Protecting San José: Follow-up on combat

Jul 8, 2013 | Human Rights, Impunity and Justice, News, Peace and Nonviolence

Protecting San José: Follow-up on combatBy Gina Spigarelli
Thanks to everyone who participated in our urgent action appeal this Spring in response to combat in La Unión and other dangerous army practices in and near the Peace Community. While fighting is regularly and unnecessarily staged in civilian populated areas around the Peace Community, the combat on April 9 was the first time in several years that a FOR volunteer and Peace Community members were caught in crossfire within their home village of La Union.The event set off a lot of advocacy work for many in Colombia and the United States. Within Colombia,FOR teams carried out multiple efforts to meet with the army on both local and national levels. In the capital of Bogota, we met with embassies as well as with high level government agencies expressing our concern about the Colombian military’s apparent lack of concern for International Humanitarian Law and more particularly the Constitutional Court ruling, known as Auto 164, in regard to the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó.

After an intense couple of weeks of work nationally, we took our concerns to Washington, DC. At the end of May, I represented FOR in several meetings at Congressional offices, Senate offices and the Department of State. In the U.S. capital, FOR raised similar concerns about International Humanitarian Law and the Colombian army’s irregular practices in the zone around the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó. Our visit was timely; the certification process for military aid to Colombia is based on Colombia “passing” criteria on human rights, and this process will be reviewed by the US Department of State in the coming months.

The U.S. government’s continued certification of military aid to Colombia has been questioned by many human rights organizations for many years.  Within this framework, we expressed concern about the potential passage of Colombia’s military justice reform, known as fuero militar which aimed to move human rights abuses on behalf of the military into military courts. We also spoke about various points in Auto 164, particularly the first step outlined by the Constitutional Court ruling, which requires a retraction on behalf of the Colombian government for former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s stigmatizing comments in 2005 against the Peace Community.

As I write this update at the end of June, we are disheartened by several events related to our April and May expressions of concern to Colombian and international authorities. On June 17, despite serious concerns raised by UN special rapporteurs, human rights organizations and several governments, the Colombian Congress passed a controversial fuero militar, a reform of the military justice system that effectively moves human rights violations by the armed forces into military courts. Colombia already has an intolerable amount of impunity within its justice and military systems. Many fear that this change in policy will make what is already a terrible record even worse.

Meanwhile, in the zone where the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó is located, the Army andFARC guerrillas continue to fight in civilian populated areas and put in grave danger the civilian population, including Peace Community members, the FOR team and other international accompaniment observers.

On June 7, heavy combat in the town center of San José de Apartadó took place next to the local school, a mere ten minutes after a FOR member had walked through San Jose on her way to Apartadó. More recently in the rural settlement of La Esperanza, where peace community members live and our team regularly accompanies, there was combat between the military and the FARC during which bullets entered the home of a local family.