displaced by the arrival of the palm oil industry, and bulldozers dug up the land to plant palm trees, the cemetery was profaned. Even in 2008 we could still see human bones, clothing of the dead, the remains of tombstones and crosses, among the palms. We could also see tombs that were still intact a meter and a half down in drainage ditches that have split in two the original 160 square meters of the cemetery.

Caño Manso: Profaned cemetery turned into grazing land for cattle and a rubbish dump. Recent Assasination of their leader Walberto Hoyos

When the Caño Manso community returned to their lands on August 5, 2007, they found their lands were being used by industrial cattle ranchers. The majority of their houses had been burned and other houses built in their place for workers who had brought in from other regions. They showed us how the cattle industry had profaned their cemetery. When they came back, this sacred space had still been part of the pastures and the community had fenced it off, but the cattle ranchers broke the fences and the cemetery has now been turned into a dump for bottles, plastic stuff and other rubbish.

The community is very affected by the death of Walberto Hoyos, one of their leaders killed by paramilitaries. We were told that on October 14, 2008, three men arrived on two motorbikes; they hid them and continued on foot to the bridge, went into the stables and talked to the administrator, Pablo, about the cattle business. They talked on a mobile phone and two of them went inside, walked over to where Walberto was, lifted their ponchos, took out their guns and shot him. Five minutes later, they came back, took Walberto´s mobile phone and one belonging to the community, killed a little pig, and pumped more shots into Walberto´s body.

They told us that the administrator of this ranching business is Luis Felipe Molano, Uncle , a retired army colonel, who they understand works for Teresa Castaño or Sister Teresa Gómez, Carlos Castaño´s sister.

The Caño Manso community has formally denounced the assassination to the Attorney General s office because they don t trust the police. When the body was examined, present were two policemen, two soldiers and two other men in civilian clothes who didn t identify themselves, all wanting information about Walberto´s activities. Walberto was a witness to the assassination of Orlando Valencia, another community leader. Walberto´s death has affected the whole community and increased the fear and insecurity. The presence in their midst, at less then 200 meters, of soldiers and unknown civilians means that they are under constant surveillance.

Camelias: a new return and the search for disappeared family members

The community of the Camelias Humanitarian Zone returned barely three months ago. They described the events leading to their forced displacement between 1997 and 1998, how they lost their cattle, their houses, their school, how they washed without soap and ate without salt. The explained how they fled to various places nearby, the time they lived out in the fields, how they were bombed by the army, how some of their children died because they couldn t get out for medical attention and how they themselves fell ill. One of the members mentioned the long time he d spent without sleeping.

In this same community, we also heard testimonies of women being raped by paramilitaries. In one instance, they tied up a woman s son, tied her up, then they all raped her in front of her son, all the time asking him if he was enjoying it. Then they killed her and the boy. Another 25-year old girl was raped by all the paramilitaries too: they killed her, opened her channel, and cut off her legs. Another girl survived having witnessed it all.

Witnesses to the assassinations of Isaac Tuberquia and Julio Mendoza asked the members of the Commission to go with them and help identify where the bodies might be. We went to their farm and found the possible whereabouts of the grave. We marked the land so that in the future a forensic anthropologist could recover the bodies and identify them. The victims´ son and grandson were present; they want the exhumation to be done quickly so they can exercise their right to bury them with dignity.

We can sum up our visit to Curvaradó by the following observations:

1. Forced Displacement: In 1997, the members of these communities were forced off their land by the violent actions of the Colombian army and its paramilitary groups. The aim of displacing these communities and of the many other human rights violations committed against them, such as assassinations, massacres, torture, sexual violence, extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, has been to get them off their land. The damage caused to these Afro-Colombian communities has affected them on an individual, family and collective level. These are not recognized by the Colombian legal framework and the codes of criminal procedure. Therefore, what we need is an investigation that includes crimes against humanity of an ethnic group.

2. Illegal appropriation of land: The land has been illegally appropriated by third parties landowners – who have converted land that was used collectively for subsistence farming into land used for individual private interests and for agribusinesses (palm oil production, ranching, and logging.) However, this appropriation of land also heralds a process of militarization of the Jiguamiandó region to protect the extraction of minerals.

3. Profanation of sacred places: This illegal appropriation of land includes the profanation of sacred places. We saw cemeteries abandoned, excavated, and used as rubbish dumps, with human remains profaned.

4. Violence committed by the State and the continued existence of paramilitary groups: Although the government insists that the paramilitary groups have been demobilized, many of their units remain active under new names and with different operational methods, and their violence continues unabated to this day, often in collusion with the army and those responsible for appropriating the land illegally.

5. Impunity and persecution of victims and witnesses: Of the over 140 assassinations and the 11 forced displacements of communities that have been brought before the Attorney General´s office, only one person has been found guilty and sentenced to 27 years. The latter was the case of community leader Orlando Valencia when the State responded to national and international pressure to clarify this assassination. All the other crimes have been committed with absolutely impunity, despite the fact that the communities of Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó have been granted protective measures by the Interamerican Court of Human Rights (CIDH) which demand that the government investigates, brings to trial and sanctions the crimes perpetrated against communities who are under this protection.

All this suggests that there exists a system of absolute impunity which protects the material and intellectual authors of this permissive violence and conceals the truth about those, responsible for committing these crimes.

Worse still, there exists judicial persecution of the members of the communities, especially their leaders and witnesses, who are falsely accused of supporting the guerrillas or even of leading the insurgency. We have found no evidence whatsoever of this support. The communities reject any type of violence, which is why they created the Humanitarian Zones: to demand that all the actors in the armed conflict respect their civilian status and not involve them in any type of armed action.

This attitude on behalf of the army and police does not inspire confidence. All that can be expected from them is further deception, false accusations, deaths, and illegal judicial processes.

A Legitimate Democratic State should:

– Demonstrate effective results in the judicial proceedings against the companies and individuals responsible for the illegal appropriation of the lands of the Afro-Colombian communities of Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó and open legal proceedings against other individuals for the illegal usurpation of lands.

– Effect the return of the illegally occupied lands as per INCODER resolutions 2159 of August 24, 2007, and 2424 of September 10, 2007, Notary and Registry Superintendence and Interior Ministry resolutions 6286, 6523, 6525, and 6526 of September, 2007, as well as the Interior Ministry s instructions to the oil palm companies concerning the restitution of lands of November 24, 2008.

– Make sure the restitution of land allows the communities to decide what to do with the oil palms that are already planted, and in the case of extensive ranching the communities should be allowed to implement their own initiatives.

– Make sure conditions are created to restore the biodiversity.

– Stop State violence against the communities, including making sure the demobilization of paramilitaries is effective.
– Reject the slurs and false accusations against community leaders and members that assume support for the guerrilla groups. Close any judicial proceedings brought against those people and guarantee them the basic right to due process.

– Abolish impunity as a measure of reparation and guarantee that it does not happen again.

– Guarantee to protect cemeteries and other burial places from being profaned.

– Discuss and respect the notion of collective damage in new laws to be proposed by Congress and listen to the victims of the Afro-Colombian communities.
Refrain from introducing models of development, agribusiness, or extractive and infrastructure enterprises that do not recognize community identity.

Ethic Commission Visit to Antioquia

The Hamlet of La Esperanza in the Oriente Antioqueño and the Comuna Trece in Medellín

Commission members Mirta Acuña de Baravalle, Libertad Sanchez, Mary Bricker Jenkins and Vicenta Font i Gregori accompanied the victims of human rights violations in Antioquia from the November 3 to 5. This was the first time the Ethic Commission had been in these areas. We concentrated on the acts of commemoration for the forced disappearances in the hamlet of La Esperanza in the Oriente Antioqueño and the Comuna 13 in Medellín.

We heard 4 confidential testimonies (3 women, 1 young man) about forced disappearances, the impact of them at individual, family and community level, as well as actions taken to seek truth and justice. We were given many documents and objects for the House of Memories.

Hamlet of La Esperanza: years of searching and memory but impunity still reigns

The ceremonies in the hamlet of La Esperanza started in the morning and went on to mid afternoon. They began in the chapel on the main road, in which the community has placed a plaque commemorating the 17 victims of forced disappearance by paramilitary groups of Ramón Izaza´s Bloque Magdalena Medio , and soldiers of the 14th Battalion, which occurred between June and December, 1996.

In the chapel we saw a video about the disappearances. Then we walked towards the bridge, stopping to hear testimonies from family member of the disappeared and symbolic acts such as songs, poems, etc. A particularly meaningful moment was when we threw little boats into the river in memory of the disappeared whose bodies were thrown in the river.

The commemoration continued after our meal with more activities, one of which was presenting the Ethic Commission with objects belonging to the victims as a legacy of their memory.

Throughout the day, we had conversations with organizations of victims´ families and heard 4 confidential testimonies of families from the hamlet of La Esperanza. Despite all their efforts, testimonies, and pressure from family members, their search for justice has met a blank wall. The victims still have not all been identified, those materially and intellectually responsible for the forced disappearances have still not all been identified, let alone brought to trial, due to the obstruction of the criminal proceedings brought by the Attorney General s office, the difficulty of accessing technical evidence, several changes in prosecutors, the discrediting of the evidence of family members and low ranking military personnel that prove the links between the army and the paramilitaries of the Magdalena Medio and the forced disappearances in La Esperanza.

Comuna 13: mass graves in the middle of the city of Medellín

On a football field in Comuna 13, we attended an act of commemoration for the victims of the forced disappearances, hearing public testimonies from the families. They made special reference to the military operations in the hillside communities during 2002 and 2003 to regain control of Comuna 13 by mass arbitrary arrests, forced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, forced displacements, and destruction of goods.

We were told on several occasions about the existence of 5 mass graves in Comuna 13, and especially the one in the rubbish dump where there is concern that the authorities want to carry out exhumations by using heavy machinery.

Family members and people who came to show solidarity with them lit a candle for each disappeared victim, a long list of over 50 names, and people sang hymns in commemoration.

We can sum up our visit to La Esperanza and Medellín by the following observations:

The events that happened in both places have been denounced and matters are now in the hands of the courts. However, although important and exhaustive legal work has been done, in most of the cases no legal conclusion has been reached and those responsible for the crimes have not been sentenced.

We found that the victims were well organized and well supported by a solidarity network outside the region. The ceremonies we attended were full of symbolism, expressing memory and pain, and allowed people to feel close to the victims and empathies with their plight. The ceremonies helped family members feel that they were supported.

We were told that some of the victims didn t want to talk or denounce the disappearance of family members. This was especially true in Comuna 13. It was obvious that a lot of people are afraid to explain what happened given the fact that those who do denounce are not guaranteed protection because the paramilitaries still control the Comuna. Some people would only give their testimonies to the Ethic Commission because its members are not Colombian.

As members of the Ethic Commission we take on board the demands and petitions of the organizations in the Comuna 13 because a Legitimate Democratic State should:

– Guarantee the rights of the victims to know what happened to their family members, recover the bodies of their loved ones and give them a dignified burial.

– See that justice is done, that the general high level of impunity does not apply to these events, and those responsible for the crimes go to jail.

– Exhume the 5 mass graves that the victims have identified in Comuna 13, together with the families and people accompanying them, in accordance with the international protocols pertaining to exhumations, and carried out by the appropriate experts and equipment rather than done haphazardly.

– Turn the grave in the rubbish dump into a monument honoring the memory of those who were forcibly disappeared, once the bodies have been recovered and returned to their families.

Visit of the Ethic Commission to Putumayo

International Ethic Commission members Stephen Haymes and François Houtard visited the municipalities of Puerto Asís and San Isidro from the 1st to 7th November. Puerto Asís and San Isidro are in the southernmost part of the department of Putumayo.

This was the Ethic Commission s first visit to peasant farmer, indigenous and mestizo communities in Putumayo.

We shared experiences, memories and testimonies in Puerto Asís, San Isidro and the surrounding areas, visited the Puerto Asís cemetery, and collected personal testimonies (6 women, 1 man) in addition to the documented public testimonies of 31 assassinations. We also attended the inauguration of a biodiversity zone intended to respect and protect the region s biodiversity.

San Isidro: Silent violence in the middle of militarization and mega projects

The aim of the visit was to witness, document and support the decision of the communities in San Isidro to break their silence about the serious human rights violations and crimes against humanity they have suffered and are still suffering at the hands of the Colombian armed forces and paramilitary groups.

The Commission saw how the communities, through symbolic acts (religious procession to commemorate murdered community leaders, a Catholic mass in memory of the dead, a play performed by young people recreating the history of life in the communities, a performance of traditional indigenous music and ceremonial rituals honoring nature, food, life and communal memory) recuperate the memory of the violence and terror wrought by armed groups and revive the communities´ methods of resisting the Colombian State s coercive practices regarding use of the land. We saw the San Isidro communities´ expression of their spiritual and ecological relationship with the land.

These activities demonstrated a direct link between the monoculture economy promoted by the Colombian government, the destructive impact of this type of economy on the social life of the communities, and the violence directed at these communities by the State. The testimonies showed that these communities suffer violent attacks because they advocate an alternative model of food production that respects and maintains their social environment.

The testimonies and documentation were presented by families who witnessed the assassinations and by the victims who survived. Some of the witnesses and victims chose to make public statements, while others would only do it in private.

The Commission documented a total of thirty one assassinations and recorded four testimonies. An inspection and synopsis of the testimonies and official documents show the following:

The killings occurred between 1996 and 2007 and were committed, in the main, by the Colombian army and paramilitary groups, and in some cases, like that of Father.Alcides Castrillón, by the guerrillas.

The majority of killings were executions of non combatant civilians, as were the forced disappearances.

A very large majority of the deaths from extrajudicial killings are of people who have not been identified. Identifying the victims is very difficult due to the fact that most are thrown into the rivers.

The testimony of a fisherman, who was detained, threatened with torture, death and disappearance, stated that dozens of family acquaintances and friends were killed and thrown into the river. For months, he saw corpses floating down the river every single day, many of them mutilated. In one day alone, he saw sixteen corpses

The victim also said that if the members of the community tried to retrieve the corpses floating in the river, they were threatened with the same fate.

The victims were accused of being members of the guerrilla and, in some cases, the victims´ clothes were replaced by guerrilla uniforms, and guns were placed on the corpses.

The most common occurrence was that the victims were detained, threatened, killed and disappeared on their way from their communities to Puerto Asís. Things like rubber boots and indigenous features are used to identify people from rural areas as being guerrillas.

The testimony of one victim also states that when he was hospitalized in the San Francisco hospital in Puerto Asís following a serious accident, a hospital official who belonged to a paramilitary group accused him of being a guerrilla and tried to force hospital employees to kill him. The victim also knew of other cases in which hospital employees refused to attend to people and they died of illnesses, injuries, or were killed during operations.

The largest number of victims of extra judicial killings and forced disappearances are community leaders. Many of the leaders of the San Isidro community who were killed and disappeared were active members and leaders of ACADIS, a peasant farmer association engaged in the development of southern Putumayo.

Puerto Asís:

Evidence of Army and paramilitary violence is also seen in the Puerto Asís cemetery. When the Ethic Commission visited it, we counted up to 86 unmarked graves. A father who was there visiting the grave of his son, killed by paramilitaries, told us that every 3 to 5 years the graves are emptied and the bones buried in common graves.

On our arrival in Puerto Asís we had observed a heavy military presence at the airport and the area around it. The presence of the army created an atmosphere in which arriving passengers stayed silent, spoke very quietly, looked nobody in the eye, neither each other, nor the police, nor the soldiers. This silence demonstrated the fear and intimidation that the militarization of daily life spreads in the Putumayo region.

However, while we went round Puerto Asís collecting testimonies, members of the Commission were also struck by how normal daily life seemed and anyone not from the town might go away with the impression that it and the rural areas were not militarized. This suggests that violent (para-)military actions in Puerto Asís take place with the tacit acquiescence of the municipality s private and public institutions.

On the other hand, the Commission members attended a ceremony that dignified an alternative way of life, an act of resistance, in which peasant families declared their land a zone of biodiversity, in an attempt to protect the land and its biodiversity. This idea had come out of an interchange of experiences with communities in the Lower Atrato (Chocó region). Through this biodiversity zone they hope to resist development (sic) through the cultivation of monocrops and defend their life, culture and identity as independent peasant farmers.

In Puerto Asís we heard a testimony that recounted how more than 50 people had been killed inside the hospital on the orders from the paramilitaries.

We came to the following conclusions from visiting Putumayo:

1. The Colombian State and its armed actors are responsible for the situation of systematic violence.

2. The majority of the killings of peasant farmers and indigenous people, many of them community leaders, have been carried out by the paramilitaries, and the Colombian army and police, under the pretext of prosecuting the war against FARC guerrillas.

Some testimonies indicated that Father Alcides Castrillón was killed by the FARC EP.

The Army and paramilitary s preferred method of killing are extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances. Many of the bodies are thrown in nearby rivers, and this often makes it impossible to find and identify them.

3. Witnesses and victims still feel fear and terror. They also worry that a friend, family, or a member of the community, or even themselves, may soon be declared a military objective and assassinated by the paramilitaries. They are afraid they ll be killed when they go to Puerto Asís and use local institutions or facilities (like the hospital or markets).

4. Paramilitary terror and violence seems to be less in evidence, i.e. more hidden, in the municipality of San Isidro. But it operates every day in both local government and private institutions, such as the hospital, businesses and the police. This shows a systematic tactic on the part of the paramilitaries to keep controlling peasant farmer communities in San Isidro through more discreet forms of terror and fear. Some local businessmen provide finance to support the institutionalization of the paramilitary structures in the municipality.

5. Peasants and communities which arrived 30 years ago to Putumayo suffered forced displacement because of these new economic activities. Testimonies stress the relationship between the extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances carried out by the Army and the paramilitaries and the economic projects of the Colombian State and the multinationals.

6. The large numbers of Colombian army and police personnel in the region suggest a strong relationship between the Colombian government and the multinationals. The military presence would seem to be there to protect the economic interests of the government and the multinationals.

7. The struggle against the guerrilla is used as an excuse to commit crimes against the civil population. Peasants and communities are accused of terrorism.

8. The government s program of aerial spraying of coca plants is used indiscriminately to stimulate economic dependency, since it destroys the alternative local economies of the peasant farmer and indigenous communities.

A Legitimate Democratic State should:

– Investigate, bring to trial and sanction the regular army soldiers and the paramilitaries responsible for the massive and systematic extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances in Putumayo, as crimes against humanity leading to the consolidation of a specific social and governmental model.

– Create and implement a plan for finding the people who have disappeared and the whereabouts and protection of their graves in order to accelerate the search and exhumation procedures together with family members and victims‘ organizations, in accordance with the appropriate international protocols.

– Guarantee the protection of the civilian population, especially the victims and witnesses of human rights violations, so that the many crimes that have so far not come to light because of fear of and lack of trust in the State can be documented, denounced, and sanctioned.

– Investigate, bring to trial and sanction those responsible for the political and financial links between local institutions and businesses and paramilitary groups.

– Demilitarize everyday life by respecting International Humanitarian Law and concentrating financial resources on social projects to combat poverty. This demilitarization will decrease the high level of impunity, and lead to a proper efficient investigation of the San Francisco de Asís Hospital between 1998 and 2005.

– Stop aerial spraying of coca plants and use new mechanisms to support local alternative economic projects, like the biodiversity zones and manual substitution of crops.

Conclusion of the Fifth Visit to Colombia

On November 6, we were presented with the Preliminary Report on Damage Caused by Forced Displacements in Communities in the Bajo Atrato (Chocó) and Dabeiba (Antioquia) in a simple but heartfelt ceremony with representatives of the communities. We heard words of pain and hope, and shared the reality of these communities´ lives through poetry and song.

A young man from Dabeiba who had experienced the violence since he was two years old and suffered the consequences, explained how important it was for them to present us wit this report because it not only describes the damage the violence has wreaked on the communities but it is also part of their historic memory, customs and ancestral beliefs. They know that the Ethic Commission will safeguard and honor that memory and share with people in other countries what they have gone through, and are still going through. They hope that this report will serve as a basis so that one day they will see justice done.

This information about the damage caused by violence can form the basis of the demand for justice and reparation upon which it is possible to build true democracy.

As members of the Fifth Visit of the Ethic Commission for Truth to Colombia, we conclude from what we have heard from victims and their family in several different places that:

Common to all the regions visited is the continued presence of paramilitary groups as part of a concrete strategy tolerated by the State. Paramilitarism persists alongside impunity for the crimes it has committed. It is obvious to us that there has not been complete reparation, especially when it comes to land that should be returned, that there is mistrust of the State and its institutions, lack of protection for the victims and/or witnesses, persistent fear on behalf of the victims hand in hand with the conviction that the truth needs to be told, that there is a need for ceremonies honoring the memory of loved ones, and that national and international accompaniment of the victims is very important.

The Justice and Peace process designed by the State to judge paramilitaries is failing in terms of the right of communities to Truth, Justice and Complete Reparation. This is apparent, among other things, by the fact that victims are excluded from the process while everything rests on the accounts given by the victimizers; the minimum sentence for those responsible for crimes against humanity, the extradition of the paramilitary chiefs to the USA that jeopardizes the victims´ right to Truth, Justice and Reparation; the lack of expertise of many public prosecutors when questioning paramilitaries during their spontaneous depositions; the re-victimisation of the victims and/or their families because the paramilitaries continue referring to their crimes as combat kills although in the huge majority of cases they were defenseless civilians; the fact that paramilitary leaders continue to be in the Justice and Peace process even after they have re-offended; the lack of protection for victims; the almost non-existent return of lands and complete reparation, and especially the exclusion of the victims of State crimes from Law 975 that regulates the Justice and Peace process.

Forced disappearances and extrajudicial executions, in many cases with bodies being hidden after the event, have meant that graves and burial places (like rivers) have been discovered all over Colombia. (It is said that the rivers are the biggest cemeteries in Colombia.) All this shows that these crimes are systematically used by the State and the paramilitaries to silence civil society leaders and ordinary people, to terrorize families and communities so that crimes are hidden and go unpunished, causing serious damage and suffering to families, communities and society in general.

Although these crimes are beginning to come to light due to the families´ courage in denouncing them, we are aware that there are still many people who out of fear or distrust of the State have not denounced crimes, and that there are still undocumented cases of forced disappearance.

From the testimonies we collected, it is obvious that the search process is very inefficient, that in the majority of cases the families are not included, nor are their wishes respected. There are no guarantees for families who organize searches for their loved ones themselves, or try to get truth and justice.

We are also very concerned that forced disappearances continue to this day, that there are still a large number of remains that have not been identified, that there are many graves the length and breadth of the country that do not have guaranteed protection, and there is still almost 100% impunity for crimes committed by the State. In our experience as families of the disappeared, we know the importance of international solidarity and we want to support the efforts and demands of the families and communities to get bodies exhumed in accordance with international protocols.

It is crucial that the Colombian authorities stop mass exhumations immediately, and concentrate their efforts on preliminary investigations, collect evidence for investigations and legal sanctions, and include the families and/or victims´ organizations like MOVICE by listening to their needs and proposals and duly informing them throughout the process.

On this fifth visit, we have again heard testimonies about crimes that can clearly be defined as crimes committed by the State. Either by direct or indirect action, the Colombian state has perpetrated, or protected the perpetrators, serious crimes against individuals and whole communities. Action and omission by the State and their agents constitute an attempt to liquidate people, their identity, and their social and cultural structure.

We consider it very important to document and uncover crimes against women, especially those related to sexual violence.

In this context, we are very unhappy that in the current debate on the victims´ bill, the Colombian government again refuses to include the victims of State crimes.

We are impressed by the resistance and strength of the communities we visited. Despite all their suffering, the fear and anxiety all members feel, the possible destruction of their whole way of life, the members of these communities are determined to preserve their memory, reclaim their land, and spread their culture of cooperation and peace. Although they face violence and disdain, several generations are working together to unearth bodies and memory, reclaim and recover their lands, and live together in peace.

Having witnessed this at first hand, we feel duty bound as part of the human family, to continue the search for the truth despite everything that has happened, and protect the people, communities and their land that we have visited.

Accompanying these communities is necessary and indispensable. We need to spread the word at international level about what is happening in these regions and the development of the paramilitary strategy as a weapon of State criminality.

François Houtart, priest, promoter of the World Social Forum, director of Cetri, Belgium
Libertad Sánchez, Association for the Recovery of Historical Member, Mérida, Spain
Mary Bricker-Jenkins, Campaign for Economic Rights of the Poor, USA
Mirta Baravalle, of Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo Línea Fundadora Argentine
Stephen Nathan Haymes, Ph.D. University DePaul, Chicago, USA
Vicenta Font y Gregori, Vice president of the Spanish Episcopal Commission, Espai, Catalonia Ethic Commission to Colombia, Spain