Colombia’s Special Jurisdiction of Peace has ruled that the Cauca River sustained damage during an internal standoff
Colombia’s Special Jurisdiction of Peace (JEP) has made history by recognizing a river as a victim of an armed conflict. The judicial body was created specifically to deal with the consequences of decades-long internal strife, and characterized systematic damage done to the Cauca River as war crimes.
In its ruling on Monday, the JEP detailed how paramilitary groups operating in conjunction with local authorities used the water artery as a mass grave from 2000 to 2004.
According to the court, thousands of corpses were dumped into the river, affecting the water and the species inhabiting it, as well as disrupting the traditional way of life of coastal communities.
Chemicals used in illegal mining and drug laboratories also ended up in the river.
The JEP stated that the leaders of the local faction of the now-defunct AUC paramilitary group had admitted to colluding with local authorities to dispose of their victims.
The judiciary body revealed that it had taken action after the Afro-Colombian Community Councils from the north of Cauca region highlighted the severe damage done to the river.
“This latest case was the first one in which serious effects on nature perpetrated in the course of the armed conflict were recognized as war crimes,” the ruling pointed out.
The JEP added that the decision could pave the way for similar ones in future.
The internal armed conflict in Colombia broke out in the 1960s, and saw government forces, far-left and far-right groups, as well as drug cartels vying for control of various territories.
The conflict has died down in the past two decades, with the government proclaiming national reconciliation as its goal.
The United Self-Defenses of Colombia (AUC) – a major right-wing paramilitary group – began to disband in 2006.
Ten years later, authorities and the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) signed a historic peace agreement which meant the dissolution of the militant group.
However, several smaller insurgent and criminal groups remain active in the South American country.
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