Message from the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, Dec. 9, 2018
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Once again, we declare ourselves to the country and to the world as a Peace Community, in spite of the fact that the government’s military arm wants to silence us through legal means. We are making a record of the most recent events by which we have been victimized for trying to argue in a civil manner for our way of life and for the defense of our territory.
On December 6, 2018, our Peace Community exercised our right to protest the injustices that we are experiencing. Our Community, headed by our Legal Representative Germán Graciano Posso has been sanctioned for contempt “with five (5) days of arrest, to be served in the jail at the Police Station in San José de Apartadó, and a fine measured by five (5)months at the minimum wage now in effect, to be paid to the Superior Council of the Judiciary”. This situation just adds to the list of attacks we have experienced in the Community and in the District (corregimiento) in general by the paramilitaries and by the Armed Forces.
We mobilized around the District (corregimiento) and on the streets of Apartadó to oppose the decision by Judge María Gómez Carvajal that tries to force our Community to retract our reports of events that we have published. These reports are true, such as the massacre of February 21 of 2005, in which the responsibility and joint actions of the military and the paramilitaries were proved. In the years before that, evidence by witnesses was furnished to the prosecutors so that they could investigate and charge those responsible for such barbarism, but the ones that were sentenced because of those complaints were the witnesses themselves. Our reports are one measure of protection for the people. They are the means of giving our testimony, so that we can file complaints with the hope that the government will investigate its institutions, but the answer now is that the victimizers can force the victims to retract their statements.
We now present ourselves at the headquarters of the Second Municipal Court of Common Pleas in Apartadó, with women, men, children, and grandparents. NOT to retract our statements, but to confirm our claim that we be allowed to live in peace, and that our lives, our land, our territory, and our Community be respected.
I am Germán Graciano. I am the Peace Community, because all of us are a community. We raise our voices to tell the judges that there is no reason to prosecute us victims, as if we were victimizers. We will continue to denounce those who are trying to silence us, those who attack us and who kill the campesinos, those who steal our young people for the war, those who drive us away from our lands, those who every day are destroying our hills by deforestation and are contaminating the sources of our water, those who deal out justice only to benefit those who displace our people and evict us from our territory.
On December 4, 2018, the Inter-American Court for Human Rights informed the Colombian government of its concern about the arrest order entered against Germán Graciano. The UN Special Rapporteur Michel Forst mentioned the situation of the defenders of human rights and noted in his Twitter account: “I am extremely concerned about the possible arrest of Germán Graciano, the Legal Representative of @cdpsanjose. I was in that community just a few days ago during my official visit to Colombia. I will be following this situation”.
José Miguel Vivanco, Director of the Human Rights Watch Americas Division, also stated, “The effort to jail the leader of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, Germán Graciano, is unacceptable. Criminal sanctions should never be used to repress complaints that are of interest to the public. I hope that the Constitutional Court reviews this case.”
On December 6, 2018, voices of solidarity from all of the regions of the country and all over the world –city halls, deputies, members of Congress, social organizations, networks—they all begged the constitutional Court to review that decision. It not only goes against our Peace Community, in a remote corner of Urabá, but it also goes against all of the people and communities, indigenous, African, campesinos and social organizations in the country that defend human rights, because it is unjust and contrary to law. But the high court did not take any of the solicitations into account.
On December 7, 2018, at 10:37 in the morning, we were notified by email that, in the process of consultation, the Civil Court for the Second Circuit, ruling on the action by the Commander of the 17th Brigade, Carlos Alberto Padilla Cepeda claiming an incident of contempt, considering that the Community did not obey the decision by the Second Municipal Judge of Common Pleas, Apartadó, María Mariela Gómez Carvajal, has declared those proceedings null and void.
In the order, the office warns of “errors that lead to a declaration of nullity of a proceeding, because of a violation of due process. The imposition of sanctions must be based on clear constitutional principles, such as necessity, adequacy, reasonableness and proportionality”. The decision states that, the inthe office that found the incident of contempt being reviewed here, there exists a “lack of knowledge of these principles”, and it summarizes as follows:
“The penalty for contempt that was imposed on Sr. GERMÁN GRACIANO POSSO, in his capacity as Legal Representative of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, was made without considering that the Resolution of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, dated June 26, 2017, reiterated that the government must maintain the protective measures that were adopted and immediately make available measures that are necessary to effectively protect the life and personal safety of all of the members of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, including Sr. GERMÁN GRACIANO POSSO”.
Today, December 9, 2018, at 6:00 a.m. we found pamphlets from the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) on the outskirts of our settlement in San Josecito. They were put there by the paramilitaries on the road that leads from the District (corregimiento) of San José to the Municipality of Apartadó and in the towns (veredas) of La Unión, Buenos Aires, La Cristalina, La Linda, El Mariano, El Porvenir, Las Nieves, La Esperanza, Arenas, El Cuchillo, and La Victoria in the District (corregimiento) of San José as well as in other towns (veredas). With this act they are showing us that they are in charge all over this country.
While all of this is going on, our Community and the campesinos in this region keep on experiencing the aggression by the paramilitaries. They continue to hold the population in subjection; they charge payments for each animal that a person owns, for the cacao they produce, whatever people buy and sell, and for the wood that they cut. For every sledge of lumber to sell, they charge 2,000 pesos (about $.68) or it can’t be moved.
Our Peace Community was born 21 years and 9 months ago. Almost a thousand campesinos in the towns (veredas) of San José decided to oppose involvement in the violent war. So they accused us of being on one side of the war or the other, looking for reasons to kill us. Because of that, our first community agreement was to not participate in the war on any side and not to collaborate with any armed group in any way. But in forming the Peace Community, we also decided that we would not tolerate injustice or impunity, and that we would denounce every violation of our rights.
For more than eight years, we had confidence that the legal system would carry out the mission for which it was created and would guarantee our rights, the rights of all the campesinos in the country. But that didn’t happen. They murdered many of our leaders and our friends; they continued to threaten us. That led us to make a “rupture” with the legal system, because our conscience could not allow us to keep collaborating with a system that was very far from producing justice. It was more likely to kill or harass the victims. The very Constitution of Colombia affirms that no person may for forced to act against his/her conscience (Article 18) and we made it very clear: our conscience could not allow us to collaborate with a system that after eight years of experience, we could see as corrupted. They used the very testimony that we provided in a filthy manner.
When we broke with the legal system, we discovered that the Constitution requires the President of the Republic to guarantee the rights of all the citizens (Article 188). Because of that, we turned to the right of petition to the President. We told him all that we were suffering because of attacks from the government agencies themselves. We asked them to take measures to protect us, but the Presidents did not listen to us either. Rather, they turned our petitions over to the very same agencies that were violating our rights.
We also turned to international tribunals and we took our complaints there, but those tribunals are very slow and they still have not decided our case. Because of all that, we decided to make a permanent record with society and with the international community, to let them know what was happening to us. We have found many communities in Colombia and in other countries to be in solidarity with us. They write to the government, they support us and provide us with the moral strength to defend our rights.
As can be seen, the only path remaining to us to avoid our destruction and extermination by a government that has always attacked us, and that passively tolerates and supports the illegal groups that use violence in our territory and violate all of our rights, has been not to keep silent and to keep our society and the world fully informed about what is happening to us.
Every international human rights treaty defends the right to freedom of expression, and much more when we express ourselves as victims. We are victims of those who have closed off every other path for making our complaints and protests. We can’t allow ourselves to be exterminated in silence. At least the world must find out how they are destroying us little by little with so many kinds of violence. We count on the solidarity of those who have ethical principles and a sense of humanity.
We thank the thousands of voices of solidarity in this country and throughout the world that have always believed in our way of life, that feel our resistance as their own, because, while they are defending us from their own homes, we thank them from our hearts for all of the pressure they have expressed to the Colombian government in recent days, trying to lift the ruling against our Representative, German Graciano, and the order for his arrest as well as overturning the decision not just against Germán Graciano, but also against our Peace Community.
Peace Community of San José de Apartadó
December 9, 2018