25 military officials to be charged over last year’s El Remanso massacre

Prosecutors have charged 25 military officials over the raid that killed 11 people in the village of El Remanso, Putumayo, on 28 March 2022. The unprovoked attack was carried out in the early hours as the community celebrated a fundraising project. Two months after the attack, a Justice for Colombia delegation met with survivors and relatives of victims to hear harrowing accounts of what had occurred. Now, following an investigation lasting over a year, the soldiers behind the killings are to be charged with ‘homicide of protected person’, an offence relating to the killing of civilians by armed actors.

After the attack, then-president Iván Duque and his defence minister Diego Molano took to social media to celebrate the deaths of so-called ‘dissidents’ killed in combat, a claim that was made without producing evidence. Subsequent findings have found that a number of civilians unconnected to any armed group were among the dead. In total, 78 people have been identified as victims of the attack. The charges will be presented on 1 August and filed under the standard justice system rather than its military equivalent, an important measure to ensure judicial independence.

The military officials charged include one colonel, one captain, one lieutenant, four sub-officials and 18 soldiers. They are Colonel Néstor Andrés Cadena Bautista, Captain Jorge Erney Marroquín Cadena, Lieutenant Julián Ernesto Ávila Martínez, Second Sergeant Michael Andrés Quiñonez Mendoza, First Corporal Wilmer Leonardo Rodríguez Arango, First Corporal Wilson Andrés Santamaría Ramos, Cristian Pérez Galindo, Dairo José Arboleda Toro, Jhon Félix Badel Correa, Hernando Cucunuba Olmos, Edinson Javier Esteban Aguiar, José Efraín Lectamo Yalanda, Santander Licona Ramos, Wilmer Mosquera Poscué, Luis Ángel Núñez Peña, Danilo Quintero Urrea, José Alexánder Villa Ciro, Fenancio Noé Anama Escobar, Maycol Mauricio Abril Hernández, Yeizon David Becerra Gutiérrez, Róbinson Beleño Herrera, Franky Fabián Hoyos Pérez, Jhon Freddy Hoyos Quiñónez, Carlos Alberto Perdomo Romero, Jeisson Rico Soto and Yeison Andrade Rivera Holguín.

According to then-head of the military, General Eduardo Zapateiro, the operation had been planned over 15 days and had targeted guerrillas formerly connected to the FARC. However, witness and survivor testimonies soon emerged of a massacre of civilians. The dead included indigenous governor Pablo Panduro Coquinche, who was 48 years old. The president of the village’s JAC community council Divier Hernández, 35 years old, and his wife Ana María Sarrias Barrera, 24, were also killed. Other victims were 16-year-old Brayan Santiago Pama Pianda, Rubén Peña, who was 21, Óscar Oliva, 40, Luis Guerrero, 32, Enuar Ojeda, 23, José Peña, 40, Alexander Peña, 30, and Jhon Jairo Silva, who was 34 and a former FARC member in the peace process.

One woman told the JFC delegation that her son had pleaded for help as he bled to death, while a teenage girl recounted seeing her father killed in front of her. Those wounded also provided testimony, including one woman who had a bullet lodged inside her that could kill her if removed. JFC has since campaigned for justice for the victims. The massacre at El Remanso was one of several human rights scandals targeting civilians under the hard-right Duque government, which left office last year following the election of progressive president Gustavo Petro.