WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

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21 Aug 2018 | News

August Update: At Least 75 Activists Killed in Colombia So Far This Year

So far this year, WOLA has registered at least 75 assassinations of Colombia human rights leaders or members of vulnerable ethnic communities in the country. Below is a list of the incidents that have occurred since our last monthly update. Together, we stand with our partners in Colombia in calling for justice.

Today we write you to ask that you intervene in the following human rights situations:

Nasa Indigenous Leader Killed Despite Having Protection Measures (Nariño)

On August 19, Nasa indigenous leader Holmes Alberto Niscue, who was accompanying the Awá indigenous community’s struggle in the Awá of Gran Rosario Indigenous Reservation in Tumaco was murdered in front of his home. According to the National Organization of Indigenous Colombians (Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia, ONIC) Holmes was under threat due to his advocacy for some time now and he was the recipient of protection measures by the National Protection Unit (Unidad de Protección Nacional, UNDP). Local sources indicate that he was assassinated via three gunshots in the head just “200 meters from the Police Station in the Guayacan” area. Given Holmes’ profile in the Awá human rights effort, this is a major blow. He leaves behind a widow and several children.

Afro-Colombian Leader Assassinated in Turbo (Antioquia)

Hired gunmen took the life of Luis Alberto Rivas Gomez in Turbo on August 18. Luis worked with the Afro-Colombian traditional authorities (ANAFRO) and the Black Communities Process (PCN), two groups that form part of the Afro-Colombian Peace Council (CONPA) and the Ethnic Commission. He was an avid defender of natural resources found in Afrodescendant collective lands and worked to construct a more just world for Afro-Colombians.

Threatened Indigenous Leader Murdered (Cauca)

On August 10, ONIC reported the murder of leader Emiliano Trochez Yonda. He was shot close to his home in the Guadualito indigenous reserve in Santander de Quilichao, Cauca. The leader was threatened before, showing that the threats made against these authorities effectively materialize into murders and that the situation for indigenous leaders is worsening in the post-conflict era.  Also in Cauca, in Miranda municipality, two male corpses containing bullet wounds were found this week. Their identities are yet to be revealed.

Environmental Leader Murdered (Caquetá)

On July 30, Raúl Buitrago was shot eight times by unknown men. LaFM reported that Raúl was killed as he made his way home Inspección de Fraguita, Caquetá.  Raul was the head of the Environmental Commission of the Fragua Portal Association (Asociación Portales del Fragua) and the Coffee Grower Organization of San José del Fragua (Asociación de Cafeteros del municipio de San José del Fragua). The local Ombudsman (Personero) for San José del Fragua reports there are three other civil society leaders under threat.

Paramilitary Whistleblower Murdered in Antioquia

On August 4, El Espectador reported the murder of Julio Valencia, who had previously warned local Ombudsman (Personero) Fredy Armando Uron Freytter about an assassination plan against him by the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia, AGC). Valencia’s warning caused Fredy to be displaced as police could not guarantee his protection in Murindó, Antioquia. Fredy had been threatened since he reported the presence of 150 armed AGC men in his municipality on July 7.

Human Rights Groups Call for Action in Southwest Colombia (Valle del Cauca)

On August 11, the Association for Social Research and Action (Asociación para la Investigación y Acción Social, NOMADESC), the Intercultural University of the People (La Universidad Intercultural de los Pueblos), the Black Communities Process (Proceso de Comunidades Negras, PCN), the Movement of Victims of State-Sponsored Crimes (Movimiento de Víctimas de Crímenes de Estado, MOVICE), the National Union of Workers and University Employees of Colombia (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores y Empleados Universitarios de Colombia, SINTRAUNICOL), and the Congress of the People (Congreso de los Pueblos) sent a letter to President Iván Duque calling on him to address the human rights crisis occurring in the Southwest of Colombia.

According to rights groups, 123 social leaders have been assassinated between January 1, 2018 and July 5, 2018. The statement highlights that 40% of the criminal acts against social leaders in the last 30 months have occurred in Southwestern Colombia. On August 9, a menacing letter from the Black Eagle Paramilitary group was sent to 10 different social organizations and 21 social leaders promising the continued counteraction against social leaders who oppose the political vision of Iván Duque. One day later indigenous leader and coordinator of the Guadualito Guard Emiliano Trochez Yonda Camayo of Northern Cauca was murdered (see above). That same day, telephone threats were made to Magaly Pino, a social leader associated with the National Agricultural Coordinator (Coordinador Nacional Agrario, CNA) and the Congress of the People. These threats were right after Pino participated in the Human Rights Forum organized by the Ministry of the Interior and the Valle Governorship.

Indigenous Teenager Suffers Serious Injuries after Explosion (Cauca)

On July 28, the ONIC reported that 17 year-old Ana Yamilet Yule Rivera was seriously injured and hospitalized after an explosion in her farm in Jambaló, Cauca. The Jambaló indigenous is subjected to threats, killings, and anti-personnel landmines.

Armed Men Roam at Large in Embera Chami Indigenous Reserve (Risaralda)

Since July 9, hooded, armed men in motorbikes have stalked and threated individuals in the Embera Chami reserve located in Pueblo Rico, Risaralda. The ONIC reported the men were inquiring about the whereabouts of already threatened leaders Raúl Guasiruma Nacabera, Rodrigo Nacavera Guaciruma Martín Siágama Gutiérrez, and Luis Albeiro Onógama Guasiruma. The Black Eagle Paramilitary group is suspected of the threats due to their increased activity in the area. All though the UNP has given the leaders a security detail, a cellular phone, and a bullet proof vest, these measures have proved insufficient and disarticulated from the territorial and cultural reality of indigenous leaders. The ONIC is calling for collective protection measures and security details that are familiarized with the territory and community.

Threats to Afro-Colombian Leaders Involved in Peace Implementation (Cauca)

On August 9, the Afro-Colombian Association of Community Councils of Northern Cauca (Asociación de Consejos Comunitarios del Norte del Cauca) reported that leaders and human rights defenders Luis Alfredo Bonilla, Gary Escobar, and Roassana Mejía Caicedo, received a death threat for their involvement in the implementation of the peace accord. The leaders woke up at 3:57am to a text that condemned their life because of their active participation in land restitution efforts, the planning of the Territorial Development Plans, and other projects under the accord’s framework.

COCCAM Substitution Leader Displaced Due to Death Threats (Caquetá)

On July 12, the National Coordinator of Coca, Poppy, and Marijuana Cultivators (Coordinadora Nacional de Cultivadores de Coca, Amapola y Marijuana, COCCAM) reported that recurring death threats aimed at Balvino Polo Hurtado forced him out of his home. Balvino is a member of the COCCAM political national commission and an ardent supporter of the National Program for Integral Substitution (Programa Nacional Integral de Sustitución, PNIS). On January 27, an unknown person aggressively approached Balvino’s vehicle and warned him not to go back to his house in Montañita. Two months later he returned to his house where he received a call reminding him that he was told not to return. On July 12, he was threatened and told to quit the PNIS or be declared a military target. Due to the recurring death threats, Balvino has not returned home and continues to live separated from his family.

Union Leader Threatened in Cartagena (Bolivar)

On July 16, the Secretary General of the Biofilm Workers Union (El Sindicato de Trabajadores de Biofilm, SINTRABIOFILM), Daniel T. Polo Lidueña received death threats via several WhatsApp messages. Lidueña was told that if he wanted war then he would receive it. The messages went on to threaten Lidueña and his family. The unidentified messenger made allusions to Lidueña’s family, hoping to intimidate him, and warned him that he could be disappeared. At that point Lidueña decided to block the number and report it to the authorities. SINTRABIOFILM has been the target of various threats over the years and has been included on several lists of highest-risk unions in the Department of Bolivar.

Security Situation Deteriorating for Afro-Colombian Leaders in the Pacific Coast (Cauca)

On August 6, the Coordinator for Community Councils and Organizations of the Black Cauca Pacific Coast (Coordinación de Consejos Comunitarios y Organizaciones de Base del Pueblo Negro de la Costa Pacífica del Cauca, COCOCAUCA) emitted a press release denouncing the mounting death threats received by its members and leadership during June and July. An assassination attempt on one of its leaders and multiple letters from the Black Eagles have frightened COCOCAUCA leaders and their families. A majority of them have been declared “military targets” unless they leave their homes and communities.

Rural Farmer Leaders and Community Received Paramilitary Death Threat (Magdalena)

On July 16, the Colombian Association of Rural Farmers (Asociación Campesina de Colombia, ASOGRAS) reported that Cesar Augusto Tamayo, President of ASOGRAS, Victor Manuel Garcia Carvajalino, Secretary General of ASOGRAS, and other members of ASOGRAS where given 48 hours to leave their communities or be murdered instead. The letter circulated by the Black Eagles also warns they will conduct a purge of human rights defenders and petty criminals in the region. The ASOGRAS leaders are threatened for participating in the implementation of the peace agreement with the FARC, as well as supporting candidate Gustavo Petro in the past presidential elections.

Indigenous Leader and Teacher Threatened in Valle del Cauca

On July 25 the ONIC reported that social leader and teacher Odílmer de Jesús Gutiérrez of the Embera Chamí community in Bolívar, Valle del Cauca, received a death threat in the form of a letter delivered to his home. The death threat orders him to leave the municipality within eight day or be murdered. Traditional indigenous protection measures are in place while the leader awaits a decision on his threat level as determined by the UNP, which could decide to grant him further protection.

Naya Massacre Survivor and Indigenous Leader Threatened (Cauca)

On July 7, the ONIC reported that indigenous leader Enrique Fernandez Dagua received multiple death threats which accused him of being a guerilla member and a communist. On February 19, a mail bomb was delivered to his door step before being carefully diffused by the local authorities. Enrique is also a survivor of the 2001 Naya Massacres committed the AUC paramilitaries.

WOLA Human Rights Prize Recipient Followed in Bogotá (Bolivar)

On August 14, members of the UNP reported that human rights defender Danilo Rueda of the Inter-Ecclesial Commission for Human Rights (Justicia y Paz) was followed by two unidentified men riding a motorcycle. The men followed Danilo until UNP agents began to pursue them. The men quickly turned off the street and the motorcycle license plate could not be read. This is the third time this year Danilo was followed or taken hostage.

Death Threats Cause 110 Social Leaders in Antioquia to Resign from Jobs (Antioquia)

An August 14, Contagio Radio reported that consistent death threats play a large cause in the increase in social leaders and human rights defenders resigning from their jobs. According to Oscar Zapata of the Colombia-Europe-United States Coordination (Coordinación Colombia-Europa-Estados Unidos, CCEEU), there has been a 190 percent increase of selective assassinations in the Bajo Cauca. Concerns among residents in Antioquia are growing as the Department now finds itself second only to Cauca on the list of Departments with the most social leaders assassinated.

National Union School Finds Infiltrated Bodyguard to be a Part of Hitmen Gang (Medellin)

On July 31, the National Union School (Escuela Nacional Sindical, ENS) reported that multiple thefts to their campus were linked to a gang of hitmen dismantled to the police. Among the members of the gang they found a former bodyguard for the ENS director Carlos Julio Díaz Lotero. The assailants knew the security schedules and the location of security cameras. The UNP hired the man through a third-party agency, neither have responded to the allegations of the ENS.

Controversial Police Intervention in Union Protest (Atlántico)

According to the Central Coordinating Body of Workers (Central Unitaria de Trabajadores, CUT) unionized Bavaria workers were pacifically protesting labor conditions in Barranquilla when the police barged in and intimidated the protestors. The purpose of the protest was to demand that workers’ collective bargaining rights are respected. The CUT is asking that Colombian judicial authorities investigate the actions taken by Rafael Villamizar of the National Police.