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The moves of the United Nations Mission in the Mario Paciolla case

After the mysterious death of the UN Italian field officer, who was engaged in a Verification Mission in San Vicente del Caguán, strange coincidences occurred, which reveal the intention of the UN to hide the necessary key information to clarify the facts.

There are no traces left of Mario Paciolla, the UN Italian operator who worked as a field officer for the Verification Mission in San Vicente del Caguán. All the personal effects of the volunteer were collected on 16 July, one day after his death, by a team from the Unidad de Investigaciones Especiales (SIU) of the Departamento de Salvaguarda y Seguridad of ONU (Special Investigations Unit of the United Nations Department of Safeguard and Security), without the officials of the General Prosecutor of Colombia or the Colombian judicial police being present.


United Nations members cleaned up the place where Paciolla lived, collected his personal belongings and returned the keys to the landlord, Diego Hernández, on July 17th. Hernández signed the receipt for the delivery of the property without even reading it and got rid of the few things he had lent to the volunteer. According to him, after the death of Paciolla, with whom he had a verbal contract for 13 months, he just wanted to "turn the page" and almost immediately put the apartment on rent.


In this way, only two days after his death, the possibility to reconstruct the circumstances in which the Italian died and to collect with the appropriate custody obligation those material evidence not taken into consideration during the removal of the dead body was lost.


Likewise, the UN mission ordered the evacuation to Florencia of all staff members who were working in its San Vicente hub, including the office manager, the security officer, volunteers and military and police observers, two of which were out of the country before the facts.


Something similar happened with the staff of the Regional Office (RO) of Florencia, where only the director and some military and police observers have remained. Across the country, the Mission announced that it would grant medical leave and permits to volunteers who request it (in the same way as Mario Paciolla did during the pandemic) and made available a team of experts in crisis management and psychosocial support.


On the same day of July 17, the Mission sent Florencia Jaime Hernán Pedraza Liévano, head of his medical unit, who despite being not a coroner, was present at the Paciolla autopsy conducted by the Institute of Forensic Medicine in the capital of Caquetá. The authorization for the presence of Pedraza was signed by the family of the UN operator, who was mistakenly told that he would be a medical examiner assigned by the Italian embassy in Colombia.


On July 24, the United Nations sent an unsigned inventory of the things collected in Paciolla’s house in San Vicente del Caguán to Rome, together with Paciolla's body and informed his family that they were blocked in Colombia by order of the Prosecutor's Office, which this Thursday July 30 achieved the removal of the immunity of the Mission's digital equipment that had been assigned to Mario.


In addition to these actions, which according to the Paciolla family lawyer, Germán Romero, imply the United Nations violation of the volunteer's right to privacy and the right of access to justice for the family, there are a series of messages that have reinforced the feeling of silence within the Mission. Despite the institutional availability of collaboration, these messages have in practice prevented some of Mario's colleagues from processing the pain. Some of them were unable to speak openly about their fears or doubts about what happened to their colleague who died in the early hours of July 15th.


In the four days following the death of the United Nations volunteer, the Mission headquarters in Bogotá sent three emails in which they reminded to over 400 national and international officials and contractors the obligation to maintain confidentiality and the prohibition of providing media interviews and statements.


"Mario joined the Mission in August 2018. His colleagues remember him as a friendly and empathetic person, totally committed to the mission's mandate and the broader human rights agenda. He fulfilled his task with dedication, enthusiasm and a bright analytical mind. His contribution to our work is invaluable. “We will miss him very much”, assured Carlos Ruíz Maisseu, head of the Mission, in his message of 15 July, asking to" treat this terrible news [the death of Paciolla] with discretion and consideration, out of respect for his memory and that of his family, while the corresponding investigations are being carried out".


On the 16th, a new email from the Mission's administrative manager, Australian Eric Ball, reminded all staff that "under rule 1.2 of the United Nations Charter, officials cannot: 1) Making statements to the press, radio or other public information organizations; 2) Commit to public speaking; 3) Participate in film, theater, radio or television productions; 4) Submit articles, books or other materials for electronic publication or dissemination."


"Please remember that the Head of Public Relations is the only official spokesperson for the Mission. Staff members must not interact/speak with the media without the prior approval of the Special Representative of the General Secretary”, said the official. On Friday 17 July, during a meeting with the Mission coordinators of the different regions of the country chaired by Ruíz Maisseu, there was a minute of silence in homage to Paciolla and again "discretion" was requested.


In his last message, longer and more detailed than the previous ones, on July 19, Ruíz Maisseu assured that the sudden loss of Paciolla was a "severe blow" that caused unease among the members of the Mission and that since the death of Mario UN is doing "everything possible to advance this case in all the necessary aspects: judicial, operational, logistical and, above all, human", adding:"I am sure you will know how to handle this information and the situation with the utmost responsibility and discretion».


The phone call to the head of security

Although until now little is known about the days and hours prior to his death, this journalist was able to establish that on July 14th at 10pm, a few hours before Paciolla’s death, he made a phone call to the security contact of the Verification Mission in San Vicente del Caguán, Christian Thompson.


According to several officials of the United Nations, this call is in itself worrying, as it involves the activation of alarm protocols that are unusual in normal situations.

When consulted directly on the matter, the head of the Mission, Carlos Ruíz Maisseu, remained silent and delegated his press officer, Liliana Garavito, who avoided answering this and other questions about the Mission's actions in the days following the death of their operator, but underlined the desire of the United Nations to collaborate "fully" with the General Prosecutor, who are waiting to know the results of the two autopsies on Mario Paciolla, the last one made out of 27 July in Rome. For now, the 8th Special Prosecution of Florencia does not rule out any hypothesis.

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