The Invisible Seen!

Genocide as the Colombian State’s response to protest

Interview with Javier Giraldo, Vice President of the Permanent Peoples' Tribunal.

Genocide as the Colombian State’s response to social protest. New condemnation by the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT) for continued genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.


Jesuit priest Javier Giraldo Moreno is a reference in the defense of human rights in Colombia. His serene speech is combined with a precision and firmness in his denunciations that have earned him powerful enemies in his defense of the victims of crimes against humanity. He has been a staunch defender of peasant communities and social leaders in the regions most punished by state and para-state terror.

Author of several books documenting the impunity in the extermination of these victimized communities in rural Colombia, Javier Giraldo has worked since 1972 with the Center for Research and Popular Education (CINEP/PPP), and is a founder of the Inter-Church Commission for Justice and Peace.

He has received the International Award, Human Rights Association of Spain, the John Humphrey Freedom Award and the Juan María Bandrés Award for the Defense of the Right of Asylum granted by the Spanish Commission for Refugee Aid (CEAR). He was a member of the Historical Commission on the Origin of the Conflict and its Victims (CHCV), at the Havana Peace Talks between the Colombian government and the FARC-EP.

GUADALUPE BARAHONA: This is the third session in which the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT) deals with Colombia: in 1991 it judged impunity in crimes against humanity, and in 2008 it judged the actions of transnational corporations in relation to the violation of human rights. What does the PPT contribute, bearing in mind that it is a symbolic tribunal?

JAVIER GIRALDO: First of all, the TPP is a court of opinion. It is based on the judgment of the Russell Tribunal that arose with the Vietnam War. Italian Senator Lello Basso was rapporteur of the second Russell Tribunal on Latin American dictatorships and was at the same time the founder of the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal in 1979, to continue that same experience.

He emphasized the conviction that a tribunal is not necessarily the emanation of a state or inter-state power, but that precisely the reasons of state are a limitation to a judicial sentence that has a profound ethical dimension and, therefore, greater independence.

The court has already handed down 48 judgments, and in all of them there is a very deep wisdom and an analysis of what the peoples who have been most oppressed in the history of mankind have suffered. The effort made by the tribunal is precisely to confront the facts with the juridical ideals that humanity has expressed in International Law, and that many times remain on paper. The collective victims are given an ethical and political weapon of great importance in these sentences.

GB: What is the most transcendent aspect of this historic PPT ruling on Colombia?

JG: The judgment that has just been issued on the genocide in Colombia is exemplary. It covers the dimension of a book, and delves into two centuries of the existence and suffering of the Colombian people. This has been motivated precisely by the fact that after several sessions of the PPT, the governments never agreed to implement the recommendations of the tribunal.

And the Colombian social movements themselves began to make an in-depth evaluation and saw that the great massacres and manifestations of oppression responded to the same script, which had elements that were constant in all forms of state repression during the last century and much further back.

Hence the idea of asking the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal to make a reading of the genocidal structures of the Colombian State, almost from its foundation. This reading could be done in a very enlightened way in this session of the tribunal because the cause was promoted by the social and political movements, through survivors or historians who have studied them.

The rebellious movements, of rebellion, are ordinarily qualified by the State as a negative other, an evil other, that has to be exterminated. Therein lies the motivation to respond with a violence that seeks the extermination of this otherness.

A masterful historical work was done, showing how during this last century most of the social and political movements were exterminated. This was palpably demonstrated in the hearings organized by the court in March, summarized in the sentence. This long trajectory of violent and cruel extermination of movements that do not share the ideology of the ruling elite is shown.

The sentence made a historical account of the forms of repression and brutality of the State, and delved into the meaning and classification of genocide in international law. These were three very fundamental elements in the judgment.

GB: The court’s ruling speaks of continued genocide. Is it a novelty to speak of genocide within the same country and the same social group?

JG: It is the first time that there is talk of continued genocide. But the very characterization or typification of genocide in international law is alluding to the total or partial destruction of a human group with a common identity. The very fact that the historical trajectory of genocide in Colombia has been deepened makes the term continued genocide justified.

GB: What are the root causes of these sustained practices of extermination, displacement, forced disappearance, which go beyond governments of different political persuasions?

JG: Genocide is structural; the term also appears in the sentence. The conclusion reached after all these analyses is precisely that this does not correspond to particular, limited governments, but that a structural practice has been taking root in the Colombian State.

GB: Since April 28th of this year we have witnessed a social outburst and brutal repression. What elements of continuity are there with regard to the practices identified by the tribunal?

JG: The hearings took place in March, and the court asked for a period of two months to prepare the sentence, because the denunciation covered a very long period. While the sentence was being prepared, the mobilization of the National Strike and the brutal response of the State began to take place.

Genocide as the Colombian State's Response. deXmedio.
Jesuit priest Javier Giraldo Moreno has dedicated his life to accompanying and dignifying victims of state and paramilitary violence in Colombia, such as the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó. deXmedio. Photo: Darío Augusto Cardona.


The sentence mentions this, because the State’s response fits perfectly with the denunciation of genocide. It is the attempt to exterminate, to eliminate those who have an alternative identity, what we call a negative otherness.

Rebellious movements are ordinarily qualified by the State as a negative other, an evil other, that has to be exterminated. Therein lies the motivation to respond with a violence that seeks the extermination of this otherness. That is the central characteristic of genocide and it applies perfectly in the State’s response to the protests of the last few months.

GB: What weight has the non-compliance with the 2016 peace accords had, for example in what happened in Cali, which has almost become the capital of resistance during much of the National Strike?

JG: The non-compliance with the peace agreements is a motivational element of the protest at a national level, it covers the whole country. But the situation in Cali, which is the epicenter of this protest, has particular characteristics as well.

Cali is one of the cities where neoliberalism has developed more intensely, where multinationals have had a very intense development, with an ethnic presence, especially Afro-Colombian, of a high percentage of the population; where the indigenous population is also very close. And where this disdain for ethnicity in the middle and upper sectors of society, as well as the class difference is felt more strongly.

The two ways that the current legality gives us for a change of structures that Colombia needs, which are the electoral apparatus and the parliament, are completely rotten.

The misery, the lack of income of the poorest sectors are felt more strongly, especially by young people, who have been the protagonists of this mobilization. They define themselves as “young people without a future”: they have not been able to get an education, a job, access to basic services, to food.

They themselves say that if they were not on the barricades, they would have nothing to eat. They are enjoying the solidarity of other sectors of society that have fed the community pots. These characteristics are not foreign to other regions, but in Cali they are concentrated.

GB: We have seen the Misak indigenous people tearing down statues of colonizers, young people carrying on their banners the vindication of false positives… What is the importance of memory and symbolism in all this that is happening?

JG: On the one hand, the indigenous and Afro-descendants, who since the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the “encounter” with the Europeans, have been developing a progressive consciousness, have been recovering to some extent their autonomy and, therefore, a critical position with regard to history. This has led to the destruction of statues of conquerors and oppressors of all these centuries.

But all these mobilizations have also been accompanied by cultural, musical, poetic, symbolic expressions, graffiti and very original expressions, where the rejection of institutions is expressed, which is a common denominator in all this movement, which states: “we no longer believe in the institutions because they are completely corrupt, we have to change them”.

This has been expressed in the songs, slogans, poetry and graphic symbols that accompany these mobilizations. The cultural aspect has been very important. And this historical awareness started long ago, but it has intensified a lot.

GB: Do you think we are witnessing the end of Uribism, of twenty years of authoritarian spell under the shadow of Alvaro Uribe Velez in Colombia?

JG: Politics sometimes have unpredictable developments, but it is a fact that the polls that have been made for some months now show a huge drop in popularity, both for Uribe and (Iván) Duque. The government’s popularity is on the low ground, at 20%. I believe that this will be expressed in the next elections in May 2022.

GB: Is an electoral solution enough or does it open the way to solve the deep causes of the structural violence of the Colombian State?

JG: Precisely that is a central point. This month, after July 20, there will be a popular assembly in Cali, with the participation of all the regions of the country. And one of the points of discussion is precisely whether the electoral road is viable for the changes that are being demanded.

I have maintained that the two ways that the current legality gives us for a change of structures that Colombia needs, which are the electoral apparatus and the parliament, are ways that are completely putrefied. We should not use them at this moment, because corruption is concentrated there: both in the electoral system and in the parliamentary system.

In the assemblies that are multiplying, this is being discussed, let’s see what  imagination manages to build in order to open an alternative way.

Reproduction is authorized. Thanks to the author.

Taken from::  Mundo Obrero.

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