Paramilitaries Commit Massacres with Army Support
On November 1, 2000, a paramilitary death squad assaulted the village of El Cedral and its surroundings in Ituango municipality of Antioquia department. The paramilitaries murdered eight people and looted and burned over 25 homes. More than 400 people were forced to leave their homes in the area and have now joined the nearly 2 million other internally displaced people in Colombia–mostly refugees fleeing paramilitary violence. Two days later, on November 3, paramilitaries murdered 27 more people in three other villages in Antioquia. It is quite possible that the same paramilitary unit was responsible for all of these attacks and that the army facilitated their movement, by land and/or air, between the various settlements.
As Human Rights Watch has documented on many occasions it is not uncommon for the Colombian military to assist death squads in this way.
On the morning of October 16, 2000, some 400 Colombian soldiers of the 31st and 33rd Anti-Guerrilla Battalions of the Marine Infantry were deployed around the hamlets of Macayepo, El Limon, Floral, La Palma and La Pita in Bolivar Department, and Verruga, Bajo Don Juan, La Palmira, El Pavo, Buenos Aires, Cana Fria and Palo Alto in Sucre Department. These troops remained in their positions for two days ensuring that nobody could enter or leave the area that they occupied.
During those two days, soldiers of the 31st Anti-Guerrilla Marine Infantry Battalion, assisted by elements of the Army’s 11th Brigade, hunted down and murdered with clubs and machetes 15 peasants who lived in the area. In selecting their victims the soldiers used a list supplied by Colonel Harold Mantilla Serrano, who is known to have close links with paramilitaries in Sucre and central Bolivar departments.
During the two-day killing spree the soldiers responsible also stole cattle, horses and hens, and burned the homes of various peasants. The 400-strong military force was obviously deployed to stop any intervention by international human rights groups or a counterattack by guerrilla units.
The individual officers responsible for the murders include: Colonel Rodrigo Quinones Cardenas, Commander of the First Brigade of the Marine Infantry; Colonel Jorge Castaneda, Commander of the 31st Anti-Guerrilla Battalion; Major Moncada Galindo, Commander of the 33rd Anti-Guerrilla Battalion; Army Colonel Harold Mantilla Serrano; and Army Colonel Benjamin Herrera. The Colombian government has done nothing to bring any of these military personnel to justice.
A recent report released by the Colombian Defensoria del Pueblo (People’s Defender), to mark the national day for human rights in Colombia, illustrates the gravity of the human rights situation in the country:
- 314 massacres took place between January and August 2000 with a total of 1,389 victims. In the same period 1,559 people were kidnapped or forcibly disappeared. 134,799 people were displaced in the first six months of the year bringing the total number of displaced in Colombia to just over 1,800,000 individuals.
- The prison population in Colombia as of mid-2000 was 49,667. The Colombian prison system has a maximum capacity of 30,000.
- 2,800,000 children in Colombia live outside the education system and less than half of Colombian children receive a secondary education. Only 12% of Colombian students reach some form of higher education.
- 25,000 children work in the sex industry.
- 12 children die from violent causes every day in Colombia.
- 80% of the indigenous and afro-Colombian population live in conditions of extreme poverty. 74% of these people receive salaries that are below the legal minimum and their life expectancy is 20% lower than the national average.