Transitional justice court declares 2005 army-backed massacre a ‘crime against humanity’

On 7 January, Colombia’s transitional justice court declared a paramilitary massacre which killed eight people, including four minors, a ‘war crime and a crime against humanity’. The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) was created in the 2016 peace agreement to investigation and prosecute major human rights violations committed during the armed conflict. Its ruling follows previous investigations which have convicted several military officials over their involvement in the atrocity.

On 21 and 22 February 2005, a group of armed paramilitaries entered the ‘peace community’ of San José de Apartadó in Urabá, northern Colombia. They killed community leader Luis Eduardo Guerra, along with 17-year-old Bellanira Areiza Guzmán and Luis’ 11-year-old son Deiner Andrés Guerra. In the nearby community of La Resbalosa, they also murdered social leader Alfonso Bolívar Tuberquia Graciano, his wife Sandra Milena Muños Pozo, and their children, five-year-old Natalia and 21-month-old Santiago, as well as community member Alejandro Pérez.

The JEP ruling came after army colonel Orlando Espinosa Beltrán, who was one of six military officials convicted in 2019 over the killings, sought to halt the JEP investigation. However, the JEP determined that Espinosa Beltrán was among the officials guilty of ‘war crimes and crimes against humanity.’ In 2019, Colombia’s Supreme Court sentenced Espinosa Beltrán and five other officials to 34 years in prison. The officials had allowed paramilitaries to operate freely in the Apartadó zone, supplied them with information on victims, provided them with eating and sleeping quarters and accompanied them on patrols. Five military officials were sentenced to 20 years in 2012.

The peace community in San José de Apartadó was established in 1997, declaring itself as neutral in the conflict. However, its inhabitants faced high levels of violence, principally from paramilitaries and state actors, as they attempted to live peacefully amid one of the most conflict-affected regions of Colombia. Over 200 community members have been killed since the its foundation, while others have faced threats, torture, illegal detention and displacement.