Human rights organizations respond to The Wall Street Journal

An article written by Mary Anastasia O’Grady and published by The Wall Street Journal last December  has generated the emphatic reaction of human rights and grassroots organizations. The news story reproduces the accusations against the Colombian Peace Community of San José de Apartadó made by Daniel Sierra Martínez (alias “Samir”), a former guerrilla commander demobilized in 2008.

According to O’Grady, Sierra Martínez said during an interview that “the Peace Community was a FARC safe haven for wounded and sick rebels and for storing medical supplies” and “helped the FARC in its effort to tag the Colombian military as a violator of human rights.” O’Grady seems to accept these assertions as true and even suggests that Peace Brigades International (PBI), Amnesty International and the local NGO Justicia y Paz were facilitating guerrilla-support activity in the area.

In a letter to The Wall Street Journal editor, Justicia y Paz‘s Father Javier Giraldo Moreno states that these accusations are part of a defamatory campaign directed by the government and the military. He declares that the alleged links between the Peace Community and the guerrilla are only aimed to justify the crimes committed in the region by the Colombian Army.

In turn, Peace Brigades International (PBI) rejected “the article’s assertion that the leaders of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó are collaborators with the guerrilla organization known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).” In this statement, the international organization emphasizes that both national and international courts have repeatedly recognized not only the legality and legitimacy of the community, but also the need to protect its members.

Colombia Support Network also released a statement on the controversial article. According to this grassroots organization, “O’Grady presented an account of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó rife with false information and allusions to supposed facts which have no basis in reality.” The statement also points out that “more than 30 Peace Community residents have been murdered by FARC guerrillas since 1997 […] because […] the Community does not permit armed actors within its borders and does not give support to any of them.”

In her December 29th article “Mary O’Grady incites violence in Colombian Peace Community” published by Upside Down World, Belén Fernández describes The Wall Street Journal piece as a “pro bono public relations initiative on behalf of right-wing Latin American regimes.” She also assets that Sierra Martínez “is now serving as a primary accomplice in Colombian government efforts to prove campesinos (peasants) are terrorists.”

The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó was founded in 1997 in the northwestern Colombian department of Antioquia as an effort to resist violence from all sides of the internal armed conflict and to prevent forced internal displacement. PBI has offered protective international accompaniment to the Peace Community since the beginning. However, in its almost twelve years of existence, more than 180 members of the community have been assassinated.