HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN EL CASTILLO META
dhColombia, is forwarding the following urgent action alert issued by the permanent monitoring group of the Ariari communities (El Castillo Meta).
THE ORGANISATIONS OF THE ARIARI PERMANENT MONITORING GROUP REPORT SERIOUS HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS RECORDED IN THE HAMLET OF LA ESMERALDA EL CASTILLO (META)
1. Friday 23 May 2008, 11:00 a.m., La Esmeralda hamlet (El Castillo): local people report that the Colombian army, troops of the 21st (Vargas) Battalion, arrived at the home of the rural worker, EFRAIN CARO ANSOLA, ID No. No. 3.121.559, who lives in the upper part of the hamlet. He was at home, roasting coffee beans for his family. The soldiers surrounded the house and abused him vulgarly and in a threatening tone and accused him of helping the guerrillas and of being connected with subversion. They later threatened to kill him, saying that if the met guerrillas on their way they would come back and kill him. They then made him sign a document certifying he had been treated well and marked it with his fingerprints, using soot from the frying pan where he had been roasting coffee. Finally, these representatives of the Colombian National Army told him to leave his farm or they could not answer for his life. All the same, the soldiers made another threat to Don Efraín: “If the guerrillas ever attack us, we will take off your head and roll it down that hill”. The army units asked Don Efraín about the guerrilla presence in the zone, to which he answered: “If the guerrillas have been around here, there’s nothing I can do about it”.
Mr. EFRAÍN CARO ANSOLA has been ill for the last week and for that reason could not take part in the meeting with the HUMANITARIAN MISSION and this afternoon (23 May) he was forced by the threats from this SPECIAL commission of the 21st (Vargas) Battalion to leave his farm for the hamlet’s school in order to protect his life.
EFRAIN CARO ANSOLA is a peasant farmer who lives alone on his own farm working to subsist and for that reason no-one was with him when these violations of his rights took place.
2. 25 May 2008, La Esmeralda and Caño Lindo hamlets (El Castillo Meta). Local people report that troops of the Colombian National Army belonging to the 21st (Vargas) Battalion have declared: “As all of you turn up to talk to this commission and when we summon you no-one comes, we are going to call a meeting to see which of you come”. This is a clear threat, because the peasant farmers have denounced human rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law to the Humanitarian Commission.
3. 21 and 22 May 2008, Campo Alegre and La Esmeralda hamlets (El Castillo Meta): When it visited these hamlets, the Humanitarian Commission heard several witnesses, according to whom the Colombian National Army is persecuting and stigmatizing the young people (children of peasant farmers) who have returned, whom they accuse without evidence of being members of the militia or guerrilleros of the FARC. The soldiers harass and intimidate these young people so strongly that several of them have had to return to the cities for fear of being murdered and presented to the media as guerrilleros and then buried as NN (no name) in common graves, as has occurred with other people from the area.
4. 14 May 2008, around 5:00 a.m., La Floresta hamlet (El Castillo Meta): There were two hooded men dressed in black with rifles who stood for hours beside the hamlet’s school. The Colombian National Army was only 200 meters from the village.
5. 7 May 2008, La Esperanza hamlet (El Castillo Meta): Troops of the Colombian National Army belonging to the 21st (Vargas) Battalion quartered in Granada Meta offered money to children in the hamlet in exchange for information.
6. 7 May 2008, La Esmeralda hamlet (El Castillo Meta), Troops of the Colombian National Army under the command of Major Baquero arrived at the home of peasant farmers, asking arrogantly for Alba Nelly, who is chair of the Community Action Board. Major Baquero claimed that Alba Nelly had denounced the army for ill-treatment in the built-up area of El Castillo. The officer insinuated to the peasant farmer that he was in communication with the guerrillas, warning that he was going to “deliver the news” . Mayor Baquero’s warnings about the complaints had not been presented at El Castillo. It should be pointed out that in the preceding days the hamlet community had met in the hamlet and documented complaints of human rights violations by the Colombian National Army and paramilitary groups.
7. 21 April 2008, La Esmeralda hamlet (El Castillo Meta): The Humanitarian Commission visited the hamlet, where they heard from several sources of the ongoing threats that the family that owns one of the stores (selling groceries and liquor) in the La Esmeralda hamlet. According to the complaints: “Martha Rojas and Carlos Tapias have a store in the La Esmeralda Hamlet. On several occasions they have asked about the couple’s relationship with the guerrillas, because they trade in groceries. On 21 April, the Colombian National Army was asking local people about the traders’ alleged relations with the insurgents. This occurred on several occasions. The soldiers consider that the store’s supplies are destined for the guerrillas and that it is subversives who "consume tinned food". This information is worrying because Mr. Tapias always travels alone to Lejanías and during these trips his rights, and those of his family, may be violated in some way, as has been reiterated on previous occasions. The army’s declarations about the store owners constitute a violation of rules regarding human rights, because they restrict food supplies to the local people...”, it added.
8. March 20, 2008, Puerto Esperanza hamlet (El Castillo Meta). The paramilitary leader a.k.a. “Julian”, who is demobilized and currently in prison, threatened to murder 25 year old father of three, JOSÉ WILFREDO HENAO. José Wilfredo is the son of MARÍA LUCERO HENAO, who was executed by paramilitaries on 6 February 2004 at her home in the same hamlet, after denouncing the atrocities committed by paramilitaries in the region to a verification commission led by the Permanent Human Rights Commission late in 2005. According to the complaint: “a.k.a. ‘Julián’ paid a paramilitary from El Castillo to murder Wilfredo. Everything seems to indicate that the paramilitary hired to carry out the execution is also a known paramilitary, a.k.a. ‘Caregarra’”.
During 21, 22 and 23 May 2008, the social and human rights organizations that make up the La Mesa de Acompañamiento Permanente al Ariari (permanent monitoring group of the Ariari communities) conducted a MISSION TO THE UPPER ARIARI, with the following aims: to carry out a humanitarian mission to El Castillo Meta, during 21, 22 and 23, by means of an inter-institutional presence, in order to alert to the threat to, and exposure suffered by, the people of the hamlets in the Upper Ariari, in terms of human rights and international humanitarian law.
- To constitute a presence and assist the people of the hamlets.
- To record the situation of exposure and threats to human rights and international humanitarian law.
- To issue a joint report, register it and circulate it among civil oversight bodies at the regional, national and international level.
- To contribute to strengthening the peasant people’s organization.
- To continue and schedule follow-up, monitoring and support for the community.
- To make concrete recommendations as to national and international rules.
The peasants of the El Castillo municipality have been returning voluntarily to their lands, with no guarantees as to their security or their reestablishing themselves socio-economically. The Colombian State has repeatedly failed to fulfill its duty to protect the life, honor and assets of its citizens and, as has been observed repeatedly, continues to violate peasants’ rights. The organizations that make up the Board consider it fundamentally important to monitor the communities that have returned and, jointly with them, to demand of the State that it take steps to guarantee their wellbeing and safety, and to create the conditions necessary for all the peasants and organizations that were displaced from the region to return.
* 22 May, during the second day of the Mission, a meeting was being held with the peasants of the hamlets at the school of the La Esmeralda hamlet. At about midday, Lieutenant-Colonel MAURICIO MONSALVE DUARTE, Commander of the 21st (Vargas) Battalion, arrived accompanied by plainclothes and uniformed Army bodyguards. The colonel’s group was transported in two private vehicles (4x4 pickups). The colonel and his entourage tried to enter the venue, but the international observers and the Mission coordinators explained the nature of the activity and the decision expressed to senior government authorities not to permit either military or police personnel to attend. Lieutenant-Colonel MAURICIO MONSALVE DUARTE left. It is important to state that the presence of a plainclothes escort, wearing black shirts and carrying Galil assault rifles, caused a great deal of fear among the local people, who thought they were paramilitaries. “That was the color of the shirts the paramilitaries wore in 2002 when the came to massacre us”, explained one resident.
The HUMANITARIAN MISSION stayed the night accompanying the local people until the following day. At 5:30 a.m., it left to return to Villavicencio and Bogota.
The events denounced above occurred hours after the departure of the humanitarian mission, which comprised national and regional human rights organizations, including: the National Movement of Victims of Crimes of State, CINEP, the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission, Fensuagro, Sintragrin, Corporación Claretiana Norman Pérez Bello, Humanitarian Board for Displaced Persons Del Meta, del Meta Civic Committee for Human Rights, Granada Social Pastoral.
* In the course of 21 and 22 May, the Mission came into contact with more than 200 delegates from hamlets in meetings held in the Campo Alegre and La Esmeralda hamlets, and was saddened by more than 80 aggressions and human rights violations by Colombian National Army troops against peasants who had returned to the area. As the Mission was able to establish from testimonies by the peasants who had returned: between 2002 and 2005, the paramilitaries, operating jointly with Colombian National Army troops, carried out the cruelest campaign of terror, massacres, pillage and all kinds of aggressions against the peasant population of the upper region of the El Castillo municipality. More than 350 families were forcibly displaced, abandoning and losing all their possessions, goods, cattle, horses and homes. The peasant families wandered for three years as displaced people in Villavicencio and Bogota until, tired of the Colombian State’s lack of honor, decided to return to their lands individually, facing all the risks that involved.
t must be noted that, although the Regional Public Defender’s Office (Defensoría Regional del Pueblo) was invited to attend, it did not accompany the Mission. In previous actions, that constitutional defender of human rights has become in a sounding board for the official position of the 4th Army Division, contradicting the victims’ versions of human rights violations.
Given the gravity of these threats and information, we ask you to address the Colombian authorities as soon as possible to request:
* that the events reported here be thoroughly investigated and the culprits punished.
* that the Attorney General of the Nation embark as soon as possible on a review and investigation of the intelligence records of the public forces in the region, given that those forces – as evidenced today – are a risk to the people of the region.
* that the right to life, liberty, personal safety and association be guaranteed for the members of the peasant population who have returned voluntarily and that government support and protection programs be put in place.
* that the National Public Defender’s Office (Defensor Nacional del Pueblo) appraise and correct the role currently played by the present Regional Public Defender (Defensor Regional del Pueblo), whose stance has been to support whatever is said by the 4th Army Division, while ignoring the testimonies and complaints of the victims of human rights violations.
Corporación Claretiana Norman Pérez Bello
Movimiento Nacional de Víctimas de Crímenes de Estado Movice
Movimiento de Hijos e Hijas por La Memoria y contra la Impunidad de Crímenes de Estado Hij@s
Federación Nacional Sindical Unitaria Agropecuaria FENSUAGRO CUT
Sindicato de Trabajadores Agricolas Independientes del Meta Sintragrin
Comité Cívico por los Derechos Humanos del Meta
Please address your correspondence to:
ALVARO URIBE VELEZ
Presidente de la República
Carrera 8 No. 7 -26
Palacio de Nariño
Vicepresidente de la República
Carrera 8 No.7-57
JUAN MANUEL SANTOS
Ministro de la Defensa
Avenida El Ddorado con Carrera 52 CAN
CARLOS HOLGUIN SARDI
Ministro del Interior y de Justicia
Avenida El Dorado con Carrera 52 CAN
Fiscal General de la Nación
Diagonal 22B No. 52-01
Fax. 570 20 00
WOLMAR ANTONIO PEREZ ORTIZ
Defensor del Pueblo
Calle 55 No. 10 32
Fax. 640 04 91
EDGARDO JOSE MAYA VILLAZÒN
Procurador General de la Nación
Cra. 5 No.15 80F
Programa Presidencial de Derechos Humanos y de Derecho Internacional Humanitario
Calle 7 N° 5 54
Fax. 337 46 67
Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI 53701-1505
phone: (608) 257-8753
fax: (608) 255-6621