Victims of paramilitary violence in the mining region of Cesar have forcefully expressed their desire for truth, reconciliation and reparation. Close to 400 people gathered in the town of Estados Unidos to commemorate massacres that took place 21 years ago in the area close to the La Jagua mine. The audience was addressed by both Padre de Roux, Head of the Colombian Truth Commission and Mark McManus, CEO of mining company Prodeco.
Antonio Calvo, regional coordinator of PAX Colombia: “It is clear what the victims want. A direct dialogue with mining companies that allows the clarification of the facts and especially, reconciliation in this territory.”
Padre de Roux and Mark McManus
The victims that attended the commemoration felt supported by the attendance of both Mark McManus and Padre de Roux. As the head of the Truth Commission the Roux is a key figure within the transitional justice system that is seeking truth and accountability after more than five decades of internal armed conflict.
De Roux addressed the victims saying: "I was very impressed by the community's determination to seek the truth, and at the same time, its ability to forgive if responsibilities are recognized."
Mark McManus repeated Prodeco’s commitment to contribute actively to regional truth-finding and to prevent any reoccurrence of past crimes.
Conflict in Cesar
The mining region of Cesar has been hard hit by the conflict. Between 1996 and 2006, at least 3,100 people were murdered, 55,000 farmers were driven from their land and hundreds of people disappeared. The paramilitary group responsible for these atrocities arrived roughly at the same time that mining multinationals started their operations in the area. However, mining companies have so far failed to address the human rights impact in the mining zone, while at the same time they have benefited from the abuses, for example by obtaining land in zones where communities had previously been forcefully displaced. While victims have been waiting for recognition, truth and reparations for a long time, threats and assaults by paramilitary successor groups have recently increased again.
Time to reconcile
The victims of the violence want to move forward, but also made clear that dealing with the violent past should be part of it. Erasmo Villar, one of the leaders of the victims Peasant Assembly: "We are looking for the acknowledgment that Estados Unidos is a community that came out of violence. Not only do we want the population to be recognized as victims, above all, we want to know the truth."
During the commemoration regional politician and co-author of the Colombian Constitution Hector Pineda made an appeal to start a process of reconciliation between mining companies and victim communities. PAX Program manager Joris van de Sandt: “PAX is preparing victims for such a constructive direct dialogue with mining companies about truth and reconciliation. Despite a lot of fear and suffering, they are ready to reconcile. Now it is up to the mining companies to join.”
Natural Resources, Conflict & Human Rights, Colombia