WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

(AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

18 Sep 2018 | News

Killings, Threats Against Colombia Human Rights Leaders Continue

So far this year, WOLA has registered at least 82 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.

Nasa Indigenous Leader Murdered (Valle del Cauca)

On August 25, the National Organization for Indigenous Peoples of Colombia (Organización Nacional Indigena de Colombia, ONIC) reported the murder of indigenous leader Florelia Canas. It is not known who is behind this assassination. ONIC calls on the Colombian government to fully investigate this murder and for the UNP to act given the gravity of security problems indigenous leaders are facing by taking effective actions to address this crisis. Florelia leaves behind two children who are 12 and 13 years old.

Embera Chamí Shaman Assassinated (Valle del Cauca)

On August 6, Víctor Chechegamo Tocobio’s, the Major Jaibana (or shaman leader), was murdered in Dai Umada Mía indigenous settlement located in El Dovio municipality. He was found dead with his body bearing multiple bullet wounds. Víctor’s assassination follows the May 28 murder of Amilkar Yagarí Siagama marking the second time this year that an indigenous leader was killed in El Dovio. He was 68 years old.

Indigenous Teacher Murdered (Putumayo)

According to the National Organization of the Indigenous Towns of the Colombian Amazon (Organización Nacional de los Pueblos Indígenas de la Amazonía Colombiana, OPIAC), unknown men killed Amparo Fabiola Rodriguez Muchavisoy, teacher in the Kamentsa community and her husband Alonso Taicus Guanga (Awá tribe member) on September 2. Three unknown men broke into the couple’s house and proceeded to shoot them both multiple times. The couple’s daughter, who was also in the house, was wounded. In 2018, 12 social leaders were murdered in Putumayo. OPIAC urges the Colombian government to investigate these murders and to properly protect social leaders.

Embera Chamí Community Member Murdered (Valle del Cauca)

On August 29, Ernesto Tocobia Guaurabe of the Embera Chami community was murdered in Garrapatas, El Dovio municipality. The Grand Embera Nation reports that two armed men stopped him stopped Ernesto on the street and shot him twice in the face. According to the Grand Embera Nation the land where Ernesto lives is under dispute. He was killed by non-indigenous persons looking to take over this land in order to begin illicit activities on it. Ernesto was 52 years old.

Honduras Reservation Community Member Murdered (Cauca)

On August 23, an armed group shot and killed Libaney Andrade Epe, a community member, on the Honduras Reservation. The community suspected that the “Carlos Patiño” front of the FARC-EP front was responsible because they had trespassed into the reservation on several occasions. As a result the indigenous justice system arrested a man associated with FARC-EP group until further investigation. However, he managed to escape imprisonment after being a few days. The tribe elders hold the Carlos Patiño front accountable for Libaney’s murder. They are calling for the arrest of all its members including the commander, Ferney Diaz alias “Posillo.” The ONIC calls on the Colombian government to support the murder investigation and to provide support to the Libaney family.

Nasa Community Member Killed in Clash with Colombian Armed Forces (Cauca)

On August 23, Fredy Julian Conda Dagua of the Nasa community was killed in a clash with Colombian armed forces. The forces concerned included the Colombian military, Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron (Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios, ESMAD), and police. Land disputes between the Nasa and inhabitants of those lands prompted landowners to call the Colombian armed forces so they can dislodge the indigenous who are reclaiming their ancestral lands. The use of lethal force against unarmed civilians resulted in Fredy being shot in the head by a stray bullet. At first he was in a coma but after being transported to Cali, doctors were forced to disconnect him and he died a few days later. He was 24 years old.

Security Escort of AICO Secretary General Threatened and Assaulted (Nariño)

On August 31, the ONIC reported that Edwin Cuaspud Nazate, a bodyguard, was threatened and beaten. This occurred just minutes after he dropped off Manuel Jesus Cuaspa, Secretary General of the Indigenous Authorities of Colombia (Autoridades Indígenas de Colombia, AICO). Edwin was intercepted by three armed subject who broke his car window broken and asked for Manuel Jesus’ whereabouts. The aggressors stole Edwin’s car keys, cell phone, and proceeded to beat him. The ONIC asks that the UNP provide Manuel with a proper armored car and that they guarantee his safety.

Indigenous Community Terrorized with Violence (Cesar)

On August 23, the Wiwa de Tezhumke peoples were terrorized by men dressed in military clothing firing machine in their community. The Human Rights Commission for Indigenous Peoples (Comisíon de Derechos Humanos de los Pueblos Indígenas, DDHHPI) also reported the presence of men wearing military uniforms and carrying large weapons. The Wiwa Yugumaiun Bunkunarrua Tayrona Organization asked the Colombian armed forces if there was military activity in the region. The commander responded that no such activity was taking place but that they would investigate the next day. They did not show up the next day. However, a few days later the community reports that members of the army allegedly entered the reservation in a white van that had their emblems covered with black tape. The men who were wearing camouflage asked community members about the whereabouts of high profile individuals within the community. These incidents prompter the displacement of 75 families from the reservation.

Death Threats Lodged Against Entire Nasa Community (Casanare)

On August 23, the Nasa Kiwe Fxiw community in Yopal received a collective death threat. Earlier that month, they got a letter giving the community 30 days to abandon the city. According to this threat, if the town wasn’t abandoned within 30 days community leader Wilmer Aranda would ‘have a mouth full of flies’. The Colombian government should conduct a full investigation into these threats. The UNP must increase security for the entire community with special attention paid to Wilmer Aranda.

Riot Police Shoot at Indigenous (Cauca)

On August 14, the ONIC reported that 10 members of the Laguna-Siberia Reservation were shot and gravely injured by the ESMAD. This occurred during an altercation that took place prior to a joint visit by the Ministry of the Interior and the National Land Agency to this reservation.

Military Detains and Tortures Farmers in Catatumbo (Norte de Santander)

On September 8, the non-governmental NGO Minga reported that members of the Colombian military detained farmers in Convención municipality. During this detention the farmers allege that they were threatened and tortured. One farmer almost suffocated when soldiers placed a plastic bag over his head. Bellamin Pérez, President of the Association of Juntas of La Trinidad, was told that rural farmers were guerrillas’ accomplices and that any person seen near the guerrillas would be killed and disappeared. The farmers claim that the soldiers stated that “under the current Uribe mandate” they could do whatever they wanted. Minga urges President Ivan Duque to stick to his promise during his recent trip to Tibú, where he said that the residents of Catatumbo’s safety would be guaranteed.

Afro-Colombian Community Likely to be Stripped of Land (Chocó)

On September 3, Miguel Hoyos was informed that his family will be stripped of the 40 hectares of land that belong to them and the Quebrada Montería community. Miguel Hoyos is losing his ancestral land and is not new to this struggle. In 2008, his brother, Walberto, was assassinated by paramilitaries for defend his family’s land rights.

ACIN Leaders Threatened by Paramilitaries (Valle del Cauca/Cauca)

On September 5, the Black Eagles sent a death threat to the Triunfo Cristal Paez Indigenous Reservation. The letter declares the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (Asociación de Cabildos Indígenas del Norte del Cauca, ACIN) leaders from Corinto and Miranda (Cauca) and Pradera and Florida (Valle del Cauca) to be military targets. Last month, leaders in similar towns received threatening letters from the Black Eagles. In July, the Black Eagles threatened multiple indigenous authorities of the Triunfo Cristal Paez Reservation. The paramilitaries declared them to be military targets for allegedly engaging in corruption because they supported for presidential candidate, Gustavo Petro.

On July 4, Ágremiro Bubu, a member of this community, was approached by two armed men who tied him to a tree and interrogated him. They asked him to tell them the whereabouts of the persons listed on the death threat. Ágremiro refused and was eventually let go. He was told not to tell anyone about this if he valued the lives of those around him. A similar situation occurred on July 16 when María Del Pilar, another member of this community, was stopped and asked to disclose the whereabouts of indigenous leaders Aldivey Dagua and Enelia Mestizo. María was released. However, she and her family became displaced due to fear of another abduction or harm.

FARC Dissident Group Forcibly Recruits Indigenous Leader’s Daughter (Putumayo)

On May 7, Derly Yeidith Villegas Marquez, the 14-year-old daughter of the governor of the Beicocha Guajira indigenous municipality, was approached by five members of the dissident First Front of the FARC. The men proceeded to forcibly recruit her. According to OPIAC, Derly’s mother took her daughter back from the dissidents. As a result, the family was displaced to Mocoa.

Community Ombudsman Displaced Due To Death Threats (Antioquia)

According to the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), the Community Ombudsman of San José de Apartadó, Marco Fidel Hernández, was forced to leave the area after receiving death threats paramilitary groups in May 2018. Marco decided to leave Apartadó when it became clear that no measures would be taken to guarantee his protection.

Journalist and Human Rights Defender Receives Death Threats (Huila)

FOR reported that in mid-August journalist and human rights defender Sirly Chimonja of the Communities Constructing Peace in the Territories (Comunidades Construyendo Paz en los Territorios, CONPAZ) from Pitalito municipality has received death threats. Threatening calls have been made to Sirly’s family and she herself has received several threatening messages.

Ette Ennaka Governor Injured by Police (Magdalena)

On September 14, Ette Ennaka Governor Jorge Ariza and one of his brothers were allegedly beaten by National Police. The brothers were tased and beaten for violating an ambiguous motorcycle law that none of the other persons on the road seemed to be violating. Jorge was detained from midnight until 5 am. He did not receive medical attention for his broken hand until after being released.

Awá Governor is Attacked and Robbed (Nariño)

On July 4, armed men knocked on Awá Governor Norberto Franklin Pai Ortiz’s door demanding to be let in. Norberto refused to let them in. The armed actors forcibly entered the house, beat Nestor and stole his motorcycle and documents. Norberto was told to resign from his post as governor of the Awá people. This incident was reported to the Tumaco police department and Norberto is still waiting to get a response and protection measures.

Indigenous Governor Receives Death Threat (Valle del Cauca)

On August 21, indigenous governor of El Cairo municipality, Jhon Fredy Namundia Vélez, received a death threat from the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia, AGC) telling him to leave the country if he valued his life. Jhon Fredy is a target because he denounces the AGC’s abuses. He was told that if he didn’t leave town by September 1st he would pay with his blood.

Indigenous Governor of Pioyá Reservation Receives Death Threat (Cauca)

DDHPI reports that on September 12, Pioyá Reservation governor Ovidio Hurtado received an AGC death threat. This states that both Ovidio and former Pioyá governor Fredy Alexander Campo Bomba are making too much noise. The AGC considers them to be military targets.

Indigenous Governor of Nunalvi Altulbi Reservation Receives Death Threat (Nariño)

On August 22, Aura Melba López, governor of the Nunalvi Altulbi Reservation of the Awá people received a message directed at indigenous leader Ruber Dagoberto Palmo asserting that he and Aura Melba López were meddling in issues they shouldn’t be. The message goes on to say that the group is following them and plan to pick kill them.

Paramilitaries Pass Freely Though San José de Apartadó Peace Community (Antioquia)

FOR has reported that in mid to late August, several paramilitaries in camouflage and with assault weapons were seen walking through Peace Community settlements. The Peace Community, “Aldea de Paz Luis Eduardo Guerro”, has alleged that three paramilitary commanders have issued threats against Peace Community members, including a minor. The paramilitaries reportedly have a ‘kill list’ which includes current and former leaders of the Peace Community.

Indigenous Leaders Receive Death Threats from Paramilitary Group (Cauca)

On August 21, the South West Block of the Black Eagles threatened several indigenous leaders including members of the ACIN. The threat states that these leaders’ days are numbered and that they will be found wherever they are hiding. This is the 43rd death threat the ACIN received in 2018.

Jiw Indigenous Leader Receives Death Threats and is Illegally Detained (Meta)

On July 23, ONIC reported that 12 armed men dressed in black clothing and wearing face masks detained indigenous leader Juan Ladino. Juan, a senior councilmember of the Jiw Council, was working with his family when the men came in and detained him and his wife for 5 hours. During this time, Juan was interrogated about his role within the Jiw community and was told that if he looked at their faces he would be killed. Before being released, the masked men told Juan that if he returned to the area he would be killed just like his father.

ELN and Paramilitary Groups Seen on Indigenous Reservations (Chocó)

On June 25, paramilitary groups and the ELN guerillas were spotted on the Domingodó River and Chintadó River Indigenous Reservations. At a demonstration calling for the reservations to be left alone, the ELN guerrilla group told protestors that if the paramilitaries came to the reservation, there would be violence. This is a critical situation as there are currently 12 indigenous leaders from the Chintadó River Reservation under threat.

Wayuu Nation Association Leaders Receive Death Threats (la Guajira)

On August 3, more than15 indigenous leaders from the Uribia and Manaure towns were threatened with a letter from the Black Eagles. The threat warns the leaders to leave the area within the next 48 hours or face death.

Women’s Group Legal Representative Threatened (Meta)

According to Humanity in Force (Humanidad Vigente), the Central Block of the Black Eagles circulated a flyer through social media on September 3 targeting the Association of Displaced Women of Meta (Asociación de Mujeres Desplazadas de Meta, ASOMUDEM) legal representative, María Cecilia Lozano. María Cecilia is a survivor of the Mapiripán massacre who also survived an assassination attempted in Villavicencio earlier this year.

Embera Chamí Indigenous Leaders under Threat (Risaralda)

On June 14, unknown men entered the Embera Chamí Reservation. They threatened indigenous leaders Oscar Bernaza, Nelson Siágama, Hermeregildo Jaramillo, María Luz Nariquiaza, and Araceli Nariquiaza. In El Alto del Cebo, six unknown men threatened and robbed Oscar Bernaza after being told he wasn’t the one they were looking for. They made clear that they were searching for Nelson Siágama, Councilor of the Indigenous Regional Council of Risaralda, to assassinate him. In addition, threatening text messages have been sent to indigenous leaders Hermeregildo Jaramillo, María Luz Nariquiaza, and Araceli Nariquiaza.

Six Indigenous Families Threatened with Forced Displacements (Guaviare)

On August 22, OPIAC reported that six families of the Nükak Wayari Muno indigenous community received death threats warning them of the consequences of not abandoning their land.

Armed Men and Women Spotted in Caño Ovejas Reservation (Meta)

On July 30, two armed men in civilian clothing drove into the Caño Ovejas Reservation looking for Reinaldo Rojas, a Jiw Community member. The men asked several members of the community about Rojas’s (also known as “Cocoto”) whereabouts. Abreast of the situation and in an act of solidarity, everyone in the community told the men that they didn’t know where Reinaldo was. This spotting comes days after a group of armed men and women wearing black and camouflaged clothing were seen nearby in Lote 3 de Pradera.

Anti-union Violence on the Rise in Colombia

On September 5, the National Labor School (Escuela Nacional Sindical, ENS) highlighted that trade unionists are facing increasing dangers. According to the ENS Information Database of Human Rights, from January 1 to August 27, 2018 there were 14 homicides, 6 attempted homicides, and 134 threats. This is a sharp increase in the number of incidents of persecution and threats against unions and their members. Education and agriculture are among the sectors most affected by anti-union violence.

Zenú Indigenous Leaders Threatened and Request Increased Security (Córdoba and Sucre)

On July 13, Zenú indigenous leader and community advisor Martín Darío Moreno Arguello requested increased security measures after one of his advisees was threatened. That day, unknown men entered the house of indigenous leader Rafael Turian and threatened him for his involvement as one of the leaders of the Zenú Reservation. Arguello, an adviser to Turian, has called on the UNP to increase security measures and provide him with a better armored vehicle than his current vehicle, a Renault Duster that often gets stuck in the muddy areas of the Córdoba and Sucre departments.

Social Leader Followed and Harassed (Putumayo)

The Inter-Ecclesial Commission for Justice and Peace (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz, CIJ) denounced that on September 13, social leader Sandra Lagos of the Farmer Reserve of the Amazon Pearl Zona (Zona de Reserva Campesina Perla Amazónica, ZRCPA) was followed home by an unidentified vehicle. After arriving to her home in Puerto Asís, the vehicle remained park with the two men diagonal from her house for ten minutes. Sandra has been the target of followings before and has called for increased security.

Protesting Embera People Attacked by Special Forces (Bogotá)

On September 5, a Colombian Special Forces unit allegedly attacked and harassed displaced Embera people protesting for better living conditions. As the Embera people wait for return plans to be put in place, many are living in transitory housing in Bogotá. On the September 5 protest, protestors were calling for better pay and a higher quality of life, arguing that the transitory housing they were provided with would limit socio-economic mobility.

Activists, Opposition Politicians and Others Threatened by Black Eagles

In August 2018, the Black Eagles circulated another death threat containing a list of activists, politicians and IDP activists it considers to be military targets. Among those listed are persons who work closely with WOLA including Marco Romero (CODHES), Luz Marina Becerra (AFRODES), Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (CCAJAR), Colombia Diversa, Somos Defensores and Jorge Rojas. The missive also noted various opposition political figures including Senator Alexander Lopez Maya, Senator Ivan Cepeda and Claudia Lopez and journalists/cartoonists Daniel Coronel and Matador. The persons listed are accused of being guerillas pretending to be social leaders and activists. The Black Eagles state that nothing will stop them, not even protective measures, from exterminating these persons and their families. WOLA is particularly concerned about the safety and security of IDP leaders listed in the threat and members of AFRODES. Recently, we visited Llano Verde (IDP settlement in Cali) whereby all the IDP leaders were under constant threat and harassment from illegal armed groups. We urge that actions are taken to protect all who are listed in this threat.

Death Threats Increase against Social Leaders in Ciudad Bolivar (Cundinamarca)

According to Canal 1, social leaders in Ciudad Bolivar are increasingly under attack by the Aguilas Negras. They face death threats, extortion and threats of kidnapping.

Report Highlights Security and Humanitarian Crisis Facing Civilians (Chocó)

The Interethnic Solidarity Forum of Chocó (Foro Interétnico Solidaridad Chocó) released a report on September 14 where they detail the humanitarian crisis in the Chocó. According to its findings, violence, the armed conflict, and criminality perpetrated by the Gulf Clan (Clan del Golfo), ELN and other illegal armed groups continues to severely impact the civilian population. The groups continue to plant landmines, recruit minors and to steal farmer’s animals. These groups act with impunity to the point that they organize sports and community events without repercussions. Their activities lead to forced displacements and humanitarian confinements. In urban areas most notably Quibdó and Istmina, the homicide rate has surpassed the national average. The phenomenon of “invisible borders,” whereby illegal armed groups impose curfews and control the population is concerning. According to the report, urban violence is accentuated by the dire prison system since overcrowding, inefficiency of the justice system and the lack of programs to reintegrate former prisoners facilitate criminal activity.

Government institutions are unable to address food scarcity and malnutrition, health concerns and to provide basic sanitation to many in the department. The quality and quantity of hospitals in the department remain deficient. In the past three weeks, 15 children of different communities died due to lack of access to basic medical attention. These difficult circumstances are exacerbated by the environmental degradation taking place due to illegal mining and the harvesting of illicit crops. In spite of the public protests in August 2016 and May 2017 that lead to agreements with the authorities, not much has changed. FISCH is calling on the Colombian authorities to fully implement the Ethnic Chapter of the FARC peace accord in the region. It also urges the Government and ELN to come up with a humanitarian plan so that the conflict’s impact on civilians is mitigated.The full report can be found here.

Human Rights Defender’s Protective Measures Cut (Antioquia)

James Zuluaga, a 30-year-old human rights defender from Medellín, survived 4 assassination attempts including being shot in the ribs. An August 17, the newspaper El Espectador reported that the government-issued cell phone given to James was not renewed. Also that his government-issued panic button has only worked once. James’ protective measures require strengthening.

Pilots Union Victim of Illegal Surveillance (Cundinamarca)

This week an informant from the Attorney General’s office revealed that the independent pilots union, ACDAC, responsible for initiating the Avianca pilot work strike last year were illegally intercepted by a private security company linked to a former police general. This revelation is very problematic, it should be investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.

Smurfit Kappa Carton Company Engaged in Union Busting

SINTRACARTOL (the national paperboard workers union) reports that Smurfit Kappa Carton Company is engaged in systematically blocking union activity. The company has denied workers union permits so that workers in the Bogota and Medellin factories can meet to exercise their trade union rights. Several unionists were fired, had their union protections rescinded and/or face disciplinary proceedings. Among those targeted are union directors that include Yair Giraldo, Ricardo Hernandez, Fardy Garrido, Jorge Agudelo, Humberto Ovalle and Ferdinando Rodriguez. WOLA urges the Colombian Ministry of Labor and the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate these claims and to guarantee unionist’s rights.

Mining Union Decides to Initiate Strike (Valle del Cauca)

On August 27, the National Transport and Logistic Workers (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores del Transporte y la Logística, SNTT) working at the TCBUEN port of Buenaventura voted to strike. With 82% of the union in favor of a strike, the tone has changed between the workers and the multinational company that employs them, APM Terminals. The Agency of Labor Information (Agencia de Información Laboral, AIL) reported that the two sides have plans to meet and negotiate a far more beneficial deal for the striking workers.

Oil Company Blocked from Drilling on Indigenous Reservation (Putumayo)

On August 24, the newspaper El Espectador reported that a Putumayo judge moved to block English oil company, Amerisur Resources, from drilling in a region of Putumayo that encompasses land controlled by the Siona people. Additionally, the National Land Agency also ordered that a fence be installed around the Buenavista Reservation to make it clear that it belongs to the Siona community. A big win for the Siona but its leaders remain vigilant as they know that Amerisur plans to retaliate sooner rather than later.


We thank you in advance for your attention to these important matters. Please contact us for further details if needed.


Gimena Sanchez

Director for the Andes