Attacks against social leaders—particularly those in rural areas—has spiked alarmingly ever since Colombia signed its historic 2016 peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) has been monitoring these cases closely, and is working with our partners to ensure that the Colombian government is pressured into adequately protecting activists and their families from further threats, as well as investigating and prosecuting those responsible for the attacks. The work of human rights defenders is essential to constructing a democratic society and consolidating rule of law.
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.
Increasing Rights Abuses Committed against Colombia’s Indigenous Peoples
On July 9, the National Organization of Indigenous Colombians (Organizacion Nacional Indigena de Colombia, ONIC) released an alarming report that shows that abuses committed against indigenous communities are growing. Abuses against the indigenous are being perpetrated by all of the armed groups including the ELN, EPL, FARC dissident groups, paramilitaries (Gulf Clan, Black Eagles, the Rastrojos, and the Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC), and Colombian security forces.
The ONIC found that from November 2016 to July 5, 2018 indigenous peoples were subject to: 21 murders, 50 death threats, 20 forcible recruitments, 3 tortured, 19 targeted attacks. Furthermore, indigenous communities were subjected to 9,422 confinements (restricted freedom of movement by armed groups), another 1,047 forcibly displaced, and 3 indigenous persons died due to state neglect.
Kidnapped Afro-Colombian Social Leader Found Dead (Cauca)
On July 17, the Cimarrones Guard recovered Ibes Trujillo’s body. Mr. Trujillo was kidnapped on July 10 while he participated in activities related to the Audacia Brisas Community Council of the Agua Blanca River. Mr. Trujillo was active in illicit crop substitution programs, collective land certification, and a member of the National Coordinator for Afro-descendent Organizations and Communities (CONAFRO).
Murders Make It Impossible for Embera to Participate in Consultation Process (Putumayo)
The Human Rights Coordination of the National Organization of Indigenous People of the Colombian Amazon (Coordinación de Derechos Humanos y Paz, OPIAC) reported that July 4, four armed men entered Jorge Arbey Dovigama’s house. Mr. Dovigam is a member of the Caña Bravita Chapter of the Embera people. Upon entry they shot and killed Mr. Dovigam’s father and indigenous leader Francisco Dovigam. Francisco, who is Dovigman’s brother was an indigenous guard. Jorge Dovigma had in his possession (around $2,000 dollars for activities related to the Embera community’s participation in a previous consultation with the multinational oil corporation Gran Tierra Energy. This company is seeking to do a project in the Putumayo region. The murderers stole the money. As a result of the robbery and fear spread by the attack, the community was unable to attend the consultation hearing.
Afro-Colombian Community Action Board President Assassinated (Quibdó)
On July 3, El Colombiano reported that Felicinda Santamaria was assassinated by unknown men in Quibdó, Chocó that same day. Ms. Santamaria was the President of the Community Action Board of Barrio Virgen Del Carmen in Quibdó. This murder adds to an ongoing trend of murders and threats of members of Community Action Boards.
Land Restitution/Union Leader Murdered (Antioquia)
On July 17, El Universal reported the murder of Robert Emiro Jaraba Arroyo, a land restitution and union leader in Cerro Matoso, Latin America’s biggest open air nickel mine. Robert was assassinated in Caucasia, Antioquia where two men on a motorcycle shot him multiple times. The 49 year-old was a director in Sintramineros, a prominent union representing miners in Colombia.
Threatened Human Rights Defender Murdered (Atlántico)
On July 3, human rights activist Luis Barrios Machado was murdered while watching the Colombia-England World Cup game. El Colombiano reports that Mr. Barrios was shot by two men who entered his house in Villa Paraiso de Palmar de Varela. Mr. Barrios had received multiple death threats and was scheduled to meet with the Secretary of the Interior of Atlántico, Guillermo Polo Carbonell, on June 6. At that meeting he was going to be assigned a security detail.
Community Action Board Member Murdered (Antioquia)
On July 3, 25 year-old Leonedis Aleiser Sierra Ortiz was murdered in Tarazá, Antioquia. A member of the San Augustin Bajo Community Action Board, he was shot multiple times. He was taken to a hospital and died three hours later.
Colombia Humana Campaign Leaders Murdered (Antioquia/Nariño)
On July 4, Ana María Cortés was murdered in a cafeteria in Cáceres, Antioquia. That same day, Margarita Estupiñán was murdered in front of her house in Tumaco, Nariño. According to El Colombiano, Mrs. Caceres and Mrs. Estupiñán were regional leaders for Gustavo Petro’s Colombia Humana Campaign in the 2018 presidential elections.
Indigenous Guard Suffers Fourth Assassination Attempt in 2018 (Huila)
On July 19, Edwin Paya Quebrada, Coordinator of the Indigenous Guard to the Regional Indigenous Council of Huila (Consejo Regional Indígena del Huila, CRIHU) suffered his fourth assassination attempt of the year. Edwin was leaving his home when two men intercepted him. One man recognized him and shouted to the second that this was the person they were looking for. The first man aimed a gun at Edwin and pulled the trigger, but the gun malfunctioned. He proceeded to unload the clip, reload it, and fire again with the same result. The men then noticed that a bike was approaching and fled. After his third murder attempt, the National Unit for Protection (Unidad Nacional de Protección, UNP) granted him cell phone, a bullet proof vest, and some funds for transportation, which have already expired. These three measures would be insufficient in protecting Edwin from this past attempt.
Community Action Board President Murdered (Boyacá)
On July 20, Caracol News reported the murder of Horacio Parra Triana, the president of the Community Action Board (Junta de Acción Comunal, JAC) of Betania, Boyacá. The 33 year-old was picking fruit from his farm when he was shot three times. His father heard the shots and found him dead. Horacio was known for his ardent defense of Quinchas Mountain Range National Park.
Community Leader Assassinated (Valle del Cauca)
On July 24, El Tiempo reported the murder of Libardo Moreno, a community leader and aqueduct manager in Jamundí, Valle del Cauca. Libardo was home when two young men asked for help with their motorcycle, as Libardo opened the door to hand them some tools, they shot him and left him for dead. The week prior to his murder there were rumours about an explosive being set off in the aqueduct that Mr. Moreno was in charge of managing.
Afro-Colombian Musician Murdered by Hitmen (Cauca)
On July 22, Ángel Marino Beltrán, a renowned “Marimba” player considered one of the best in the country, was shot and killed multiple times by hitmen in Timbiqui, Cauca. According to various news sources, Ángel had been a main exponent of Afro-Colombian music and had taught his craft around the country. He was an active member involved in multiple social service community actions.
Wiwa Leader’s Son Survives Assassination Attempt (Guajira)
On July 23, José Antonio Mojica Daza, son of the major mamo (leader) of the Wiwa people was shot in the back of the neck by to men in a motorcycle as he approached his father’s house. Contagio Radio reported that although he was left for dead, his family rushed him to the hospital where he survived.
Kwet Wala Delegation Shot at While in Transit (Santander)
On July 24, the Kwet Wala indigenous delegates sent to the community assembly in El Nogal where returning to their territory when they were indiscriminately shot at. Multiple members were gravely injured. On July 18, the Special Jury for Land Restitution in Santiago de Cali had asked the UNP to assess security threats against the participant community and apply the necessary protective measures in order to ensure their safety.
Paramilitaries Committed to “Exterminating All Social Leaders in Colombia”
On July 16, Colombia Reports published a letter from the Black Eagles Paramilitary group where they vow to “exterminate” all social leaders in Colombia. Referring to social leaders as “guerrillas in disguise”, the paramilitaries target dozens of individuals and organizations, including all the Victims Tables in the country. Those listed as “military targets” include the most well know human rights organizations in the country and many political leaders who support them.
Paramilitaries Impede Civil Society from Implementing Peace Accord (Nariño)
On July 12, the Council for the Integral Development of Black Communities in the Western Mountain range of Nariño (Consejo para el Desarrollo Integral de las Comunidades Negras de la Cordillera Occidental de Nariño, COPDICONC), reported that they along with 11 other organizations were designated to be military targets by the Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC). The AGC publicly declared through pamphlets that anyone one working on peace accord implementation is a military target. Anyone who participates in any meetings or participatory planning talks on implementing the accord will be killed.These meetings and participatory planning talks are crucial piece of the peace accord since it is here that the communities begin to build their own policies and community vision that is later presented to Colombian authorities. COPDICONC warns that these threats will deeply halt community participation in making the plans required for effective accord implementation.
Bari Indigenous at Mercy of ELN Guerillas and Landmines (Norte de Santander)
The ONIC reported two separate incidents of human rights abuses against the Bari Caxbarigcayra, Batroctora and Saphadana communities in Norte de Santander. On July 15, combat broke out between the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, ELN) and Popular Liberation Army (Ejército Popular de Liberación, EPL) near the Batrocotora Bari community. This led to the displacement of 9 families. After this incident, the community urged the ELN guerilla to leave their territory. The ELN responded that the EPL had placed landmines throughout their territory and that they would remain there indefinitely. On July 16, ten ELN men entered the Doria family household and accused them of being EPL sympathizers with aggressive threats and actions. The Bari fear for their safety and mobility as both groups remain in the area. They are also concerned about how to handle the landmines scattered throughout their community.
Black Eagles Declares Indigenous Leaders to Be Military Targets (Cauca)
On July 16, the Black Eagles paramilitary group distributed a letter declaring various leaders of the Northern Cauca Indigenous Chapter Association (Asociación de Cabildos Indígenas del Norte del Cauca, ACIN) to be military targets. These leaders all work on land restitution cases. For these cases, the paramilitaries claim is invasion of private land affecting regional land owners and businessmen. Among the threatened are: Hilario Guejia, Julio Tumbó, Carlos Alberto Sánchez, Fabio Nelson Quiguapumbo, Rafael Coicue, Apolinar García, Mauricio Dorado, Edwin Dagua Ipia, Fabíán Dagua, Carlos Quiguanas y Nicolas.
Paramilitaries Threaten Regional Authorities (Cauca)
On June 28, the ONIC denounced that death threats were circulating against local leaders in Cauca. Among the threatened are Cauca Governor Favian Nulcue, the Police Sub-commander for the Cajibío Police, Councilman Silvestre, and other public servers, social leaders, and indigenous authorities from the region.
Paramilitaries Threaten Civil Society Leaders (Valle del Cauca)
On July 2, the Black Eagles Western Bloc distributed a letter that states that 18 persons are their “military targets”. The 18 persons represent a broad sector of civil society including human rights organizations, indigenous communities, Workers Association of Valle del Cauca Rural Farmers (Asociación de Trabajadores Campesinos del Valle del Cauca, Astracava), National Union Unitary Federation for Agriculture (Federación Nacional Sindical Unitaria Agropecuaria, Fensuagro), the National Association for Rural Farmer Reserves (Anzorc), and the Patriotic March political party. The threatened are accused of links with FARC dissident groups. The paramilitary group added that anyone that had supported the candidacy of Gustavo Petro in the 2018 elections would also be eliminated.
Human Rights Defender Receives Recurrent Threats (Córdoba)
The organization Cordoberxia reported the second death threat made in less than 30 days against Over Manuel Pila Cruz. The social leader and human rights defender already received two letters (left under his door), one on June 20, and another on July 3. The death threats state that all social leaders in the area will be killed. Mr. Pila Cruz has recently joined the Municipal Platform for Human Rights and benefits from protection by the UNP.
Land Restitution Leader and Family Displaced Due to Paramilitary Threats (Chocó)
On July 17, the Inter-Ecclesial Commission for Justice and Peace (Justicia y Paz) issued an SOS on the Truaquero family’s displacement in Curvaradó. They were forced to flee after a member of the AGC involved in the murder of Duberley Gómez, a member of this family, was arrested. The AGC vows that they will kill another member of the Truaquero family in response.
Jiw Indigenous Die from Malnutrition Due to State Abandonment (Meta)
Justicia y Paz reported that on June 6, six month-old Catalella Parra and adult aged Gonzalo Rodríguez died due to malnutrition. Both individuals form part of the Jiw indigenous community of Las Zaragozas in Mapiripán, Meta. The community faces severe malnutrition as the Unit for Integral Victim Attention and Reparation (Unidad para la Atención y Reparación Integral a las Victimas, UARIV) and the Colombian Institute for Family Wellbeing (Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar, ICBF) has neglected their pleas for assistance. Authorities failed to provide due humanitarian aid since December of last year.
121 Indigenous Families Confined by Armed Men (Chocó)
On June 4, the Human Rights Commission for Indigenous Peoples (Comisíon de Derechos Humanos de los Pueblos Indígenas, DDHHPI) reported the confinement of 221 families (836 people) in three indigenous communities by an unidentified paramilitary group. On April 10, around 300 armed men entered the Rio Domingodo and Mamey Dipurdu the indigenous reserves. The armed men threatened three indigenous guards while making their way to the house of an indigenous leader they accused of working with the ELN. They men ransacked his house and violently threatened him. The armed group remained in the reserves for two days before leaving.
On June 20, 400 armed men held a meeting where they extended the previous threats to the families of the individuals and imposed a confinement of the communities. Members of the community are not allowed to reap their crops or hunt if they do not possess a certificate issued by the paramilitary detailing why they are leaving the community and where they are going. Anyone found without this certificate will be assumed as a member of the ELN. Wifi access is restricted and groceries must be bought for under $100,000 pesos ($35 dollars) and include a proof of purchase. To enter the community, you must also have a certificate, which none of the threatened individuals has been given. Those who fail to follow these rules is denominated as an ELN sympathizer of member.
Rural Farmer Leader Suffers Extortion and Death Threats (Cauca)
On July 12, Arbey Goméz received a call from men claiming to be ELN members who demanded to receive an immediate payment or face the consequences. On July 21, Mr. Goméz received a call from the same number and a man claiming to be part of the FARC dissidents declared that since he hadn’t completed the payment he now had 48 hours to leave the city or he would be murdered. Arbey forms part various rural farmer unions and civil society organizations in his region.
Armed Men Look for Absent Rural Farmer Leader in his Home (Cauca)
On July 21, the “Francisco Isaías Cifuentes” Colombian Southwest Human Rights Network reported that three armed men entered Solmey Botina’s house. He is the Secretary of the Balboa Municipality Association for Rural Farmers (Asociación de Trabajadores Campesinos del Municipio de Balboa, ASTCABAL) asking for his whereabouts. His partner Legnny Calvache reported he was not in the municipality at the time and so the men fled.
AGC Paramilitaries Threaten Multiple Organizations via WhatsApp (Cauca)
On July 22, Cristobal Guamanga received a letter from the Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) through WhatsApp declaring him and other members of the Pro Constitution Association of the Farmer Reserve Zone in Mirand, Cauca, amongst many other civil society organizations in the region. The “Francisco Isaías Cifuentes” Colombian Southwest Human Rights Network reports that this is not the first letter of this nature distributed to these organizations.
Members of the People’s Congress Intimidated and Harassed (Bogotá)
On July 23, Sebastián Quiroga Pardo, a young activist and spokesman for the People’s Congress (Consejo de los Pueblos) and member of the Executive Committee of the Left-wing Polo party, was harassed by a stranger who insisted he was heading “down the wrong path” and that “it was going to get very rough for him with the new government”. His family’s routine was described by the man before he left to see Sebastian’s father, who he also intimidated by saying his son was facing 12 years in prison, and that “he shouldn’t tell anyone about this because his son would pay the price.” The People’s Congress reported the facts to the Attorney General’s Office. Various others from the People’s Congress reported similar harassment and intimidation around the country.
Paramilitaries Threaten Indigenous Leaders, Families and Community (Putumayo)
On July 27, the Black Eagles paramilitary group declared via written statements all indigenous leaders, organizations and indigenous governors to be military targets. Basically, the paramilitaries accuse the indigenous of being “narco-terrorist guerillas” and promise to kill them all one by one. The organizations particularly at risk of harm due are those that belong to the National Organization for the Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon (Organizacion Nacional de los Pueblos Indigenas de la Amazonia Colombiana, OPIAC).
Indigenous Taita Intimidated by Unknown Men (Nariño)
The Indigenous Authorities for Colombia Patcha Mama (AICO) and the Indigenous Cabildo of the people of Quillasinga Nariño denounced a security incident against taita Henry Criollo, the Governor of the Genoy Cabildo, On July 7, Mr. Criollo was intercepted by two unknown men who forcibly questioned and intimidated him. The men were asking for information regarding his role as an indigenous leader. They asserted “if you are bored with your life and that of your family’s then don’t continue to be involved in processes (movements) that go against the processes that allow for advancement..” The men then said “think about it…your life, the life of your family…”
Paramilitary Presence and Inquiries Endanger Indigenous Leaders (Cauca)
On July 23, the ONIC reported that various armed men were asking for the location and routine of indigenous leader Edinson Fabian Mulcue Guegia. Mr. Mulcue Guegia was threatened multiple times in the past. His community has reported the visible presence of various heavily armed paramilitary groups in the territory and fear for their safety.
Death Threats Force Five Families into Displacement (Antioquia)
On June 10, Enith Johanna Wilches Pérez received a written death threat. Seven days later on the 17th, a man warned her in person that he would execute her unless she left the municipality of Cáceres immediately. As a result, her extended family, composed of five nuclear families, fled the area. The families remain displaced and have little to no resources or a safe place to reside.
Avianca Exerts Reprisals against Pilots Engaged in the winter 2017 Strike
Despite its promises to U.S. officials, Avianca has initiated reprisals against the pilots who engaged in the September-November 2017 strike for equal wages and protection of labor standards that guarantee full security in airplane operations. They fired 94 and suspended the contracts of another 112 pilots for “planning and executing the strike.” Another 300 pilots faced disciplinary investigations while participating in the strike. Captain Hernandez, President of ACDAC, is being investigated for “generating economic panic,” and is facing spurious legal charges for his trade union activities. He is being accused of numerous crimes including providing “false testimonies” and “obstructing justice.” The ACDAC union is facing a lawsuit for more than $190 US million dollars for the prejudices they fomented against the company during the strike. When in reality, Avianca had record profits during the strike with its use of scab pilots. This situation has stigmatized all pilots related to ACDAC to not find work in any other airline in the world. The lack of upholding labor rights and forceful media stigmatization against those pilots has blacklisted them from employment elsewhere.
All but 1 of the 15 female pilots disciplined by Avianca were fired which notes that female pilots were particularly discriminated against and targeted. During the disciplinary proceedings there was no respect for female pilots who were heads of household’s nor flexibility due to their motherly duties. Many of the charges against the female pilots are thought to be invented charges. For example, they urged female pilots to operate a determined airplane for which they did not have licenses to operate. For all pilots who faced disciplinary proceedings, they were denied due process and guaranteed legal representation. They were not allowed to prove their innocence in relation to the charges Avianca brought against them. The Ministry of Labor, who is designated to run such proceedings according to Decree 2164 of 1959, did not participate in these processes. The Ministry of Labor, therefore, facilitated the questionable firings of more than 94 pilots. The fear now is that over time the rest of 450 pilots that remain (around 200 have resigned due to fear) will be fired.
OAS Grants Precautionary measures to Siona People (Putumayo)
On July 14, the Organization of American States’ (OAS) Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, CIDH), granted precautionary measures to the Siona Indigenous people in the Putumayo region. Various illegal armed groups have kept the native communities under confinement as they recruit minors, extort, and plant land mines to control mobility. The precautionary measures set by the CIDH are legal mechanisms under the OAS that request the Colombian government to adopt culturally appropriate protection measures in order to guarantee the safety of the Siona people and territories.
The Guapi Community Unites Actors to Reject Social Leader Killings (Cauca)
On July 24, Afro-Colombian community councils, civil society organizations, the local government and national ministries, international NGOs, FARC party representatives and others unified their voices to officially reject and condemn the murders, threats, and mistreatment of social leaders and human rights defenders.