Army & Paramilitaries Implicated in New Killing

News from Colombia | on: Tuesday, 1 April 2008

A community activist who worked alongside of national and international NGOs in securing support for poverty-stricken rural communities has been assassinated despite frequent assurances from the Colombian authorities that his life would be protected. Gerardo Antonio Ciro was killed on March 30th in the municipality of Cocorna, Antioquia department, shortly after a joint patrol of soldiers and paramilitaries had repeatedly enquired as to his whereabouts.

Mr Ciro, who was murdered as he left his him in the village of El Jordan, was a leading member of the Colombian NGO ASOPROA which assists in rural community development. The NGO implements various projects in the Cocorna area and Mr Ciro had travelled abroad on behalf of the organisation to seek funding for their work. He had also been elected as the community leader in Cocorna and was known for his work to denounce human rights violations against peasant farmers in the region.

Threats against Mr Ciro began in 2002 when paramilitaries forced him to flee his home, though he returned in 2005 to be with his family. Shortly afterwards the threats resumed and additional threats were made against his wife and daughter. As a result a meeting was held in June 2005 under the auspices of the local ombudsman, Ossman Castano, where regional military and police officials promised to protect his life.

On January 6th 2006 his son, Javier Ciro, received a note saying that if his father did not leave the area the entire family would be killed. The note also said that anyone who publicly spoke out about army killings in the region would be targeted too. The following month, on February 4th 2006, a second meeting was held at which Mr Castano, local commanders of the security forces, the mayor of Cocorna and human rights groups were present. Again assurances were given that Mr Ciro's life would be protected.

But despite the promises, Mr Ciro was killed on March 30th 2008. Though it has not been confirmed who was responsible for the murder human rights groups have pointed out that Mr Ciro had been the target of a systematic campaign of threats and persecution at the hands of the paramilitaries and the Army for some years. In addition, the 'Corporacion Juridica Libertad', a well-respected human rights group based in the city of Medellin, has reported that in the days leading up to his death a joint unit of soldiers and paramilitaries had been asking locals where they could find Mr Ciro.

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