Army generals implicated in 2022 El Remanso massacre face investigation

Six army generals are to be investigated over the massacre of 11 villagers last year, the Inspector General’s Office has announced.

On 28 March, soldiers raided the village of El Remanso in Putumayo, southern Colombia. The assault was carried out in the early hours during a community celebration over a fundraising project for local infrastructure. Soldiers reportedly opened fire without issuing any form of warning, killing several people and injuring at least four others. Fatal victims included indigenous governor Pablo Panduro Cochinche, as well as the president of the local community council, Didier Hernandes, and his wife, Ana María Sarrias. A 16-year-old boy was also killed.

Following the attack, then-president Iván Duque took to social media to praise a military operation against so-called ‘dissidents,’ a term usually applied to alleged former guerrillas who have not entered the peace process. This was echoed by defence minister Diego Molano. The government offered no proof that the victims belonged to any illegal armed group.

Two months after the attack, a Justice for Colombia delegation met with families of some of those killed at El Remanso and others who bore serious injuries. Survivors provided harrowing accounts of what had taken place. One mother told how her son pleaded for help as he bled to death, while a young woman still had a bullet lodged inside her which could rupture an artery if removed and kill her. A 15-year-old girl saw her father shot dead in front of her. The testimonies were utterly at odds with the government narrative, yet those affected had not received any form of support or compensation.

Now, however, a human rights body affiliated to the Inspector General’s Office, known as the Court of Disciplinary Instruction, has been compiling evidence during an investigation into military officials behind the operation. ‘An inter-institutional coordination has been achieved with the Attorney General’s Office, through which multiple inspections have been carried out into ongoing criminal and disciplinary proceedings, in order to collect the greatest amount of material evidence possible,’ said the Inspector General’s Office.

Colombia’s armed forces has a long record of repression against rural communities, with decades of impunity having facilitated killings and other abuses without consequence. Shortly after taking office in August last year, President Gustavo Petro removed 15 senior military officials over concerns about human rights.

Among the JFC delegates who went with survivors of the El Remanso massacre were Sinn Fein international spokesman John Brady, Kim Johnson MP of the Labour Party, Senator Annie Hoey of the Irish Labour Party and Mercedes Villalba MSP of Scottish Labour. Several British, Irish and Spanish trade union officials also attended.