Analysis. New details in the case of the UN volunteer found dead in Colombia confirm that it was not a suicide. Investigations are underway, and international pressure has increased, but we still have few answers.

Who killed Mario Paciolla?

More than a month has passed since the death of Mario Paciolla, a UN volunteer, in San Vincente del Caguán, Colombia, and the results of the autopsy carried out by the Colombian authorities and by the Italian forensic specialists are not yet known.

“Mario did not commit suicide — he was murdered,” insist his parents, who were the first to raise the prospect that he was murdered and to demand new investigations.

The case is now under the responsibility of the carabinieri of the Special Operations Group (ROS), who deal with transnational crimes, which seems to confirm the hypothesis supported from the beginning in the pages of this newspaper as well — that he was executed.

According to the details revealed in La Repubblica on Aug. 28, neither the cuts on his wrists nor the marks on his neck seem to have caused his death. These are more details to add to the long series of inconsistencies found during the reconstruction attempted by the Colombian police, described July 21 by Maria Pirro in an article in Il Mattino. She reported the absence of any cutting instruments that could have produced the wrist wounds among the objects found at the crime scene.

Mario had already planned and bought tickets for the return flight to Italy, which would mark the end of his mission in Colombia: he was supposed to leave for the capital, Bogota, a few hours after he last accessed WhatsApp, and from there he was supposed to board a flight to Italy on July 20.

According to his mother, he was worried about something “dirty” with which he had come into contact, and he’d had a disagreement with his superiors at the UN.

Claudia Duque, a journalist and a friend, has also described the tension that could be felt in the last weeks of Mario’s life, the disagreements with his superiors, the escape route he had prepared that went through the terrace of his home and the call he had made to the head of security of the United Nations mission in San Vicente, Christian Thompson. According to Duque, “such a call is worrying, because it involves the activation of alert protocols that are not common in normal situations.”

Thompson was the one who discovered Mario Paciolla’s body; afterwards, he apparently had the room cleaned with bleach and disposed of computers and phones belonging to the UN in a landfill.

The four Colombian investigative police officers who allowed Thompson to disturb the crime scene are now themselves under investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office. The UN—after a first few weeks of silence and several emails sent to its employees reminding them of their obligation of confidentiality and instructing them not to give interviews—has announced it would offer full cooperation, but without giving further details and with the same line of keeping confidentiality. From the start, Mario’s parents have described the behavior of the United Nations as “secretive.”

A letter addressed directly to the Colombian President Ivan Duque was signed by mayors and councilors from several European municipalities, including Naples, Trento, Padua and a number of Belgian, Spanish and Catalan municipalities, asking for an independent and transparent investigation to ensure that justice will be done in Mario Paciolla’s case.

On July 23, the Colombian government gave assurance, through the Chancellery of the Foreign Ministry, that “everything necessary” would be done “to ensure that justice is served and there is no impunity.” Then there was nothing but silence.

After Bolsonaro’s Brazil, Colombia is second among the countries on the continent most affected by Covid-19. The virus, in addition to highlighting the structural deficiencies of the state, has exacerbated institutional and paramilitary violence by limiting the protection network of human rights activists, who have found themselves isolated in a twofold confinement. In the last month alone, there have been 10 massacres in which more than forty young people have died, and no one has yet been found responsible for any of these crimes.

The climate of impunity, violence and corruption in Colombia will not make the search for the truth about Mario Paciolla’s death any easier. All the more so in a context in which the ruling party is being hit daily with judicial investigations for illicit financing, corruption of witnesses, paramilitarism, links with drug trafficking and massacres of civilians.

It is therefore necessary to increase international pressure to ensure that the authorities of Colombia, Italy and the UN will guarantee an independent investigation to shed light on Mario’s death and break the guilty silence in which dozens of young people continue to be murdered.

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