EL ESPECTADOR, January 7, 2022
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
A retired member of the military requested his release from custody, claiming the expiration of the statute of limitations, but the JEP ruled that the massacre at San José de Apartadó was such a horrifying event that investigation of it should never be concluded. Soldiers were allied with the paramilitaries to behead and cut the throats of innocent citizens in 2005.
Retired Lt. Colonel Orlando Espinosa Beltrán argues that action on the events for which he was investigated, tried, and convicted in the ordinary justice system is now barred by the statute of limitations. He was sentenced to prison for permitting the killing of eight people, including four children, in San José de Apartadó. He asked the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) to return him to society. However, the JEP not only denied the petition, it elevated the file to a crime against humanity, which requires the government to continue investigating a crime of that nature forever.
In February of 2005, the Colombian Army’s 17th Brigade dispatched the Fénix Tactical Mission to “protect” the communities in San José de Apartadó, located in the Urabá region of Antioquia Department. Instead, they ended up allying themselves with the paramilitaries of the Heroes de Tolová, planning to locate supposed subversive encampments. But the opposite is what happened. They murdered Luis Eduardo Guerra, his 11-year-old son, and his wife with machetes. They were detained, interrogated, and tortured near the Mulatos River.
“Around noon on February 21, the paramilitaries came upon a house they thought was occupied by guerrillas, and they opened fire. In that attack, Alejandro Pérez and Sandra Milena Muñoz were killed. After the attack, they searched the house and they found two children alive, Natalia, (five years old) and Santiago (two years old). Minutes later, the children’s father, Alfonso Tuberquia, returned and tried to protect the lives of his children, but the paramilitaries paid no attention to his cries, and killed the children with slashing weapons,” added the JEP.
The soldiers, who were aged between 35 and 40, did not report the killing of the civilians. They continued with their patrolling. A court in Antioquia found Espinosa not guilty in August of 2010, and the decision was upheld two years later by a Superior Tribunal in the same department. However, the file reached the Supreme Court of Justice in 2019, and that Court found him guilty of the homicide of a protected person and criminal conspiracy as well. It held that he had furnished support to that catastrophic episode of the conflict.
The retired Lt. Colonel took his case to the JEP in 2019. He was allowed to serve his sentence in a military installation instead of a prison. At the beginning of last year, he calculated the rules set forth in the Penal Code, and determined that, since ten years had passed since he was first charged, he should released because his prosecution was now barred by the statute of limitations. However, the JEP’s Branch for the Definition of Legal Situations denied his petition. The Appeals Branch has reached the same conclusion, and also elevated the crimes that were being investigated to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“Human dignity, life, bodily integrity, and peaceful co-existence were seriously defiled for political motives, resulting in the destruction of the human condition of these victims. Because of that, these crimes are a demonstration of the deep-rooted evil that did damage to the humanity represented in the population of San José de Apartadó in 2005. Under this interpretation, the actions with which Sr. Espinosa Beltrán is charged must be declared to be war crimes and crimes against humanity, and thus the statute of limitations cannot be applied,” declared the JEP Section.
“In reaching this decision, the JEP found that the government’s security forces had a history of doing harm to the Community of San José de Apartadó. In 2000, for example, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights reported at least 47 murders under the same conditions as the massacre in 2005. The prosecutors from the International Criminal Court (CPI) established in 2012 that there was a “course of conduct“ after there were several events of murders, tortures, and forced disappearances.
In a decision on July 7, 2016, the Peace and Justice Branch of the Superior Tribunal of Antioquia decided that the Heroes of Tolová Bloc was responsible for the massacre at San José de Apartadó, which took place in February of 2005. In its decision, the Justice and Peace Branch emphasized the existence of the alliances between members of the paramilitaries and members of the Army, based on testimony by the paramilitaries who took part in the massacre,” the Court also mentioned.
In conclusion, the JEP could see no basis in the statute of limitations for releasing the defendant. The massacre, and the omissions by members of the Army were so awful that the government itself is obligated to see that this is investigated in perpetuity. With this decision, the Court seeks to ensure that atrocities of this kind do not remain in impunity because of the passage of time and the slowness of judicial procedures. It concluded that this was an example of the degradation of humanity.