We Demand Justice for Nallely and Edinson

Mar 25, 2024 | News

The murders of Nallely and Édinson

On Tuesday, March 19, 2024, Peace Community members Nallely Sepúlveda (30 years old) and her brother-in-law Édinson David (14 years old) were murdered. The murder took place in the village of La Esperanza on the collective farm of the Peace Community known as Las Delicias.  Édison, Nallely, her children and her husband, the humanitarian coordinator of the Peace Community in La Esperanza, had been living and farming there for years. 

La Esperanza is around five hours’ walk from the main town of the Peace Community, San Josecito. As soon as the Community heard about the murders, a group decided to make the difficult journey to La Esperanza to find their loved ones, despite the risks. Once there, they authorized the Public Prosecutor (Fiscalía) office and the police to come investigate and retrieve the bodies. However, these institutions failed to complete their duty. After long tortuous hours waiting, the next afternoon the community decided they needed to carry the bodies down themselves, for the dignity of Nallely and Édinson. The Peace Community did so on foot, wrapping them carefully in sheets and hammocks and carrying them five hours in pouring rain on muddy paths and through raging rivers to San Josecito, the main town of the Peace Community. There they were received by the investigators from the Justice Ministry, and the Peace Community denounced the incompetence of the Justice Ministry for failing to arrive to La Esperanza. Two days later, Nallely and Édinson were laid to rest.

Tension Building Long Before Murders

The tension in La Esperanza has been building for years. The Peace Community has been continually denouncing the role of the paramilitary group Clan del Golfo in this construction. Officials from the village council (Junta de Acción Comunal – JAC) of La Esperanza have supported the road and increasingly targeted the Peace Community for their opposition to it and their denouncements of the deforestation and paramilitary presence. The village council wanted to continue the building of the illegal road through the Peace Community’s farm Las Delicias. Currently, a small footpath runs through the farm, which can be used by motorcycles and small motorized trucks. The Community has always allowed the passage of motorcycles, pack animals (mules), small motorized carts and pedestrians through Las Delicias, but not cars. In 2021, the Peace Community wrote about this road project (translation our own):

“In our last statements (dated April 23 and 29, 2021) we referred to the project currently being carried out in the village of San José de Apartadó to build access roads to some of the hamlets. We have objected to the fact that one of these roads passes through land belonging to our Peace Community in the village of La Esperanza and we have pointed out that we do not consider it right that these roads should be built in disregard of existing regulations: without prior consultation with the communities, without environmental permits, without having been included in a land use plan, planned above all to serve the interests of transnational companies that are plundering our natural resources and destroying the environment, whose management has been entrusted to paramilitary structures in the region, using machinery and military personnel from a garrison (the XVII Brigade) that has flooded our region with blood and pain…

In the weeks preceding the murders, there was a series of escalating attacks on the Las Delicias farm. Officials from the JAC and other residents of La Esperanza had repeatedly destroyed the fences surrounding Las Delicias. Earlier in March, a car drove through the private property of the Peace Community. The fences were later cut up and a chainsaw was used to destroy the wooden fence, which was then set on fire. These attacks were accompanied by a hate and slander campaign against the Peace Community on social media, supported by César Jaramillo. César Jaramillo is an avowed opponent of the Peace Community, who initiated the online campaign “No más Comunidad de Paz” (No more Peace Community) years ago.

Economic Interests in La Esperanza 

Years of pressure to build this road on the collective land of the Peace Community cannot be seen in isolation from the economic interests of the region, but as a symptom of them.The farm is located in the immediate vicinity of Turbo, where a Caribbean container port is currently under construction. In addition, the fertile farmland of Las Delicias and the surrounding area is claimed to contain a coal deposit, for which the state issued a mining license years ago. In Colombia, the state can issue subterranean mining licenses regardless of whether someone has legal rights to the surface land. This creates deep tension and legal challenges for farmers like the Peace Community to protect their land. 

Furthermore, deforestation has progressed enormously in recent years, despite the fact that CORPOURABA, the regional administration responsible for the area, has already declared it a “strategic environmental protection zone”. Since 2019, around 1,600 hectares of forest have been cleared in this area. The Peace Community has tried to protect their collective farm lands from these development projects by establishing water and forest reservoirs and by practicing sustainable small-scale farming.

Creating even more tension, the land in question, like many other collective lands of the Peace Community, is being claimed by third parties under the Victims Act. The land restitution process is considered an integral part of the comprehensive land reform of the 2016 peace agreement, a priority of the current government. However, the entities tasked with facilitating this process and investigating claims have been lacked the resources to fulfill their role, creating conflicts between civilians. Last year, the Peace Community faced similar aggressive threats and confrontations on their farm La Roncona because of a contested land title.

Petro Supports the Peace Community Days Before the Murders

On March 11th (8 days before the murders) a regional inter-institutional commission on La Esperanza visited the Apartado Mayor’s office in the presence of lawyers and officials, as well as Gloria Cuartas, the director of the Colombian Peace Agreement Implementation Unit, and member of the national government. As a follow up two days later, a inter-institutional commission went to inspect the illegal road in La Esperanza, and it was agreed that it cannot be built at the moment. Instead, a storage area at the end of the road, which was not legally built, would be built by the district.

The day before the murder, on March 18th, Colombian President Gustavo Petro gave a public speech in Apartadó. In this speech, he mentioned the Peace Community by name and argued for the need to honor the struggle and memory of the Peace Community’s lost members. The Minister of Agriculture also promised in this visit that protective measures had been ordered for the affected farm as part of the land restitution process.

After the murders, President Petro tweeted:

400 members of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó have been murdered. Two days ago, the entire Government was in Apartadó. On our return, two more members of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó were murdered. Dark forces want to revive paramilitarism in the northwest of the country. (https://twitter.com/petrogustavo/status/1770440488576765983)

Paramilitary domination in the northwest of Antioquia

For years, human rights defenders, the Colombian Ombudsman’s Office and national and international non-governmental organizations have been reporting on the paramilitary group Clan del Golfo ( self-called Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia or AGC) and its increasing strength in the region. It is estimated to have 1,000 close members and around 4,000 people in subordinate or very close groups. In addition, there are many ties to the civilian population through a network of informants located throughout northwestern Colombia. Years of targeted killings of human rights defenders and environmentalists and a lack of investigation and prosecution of these crimes have established a law of silence that is broken by very few organizations and individuals.

The power of the Clan del Golfo goes so far that the group was able to declare a curfew in northwestern Antioquia on May 5th, 2022, affecting 119 districts with around one million people, leaving many households without gas for days. Traffic was paralyzed and schools remained closed. Videos circulated on social media of people being beaten for daring to take to the streets. Almost 200 vehicles were burned and at least 8 people were killed.

The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó

The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó is one of the most outstanding examples of active non-violence in the world. It was founded in 1997 at the height of the paramilitary and military violence in the region. It has put into practice principles of non-violence such as non-participation in war, the prohibition of weapons on its territory, and adherence to the truth. The population of the region has been silenced by the violence of armed groups. Human rights violations, even murders, are often not reported or made public. The Peace Community is the only body in the region that speaks the truth and regularly publishes communiqués highlighting all human rights violations, even when people who do not belong to it are affected. It also organizes memorial marches for the victims of the war. 

In February 2005, the Peace Community and the Colombian government negotiated the implementation of protective measures granted to the Peace Community by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Among other things, they included the construction of a police station near – but outside – the center of San José de Apartadó. In February 2005, the army and paramilitaries carried out a massacre of eight people, including Luis Eduardo Guerra and three children. Luis Eduardo Guerra was the spokesman for the peace community. After this event, the Peace Community lost confidence in the Colombian State. The involvement of the Colombian army in the massacre was obvious to the Peace Community. A few days after the massacre, President Uribe publicly accused the Peace Community of having links with the left-wing FARC guerrillas, circumvented the required consensus on protective measures and unilaterally established a police and military base within the center of San José de Apartadó. As a result, the Peace Community was forced to leave the urban settlement of San José and broke off formal contact with the Colombian government. The rupture extended to the Colombian justice system: even before the massacre, there had been hundreds of crimes against the Peace Community for which no one was held accountable. Witnesses who had denounced the crimes were threatened and in some cases killed.

Displacement and Fear Continue

On the 23rd of March, the 27th anniversary of the Peace Community and four days after the murder, members announced that they are currently forcibly displaced from La Resbalosa and Las Delicias. 

In the context of ongoing grief and struggle, the Peace Community announced the establishment of 12 different zones of biodiversity on their collective lands. One of these zones is in the farm in La Esperanza where Nallely and Édinson were killed. Through these declarations, they have once again reaffirmed their commitment to peace, human rights, and environmental defense, a commitment that has endured despite 27 years of terrible violence and injustice.  

Sixty hectares of the Las Delicias farm have been declared an Environmental Preservation Area. A large sign reads: “NO to mining, YES to LIFE”, and has been dedicated in the names of Mahatma Gandhi, Nallely Sepúlveda and Édinson David.