Fr. Javier Giraldo Responds to
Downplaying Human Rights Abuses
in San Jose de Apartado
Santafe de Bogota, August 7, 1997
General Rito Alejo Del Rio Rojas
Seventeenth Brigade - National Army
Re: Of. 02853 DIVI-BR17-DDHH-725
Please receive my warmest regards.
I have received your letter of last July 16, which, as you state, is in
response to an official letter from the Inspection General of the Army
which in turn orders a reply to a supposed request of mine. In any case, I
thank you for your letter and information.
I would like to clarify that my document of the 29th May, referred to in your
letter, was addressed to other authorities and did not contain any request
for information on the status of penal or disciplinary investigations. I
know full well that the tragic circumstances in which Colombia finds itself
prevent any possibility of bringing to justice cases of serious violations of
human rights, given the terror that overwhelms victims, their families and
entire communities, when their lives, their safety and the peaceful
existence of all those who dare testify before State authorities are put at
Neither have I ever considered it right that the investigations or reports
should be entrusted to institutions that could very well be implicated in the
events, since such a procedure would be in open contradiction of the most
fundamental and universal principles of fair investigation.
My call of the 29th of May, just as others that preceded and succeeded it,
was inspired by and founded on strictly moral and religious grounds, and
begged the highest authorities of the State to refrain from the criminal
activities I pointed out there, and to take measures that they would not
continue. Sadly, it has not been heeded.
I cannot accept that you should characterize our denunciations as "false and
ungrounded accusations without any legal foundations, which only try to
blacken the image of the armed forces" or that you should affirm that
"through these 'apocryphal' (sic) denunciations, that in large part are
presented by Non-Governmental Organizations apparently tied to Human
Rights, an effort is being made to have troops withdraw from areas of
conflict, so that somehow groups outside the law can gain ground and
consolidate control of certain zones."
Such an evaluation of our work and such a judgment of our intentions can
only constitute a serious attack on our dignity and a great insult to what, as
a Commission of Justice and Peace, we have deemed worthy of the greatest
efforts and sacrifices: the defense of the human dignity of those who are
victimized in their most sacred rights: life and personal safety.
I wonder, General, why you should offend us in this way? Why attack our
most prized values? Why launch such judgment against our intentions and
aims? And on what do you base such knowledge and judgments of our
If you do not share or are bothered by our work in support of these values, I
wonder, then, what is the message you wish to send us? That we should
remain silent? That we should accept in silence what we have seen and
heard? That we should approve of it? That we falsely try to ignore it?
We cannot do that, General, without betraying our moral conscience.
Nobody with even the slightest knowledge of our history is unaware of the
fact that many past acts of violence carried out by radical, illegal groups
have been "defended" through accusing those who denounce these acts of
participating in a contrary violence. This is a trick as contemptible as it is
inconsistent, all the time it is backed by statements which distort or cover
up the real truth.
General, the dead, the maimed, the disappeared, the tortured, the displaced,
are there as a constant reminder and no words can hide them. Their dignity
and their memory oblige us to intervene and will continue to demand justice
through history, even when our fragile historical existence has ended.
I invite you to look again at the tragedy of our people and to not avoid it
with an all too easy recourse to rejecting the claims of those who find the
state's actions inhuman.
But again, at the risk of being ignored, I can only complain to you once more
about the obvious assistance the military units under your command have
given to the paramilitaries surrounding San Jose de Apartado, who up until
now are responsible for more than thirty murders, many of them
perpetrated by the patrol located four minutes from the military base at the
Policarpia neighborhood of Apartado. Who could find any acceptable or
credible logic in the Army not having seen this group or not having been able
to act against them, with the patrol so chose to the base for so many
months and visible on numerous occasions to observers from many countries
and to delegates from many governmental and non-governmental
organizations? And how are we to understand the decision to remove the
military base at the Policarpia neighborhood rather than the paramilitary
Neither can I refrain from reiterating to you, General, that the
conversations with a great many people who have suffered horrors in body
and soul because of the bombings, displacements, threats, operations and
armed attacks on their homes and streets, most of them humble and poor
families of the Bajo and Medio Atrato, one arrives at the moral conviction
that the military and police units of the region have participated in these
attacks, sometimes by direct action and other times by their very failure to
intervene. Sadly the justice system has closed its doors with the
intimidation and terror and now not even the most atrocious acts can be
investigated and punished.
Although your defamatory remarks and insults warn me ahead of time that
any plea of mine will fall on deaf ears, my ethical and religious principles
oblige me to beg you, once again, passionately, for respect for human life, a
precious gift of God that we have no right to destroy.
Javier Giraldo M., S.J.
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