Case of “Operation Genesis” at Inter-American Court of Human Rights

Victims describe what happened in “Operation Genesis” in a report to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR Report N 86/06). Operation Genesis was designed by the XVII Brigade of the Colombian National Army to combat the FARC-EP presence along the Cacarica River, but victims say it was carried out with the direct involvement of paramilitaries wearing AUC and ACCU (Campesino Self-Defenders of Córdoba and Urabá) insignia. They also alleged that the armed men who participated in the military operation murdered the social leader Mr Marino López.

Here is an extract from the victims/petitioners presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – IACHR (the full version can be read here, paragraphs 11 to 20):

“The petitioners claim that between February 24 and 27, 1997, the Afro-descendants dwelling along the River Cacarica were affected by a series of aerial and land-based bombardments, raids, attacks on their property, and threatening behaviour that led to the forced displacement of their communities. They claim that this operation, called “Operation Genesis,” was designed by the XVII Brigade of the National Army to combat the FARC-EP presence in the region but that it was carried out with the direct involvement of paramilitaries wearing AUC and ACCU insignia. They also alleged that the armed men who participated in the military operation murdered Mr. Marino López.

Specifically, they claim that on February 24, 1997, airplanes and helicopters flew over the Cacarica basin region, and troops from the Army’s XVII Brigade began moving overland toward the area. During the morning, they claim, representatives from the Afro-descendant communities tried to meet with the officer in charge of the operation in Bocachica, identified as Maj. Salomón, to which end they approached a group of soldiers stationed on the ground. The say they had to cross several security cordons manned by members of the AUC and the ACCU and that they only managed to speak with an armed and camouflaged civilian by the name of Cornelio Maquilon, who told them he was authorized to speak for Maj. Salomón and told them to head for the municipality of Turbo in Antioquia.

The petitioners report that during the afternoon, the first forced displacement of tens of families took place: some headed for higher land, and others walked for more than ten hours until they reached the River Atrato and sought refuge in the municipality of Turbo. By 7:45 p.m. the bombardments of the Salaquí and Cacarica river basins had begun, and they continued for three hours.

They claim that the second “wave” of collective displacements took place that same evening, when military operations began in the community of Puente América on the banks of the Atrato. They report that armed men ordered the Afro-descendant residents of the area to leave in 24 hours were up and left signs reading “Long live the paramilitaries of Chocó and Córdoba” and “A/C: Death to Guerrillas and Informers.”

The petitioners claim that on February 26, 1997, at around 1:10 p.m., some 150 civilians wearing armbands of the Voltigeros Battalion of the Army’s XVII Brigade and the Marines arrived at the settlement of Bijao along the River Cacarica, firing their weapons. Upon hearing the explosions, some community members stampeded toward the mountainous part of the land, where they met with units involved in the military operation that were surrounding the settlement. For 20 minutes the armed men fired their weapons and threw grenades at the roofs of their homes, while others ransacked houses, shops, and barns. They also sprayed the community’s outboard motors with machinegun fire and set fire to an electricity plant.

The petitioners claim that at around 1:30 p.m., the armed men forced the members of the community to gather in the schoolhouse, where they were told that they had three days to abandon their lands. When asked about the reason for the eviction, they replied that those were the orders they had and that “if they were not out in three days, [they] would not be responsible for the consequences.”

The petitioners claim that the next day, February 27, 1997, the armed men tortured and decapitated Marino López Mean.  The petitioners state that members of the military and paramilitaries then kicked it on repeated occasions, as if it were a football match, following which they invited the members of the community of Bijao who saw the incident to join in the game.

The petitioners claim that during the morning hours of February 27, 1997, armed men wearing the insignia of the Voltigeros Battalion of Brigade XVII and of the ACCU entered the community of Bocas del Limón, on the banks of the River Peranchito; they ordered the Afro-descendants to abandon their homes for 15 days and said that the National Police was waiting for them in Turbo. The petitioners report that as the meeting was taking place, the armed men burned down two homes and a small store belonging to the community’s Women’s Committee. They also ransacked community property and left slogans on the walls of the houses, with pictures of skulls and the legend “Death to the Guerrillas. Sincerely, ACCU. The Ox.” Before leaving, the armed men made a threat: “In four days’ time, if we find anyone here, we’ll cut their heads off.”

The petitioners claim that the first three displacements in the communities of Bocachica, Teguerré, Villa Hermosa, Bijao-Cacarica, El Limón, Quebrada Bonita, and Barranquilla were followed by others in the remaining villages. By February 28, 1997, almost 2,500 people had been displaced from the Cacarica area to Turbo, Bocas del Atrato, and Panama. Very few residents decided to remain in the Cacarica basin.

The displaced persons who decided to take refuge in Turbo were first taken there by police units in trucks and animal carts. A large percentage gathered together at the sports stadium, where they remained for several months in conditions of subhuman overcrowding. In turn, the people of Bijao, Puente América, La Honda, and El Limón who were unable to reach Turbo took refuge in Bocas del Atrato, where they were initially given shelter in a schoolroom. Those who tried to return to the Cacarica area met with a military checkpoint at La Loma. Another group of 250 residents – mostly women and children – reached the border with Panama after a 15-day hike through the jungle…”