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In the face of State impunity, popular justice: the People's Tribunal in Siloé

In the first anniversary of the beginning of the historic National Strike in Colombia, a People' s Tribunal was organized in Siloé, located in Cali's Comuna 20. In the face of state impunity, popular justice.

By Jessica García

Photographs: Bárbara Orozco Díaz

Last April 28th marked the first anniversary of the Paro Nacional (National Strike) in Colombia, a historic protest that extended throughout the country for a period of three months. It was the result of a people fed up with a State that remains apathetic in the face of widespread structural inequity. Across the country people from all social sectors, led by the most poor, marched despite the constant persecution against those who dare to defend their rights.

This indolent and repressive State has claimed the lives of dozens of people. According to Indepaz, 83 people were murdered in the country. Forty-four of them are alleged to be victims of the Colombian security forces. Of these 44 murders, 25 were carried out in the city of Cali (Valle del Cauca). One year later, these cases remain unpunished.

Grassroots organizations continue their historic struggle against State impunity. On May 3rd, Colombian civil society organized a People's Tribunal in Siloé with the accompaniment of international organizations. The neighborhood of Siloé is located in Cali's Comuna 20. Twelve people were killed there during in the context of the National Strike and many others were injured. At least one case of torture perpetrated by the security forces, and one forced disappearance were reported.

The People's Tribunal called for the accusation and hearing of charges. To combat the State impunity, the Tribunal has as its aims: "to demonstrate the systematic nature of human rights violations with the State as a constant violator; to clarify the facts and vindicate the memory and dignity of the victims, their families, organizations and communities; to commemorate and build memory so that such crimes are never repeated; and to act in solidarity and accompany the various forms of resistance and struggle that the neighborhoods of the hillside maintain, in honor of life".

The testimony of the victims' families was heard on this day. They spoke up as part of their constant struggle for justice in the midst of the pain of loss, their resistance to stand up again and again for the children of their murdered children. They resist in the face of the fear generated by the threats made against them for the mere fact that they seek justice. The sister of one of the victims said, "We are here in spite of the aggressions", in want of justice, "not lukewarm handkerchiefs".

Although the rulings of the People's Tribunals were not legally-binding , they are legitimate expressions of justice by the people. They expose the absence of justice or, rather, the constant impunity with which the repressive forces of the Colombian State act. In this case, against social protest, a legitimate right of the people. While the State's responsibility was to guarantee the exercise of this right, it was a instead an actor in its extreme repression.

Unfortunately, the case of Siloé is only one of the many cases of impunity of the police force. As the relatives of the victims said during the press conference, a People's Tribunal should be set up in every corner of Colombia to investigate and judge the actions of the repressive forces against the Colombian people. These forces have the approval of the U.S. government, which has approved the highest package of resources destined to Colombia in the last decade, including 40 million dollars for the armed forces, alone. The same forces that were deployed in the city of Cali during the national strike under the exceptional figure of "Military Assistance" and who were one of those responsible for the human rights violations committed in the process of social protest.

However, just as the Colombian government has the political and economic support of the hegemonic power, Colombian civil society has the international solidarity of the peoples. This Popular Tribunal is one example of such solidarity, with a jury composed of internationally-recognized academics and human rights defenders from Europe and across the Americas. A sign that, despite the systematic violations of human rights, despite the fear, despite the history of repression, the people will continue to self-organize and if there is no justice from the State, there will be truth and justice of, by, and for the people.


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