Published on August 4, 2020 in News + Media

The case of the Italian volunteer Mario Paciolla, who was found dead on July 15 in Colombia, is still a mystery. The Colombian General Attorney’s Office ordered to carry out an investigation concerning the officers of the Criminal Investigation Section (SIJIN) of the San Vicente del Caguán’s police. They allowed members of the United Nations Verification Mission to Colombia to collect the belongings of the volunteer Mario Paciolla and to alter the place where the body of the man was found.

Mario was a 33 year-old man from Naples, who had been working with the United Nations Mission on the verification of the Peace Accords since August 2018, so he was overseeing the implementation of a 2016 peace deal signed between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Previously, from 2016 to 2018, he volunteered and worked in Colombia with Peace Brigades International, an organization working for the protection of human rights defenders in the country. The Italian volunteer was found dead at his home in San Vicente del Caguán, a town situated in Colombia’s southern jungle and used as a strategic rearguard for rebel groups and drug traffickers.

According to Colombian authorities, it was a suicide, but family and friends are skeptical. Moreover, Mario had previously told friends and family that he had decided to return to Italy and end his contract with the United Nations earlier than the expiry date, August 20, and he was supposed to travel to Bogota on July15, to arrange paperwork for his travel back to his hometown. Therefore, since the beginning, Naples’ mayor, Luigi de Magistris and rights groups have called for an investigation into Paciolla’s death, which reminds the unsolved murder of the Italian doctoral researcher Giulio Regeni, who was tortured and killed in Egypt in 2016. Now, as reported on August 2, the Colombian police is under investigation.

Particularly, four Colombian agents, Yomer José Velandia Casallas, Jesús Alberto Rada Gutiérrez, Carlos Alberto Cerón Anacona and Cristian David Giraldo López, in charge for the initial procedures, are accused of negligence, since they did not safeguard Mario’s apartment and they did not prevent the altering of the “crime scene”. This constitutes an obstacle to justice. More in detail, one day after Paciolla’s death, officials from the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) of the UN Department cleaned up the site and collected the personal belongings of the Italian cooperator. Due to the failure of protecting the location of the corpse’s discovery, investigators were not able to then reconstruct the facts or collect new material evidence with the appropriate chain of custody.

Talking to the Italian news agency ANSA, Paciolla’s family lawyer, Germán Romero, explained that “the details of the investigations” that the Prosecutor would eventually report to him would be immediately referred to the victim’s parents. The most awaited elements concern the results of the autopsy, because it is hoped that they will finally clarify the causes of death.

According to the he Colombian lawyer, local law describes cases such as the one related to the Neapolitan volunteer as “violent death”, given that it could be suicide, suicide instigation or murder. Unfortunately, Romero declared that this kind of cases is usually resolved after a long time, given that the judicial authorities must evaluate all the hypotheses and establish with certainty what happened.

In this regard, the Italian Foreign Minister, Luigi Di Maio, expressed his closeness to the family on behalf of the Italian government and ensured all the support needed to understand what happened. “We are acting in all the diplomatic offices and we have activated all international channels to obtain the truth” Di Maio said. The Italian minister affirmed that he recently talked with his Colombian counterpart, Claudia Blum de Barberi, and that she has assured him of “maximum transparency in the investigation”. Moreover, Di Maio also turned to the United Nations, hoping to receive new information as soon as possible.


This article was first published on August 4, 2020

Piera Laurenza