Paramilitaries Kill Leader of San José de Apartadó Peace Community Print
Paramilitary gunmen killed Dairo Torres, a leader of the San José de Apartadó Peace Community, on Friday, July 13, shortly after 12 noon, according to the community. Torres was a passenger on one of the jeeps that serve as the only public transport between the city of Apartadó and San José, when it was intercepted by two paramilitaries – the same men who detained the jeep the previous day and made threats against the Peace Community. The community said that gunmen told Torres to get off the jeep, which he did; they told the driver to continue, and then they killed Torres on the spot.

The killing occurred only two minutes from a police checkpoint, where earlier in the day witnesses saw the gunmen sitting and conversing with police.

Torres was a leader of the humanitarian zone of Alto Bonito, a hamlet of San José de Apartadó. He is the fourth San José humanitarian zone leader to be killed in the last 20 months. Humanitarian zones are sites established by the Peace Community where civilians can go in case of combat between the armed groups that are active in the area, and be respected under the norms of international humanitarian law.

The killing occurred just four days after an attack by FARC guerrillas on the police post in the town center of San José de Apartadó, which killed a policeman, Hernán López Cardona, and wounded another policeman. In April 2005, the Peace Community displaced to land a mile from the town center when the police post was installed, precisely because it would make the civilian population a military target for the FARC.

Extensive Colombian media reports of the FARC attack conflated the Peace Community – which has no presence near the police post – with the San José town center where the police are located. La Patria, in a July 12 tribute to the fallen policeman, wrote “San José de Apartadó, [is] a population denominated as a Peace Community. Nevertheless, the guerrillas patrol there and this was demonstrated by the attack.” El Tiempo also stated that the attack took place “in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó.” None of the media reports mentioned that the Peace Community had displaced away from the town center when the police post was established, so as not to live with any armed group.

The day after the attack, according to the community, police told several people in San José that the attack had originated from the Peace Community’s settlement and that it would pay for it. On July 12, according to a community statement, paramilitary gunmen on the Apartadó-San José road identified themselves to public transport passengers as ‘Aguilas Negras’ (Black Eagles), and said “that SOB peace community would begin to pay very dearly.” ‘Aguilas Negras’ is the name used by a paramilitary group newly active in several parts of Colombia.

The Peace Community first announced the establishment of humanitarian zones in Alto Bonito and seven other hamlets in February 2005. Ten days later, two families, including Community leader Luis Eduardo Guerra, were massacred by men whom witnesses said were army soldiers. Army soldiers killed Arlen Salas, coordinator of the Arenas Altas humanitarian zone, in November 2005, in what it said was an accident; soldiers killed his successor, Edilberto Vásquez in January 2006, claiming he was a guerrilla killed in combat. Seven soldiers subsequently have been charged with his murder. Francisco Puertas, another humanitarian zone leader, was killed by a paramilitary gunman on May 13 of this year.

The shameless challenge to Washington’s purported values of human rights could not be more direct. The hundreds of violations, including more than 180 killings, against the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, have been the subject of mandatory protective rulings by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and six collective letters from dozens of Members of Congress to Colombian officials and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. More than $70 million of U.S. military aid was suspended in 2005, in large part as a result of outrage over the massacre in San José in February 2005. Members of Congress have visited the Peace Community. FOR and many other NGOs have focused the attention of thousands of people to urge the Colombian government to put an end to the violence and impunity against this community.

If this is what happens to a community that Colombian and US officials say they are acting to protect, what is the fate of the many communities in Colombian conflict zones that are not the subject of so much human rights concern? After all this, why should the United States continue to support Colombia’s military and police forces when clear collaboration between state and paramilitary forces routinely results in the murder of members of this small and neutral peasant community?

Please take action!

Write an email or fax to the US Department of State, expressing sorrow for the killings of Hernán López Cardona and Dairo Torres, and urging:

* That State Department officials make a public declaration expressing concern about reports of police collaboration in the assassination of Dairo Torres,
* That State Department officials publicly support the establishment and honoring of humanitarian zones in areas of conflict as instruments for upholding the principle in international humanitarian law of protection of civilians from adversaries in armed conflict.

The Fellowship of Reconciliation believes that the United States should suspend assistance to the Colombian National Police until the reported links of its members to paramilitary groups or other illegal armed groups are fully investigated and prosecuted.

Contact:
Jonathan D. Farrar
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Email: FarrarJD2(at)state.gov
Fax: 202-647-5283

Charles S. Shapiro
Deputy Assistant Secretary
Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affiars
Email: ShapiroCS(at)state.gov
Fax: 202-647-0791

Read more about the San Jose de Apartado Peace Community