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Colombia: The JEP, Bojayá and the FARC

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

28 January 2022

Family members receive their loved ones' remains near the site of the massacre
[Steven Grattan/Al Jazeera]

Several former members of the FARC made statements to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) on the Bojayá massacre that occurred on May 2nd 2002 when members of that organization fired a gas cylinder at a group of paramilitaries, who in the midst of the fighting, placed themselves beside the church.  However, the cylinder fell on the church massacring more than 80 defenceless people who had taken refuge there.

We don’t know yet what position the JEP will take on this massacre, but we already know that many organisations and commentators indulged the FARC describing what happened as a tragedy or accident.  Writing a number of years after the events, Alfredo Molano described them thus.

What happened more than a decade ago was a tragedy in which the FARC, the paramilitaries and the state bear responsibility…
So more than 13 years after the country witnessing one of the most tragic episodes in our recent history, the guerrillas of the FARC asked for forgiveness for the harm caused.(1)
But it was not an accident in the strict sense of the word.

We can be certain that the FARC members who launched the cylinder that day, did so in good faith with the aim of killing the paramilitaries installed beside the church and did not aim to kill the civilians in the church.  But that doesn’t make it an accident.  It was perhaps, unintentional but not unforeseeable.  As for the combatants that day we can accept that it was not intentional and talk of involuntary crime and not a deliberate one.  But it was the logical outcome of the FARC policies regarding the use of gas cylinders for attacks in towns and other urban centres.

When Bojayá happened, the FARC had already had long experience in the use of cylinders.  In attack after attack there were civilian deaths, even after Bojayá the FARC used them again causing more civilian deaths.  So, to what extent can we say it was an accident?  An accident can happen once or even various times in a conflict like the Colombian one, however, when the accidents are recurrent, in similar circumstances and the organisation does not revise its methods nor means, we cannot say that they are simple accidents.

When an organisation repeats such actions over and again with the same terrible results, we can conclude that it accepts that the accidents happen and such a possibility is part of their policy and that they have assumed the risks as acceptable.  So, whoever, launched it can say they made a mistake in their calculations, but the real mistake is political and humanitarian and of course a lethal one.  The ELN took the decision in the 1990s to not use cylinders due to the danger they represented to the civilian population.

So, we should be clear about the Secretariat of the FARC’s responsibility in the Bojayá case.  They were fully aware of the results of the cylinder bomb campaign and decided to continue to use them in any case.  That is not an accident.


(1)  Molano, A. (06/12/2015) “Perdón Bojayá”: Farc

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