WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

(AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

18 Dec 2018 | News

December Update: At Least 120 Activists Killed in Colombia So Far This Year

So far this year, WOLA has registered at least 120 assassinations of Colombia human rights leaders or members of vulnerable ethnic communities in the country. This could put 2018 on track to be the deadliest year for human rights and social leaders since the 2016 signing of the peace deal: according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2017 saw 121 human rights and social leaders killed in Colombia, compared to at least 59 in 2016. This varies from the count kept by the Colombian government (282 social and human rights leaders killed from January 1, 2016 to February 27, 2018) and various human rights groups in Colombia who keep separate tallies.

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.


10 Bonaverenses Assassinated in November (Valle del Cauca)

On November 22, the Inter-Ecclesial Justice and Peace Commission (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz, CIJP) reported that 10 persons were murdered in the Afro-Colombian city of Buenaventura. Also that violence against human rights defenders there is increasing. One of the victims was dismembered and pictures of his body parts circulated on social media. Community leaders claim that over 20 persons were killed in just the past two months. The presence of criminal and paramilitary groups that circulate false information and threats against their targets using pamphlets makes this violence recurrent. The false information stigmatizes the target person who is then socially excluded by others within his community due to fear. The spreading of false information makes facilitating a dialogue with perpetrators in order to stop the violence difficult. As tensions climb, criminal and paramilitary groups take advantage of the uncertainty to act. Confusion, mistrust, fear of reprisals and the lack of effective action to stop these groups on the part of the public forces present generate anxiety for residents who are at a loss as to what to do in these circumstances.

Awá Leader, His Son and Others Assassinated and Wounded (Nariño)

On November 6, El Tiempo newspaper reported that three Awá indigenous persons were killed within less than 24 hours. Héctor Ramiro Garcia, founder of the Camawari Organization (Organización Camawari) and one of the oldest indigenous resistance leaders in the department, was assassinated along with his son Braulio Arturo Garciá. A few days prior, Braulio, who is 28 years old, was elected as governor of the El Palmar reserve for 2019. Indigenous guards Miguel García (coordinator), Gilberto Nastacuas, Gerardo Nastacuas, and Juvenal Torres were all gravely wounded in the attack. That same day, a 16-year-old girl was assassinated and her body later found with several gunshot wounds. According to the Camawari Organization more assassinations of this sort have occurred that remain unreported.

ENS Report on Violence against Activists and Union Leaders in 2018

On December 10, the National Labor School (Escuela Nacional Sindical, ENS) published a report on violence against activists and union leaders in 2018. The human rights situation in Colombia raises great concern, as the persecution and violence against social leaders, trade unionists, and human rights defenders has intensified. Between January 1 and November 30 there were 194 human rights violations committed against trade unionists in Colombia, including 146 threats, 28 homicides, 7 attacks, 6 harassment, 3 forced disappearances, 2 forced displacements, an illegal raid and a case of torture. There was also an increase in menacing actions against union organizations, from 9 cases in 2017 to 36 in 2018. These assassinations and attacks are only some of the concerns regarding the breaches in the implementation of the Peace Agreements with the FARC and the obstacles hampering progress with dialogues with the ELN.

Embera Chamí Indigenous Leader and Family Massacred (Caldas)

The National Organization of Indigenous Colombians (Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia, ONIC) reports that three members of a family were massacred on November 23 in the San Lorenzo Embera Chamí indigenous reserve. Community leader Serafín Díaz, his wife Gabriela Tapasco, and their son Cesar Augusto Díaz Tapasco, who was the academic coordinator of the Institution of San Lorenzo, were killed after four armed men entered their residence. The only survivor was the family’s daughter.

Two Afro-Colombian Youth Murdered by Police (Cundinamarca)

As reported in El Espectador newspaper, AFRODES rejected the December 1 murder of two Afro-Colombian youths at the hands of the police in Ciudad Bolivar and Soacha. The police were called to a party in Ciudad Bolivar to calm down the crowd after an incident took place. These police arrived, saw that things were under control and left. Shortly after, a second group of police came in shooting indiscriminately at the crowd. A bullet hit Cristina Johana Martinez Asprilla who later died from her injuries at the hospital. That same day the police shot and killed another youth in Soacha. According to AFRODES, the police are intimidating and threatening witnesses with death so that they will not talk about what happened.

Sa’t we’sx Indigenous Authority Assassinated (Cauca)

The Indigenous Authorities of Huellas Caloto (Autoridades Indígenas de Huellas Caloto) report that Edwin Gregorio Dagua Ipia was murdered on December 7. Two individuals approached Edwin and shot him four times, killing him instantly. In July, the ONIC had reported that Edwin was the target of threats from the Black Eagles. He was 28 years old.

Human Rights Defender Assassinated (Cauca)

On December 9, Human Rights Web (Red de Derechos Humanos) reported the murder of human rights defender Gilberto Antonio Zuluaga Ramirez. Zuluaga Ramirez was an active member of the Association of Workers of the Peasant Reserve Zone of Corinto (Asociación de Trabajadores Campesinos de la Zona de Reservas Campesinas de Corinto, APROZONAC). An unknown individual approached him and shot him in the head.

Humanitarian Zone Bombed Injuring Residents (Chocó)

On December 6, CIJP reported that the Colombian armed forces engaged in a series of bombardments within the territory of Jiguamiandó. Around 9am, planes and helicopters were seen flying over the Jiguamiandó River close to the pacifistic community of Nueva Esperanza. Thirty minutes later, bombs fell on the ground next to this Humanitarian Zone. In the afternoon, an airplane passed over the area throwing flares over where the bombs hit. A total of nine craters were found the following day; the military was nowhere to be found. The community inhabitants evacuated the zone, not knowing who ordered the attack. One individual suffered an auditory injury and a child was thrown from its cradle due to the shock wave of one of the bombs. For the community composed of victims of the conflict, this incident induced traumatic flashbacks to a similar events that took place in 1996.

Awá Indigenous Girl Sexually Assaulted and Assassinated (Putumayo)

On November 13, the Amazon Indigenous Peoples Organization of Colombia (Organización Nacional de los Pueblos Indígenas de la Amazonía Colombiana) reported the sexual assault and assassination of Luz Delly Anacona Guanca. She was a member of the Awá indigenous community and lived in Cabildo el Chanul.

Murder Attempt against Human Rights Defenders (Santander)

Vanguardia newspaper reported that an assassination attempt against a group of human rights defenders traveling in a National Protection Unit (UNP) vehicle took place on November 17. María del Socorro Abril Cediel, president of the Association of Displaced Persons Settled in the Municipality of Barrancabermeja (Asociación de Desplazados Asentados en el Municipio de Barrancabermeja), was among the group in the vehicle. Only two days before, unknown actors had fired shots at her house and left a pamphlet which contained a photo of her face above a phrase that read: “rest in peace.” This incident is only one of the many assassination attempts María has had to endure.

Anti-Narcotics Police Attack Human Rights Defender (Antioquia)

Kaosenlared online newspaper reported an attack against human rights defender and member of the Community Action Board of La Unión Tarazá Municipality (Junta de Acción Comunal del Municipio de Tarazá), Luis Correa Mazo on December 1. During a social protest, Luis was shot by the Anti-Narcotics Police and transported by helicopter to a nearby clinic. His family followed and upon arrival, they received visits and calls from the police they considered to be intimidating. Luis, in addition to being a community leader, is also part of the Peasant Association of Bajo Cauca (Asociación de Campesinos del Bajo Cauca).

Land Restitution Leader, Other Officials Declared Military Targets (Chocó)

On November 23, CJIP denounced that a message had arrived to the Ministry of the Interior’s office containing a threat against land restitution leader Enrique Cabezas and officials Guillermo Padilla, Camilo Botero, and Carlos Salazar. The According to the threat, these individuals are considered military targets. The threat accuses them of taking land from “honest people” by supporting the land restitution process. Enrique Cabezas is warned that he needs to stop visiting the Curvaradó collective territory and that he must “evict those receiving welfare” (GS note: here the perpetrators are referring to the rightful land claimants currently living in this territory). Enrique’s risk is further elevated by the fact that despite advocacy from international and national organizations the State has not provided him with adequate protection measures. Enrique’s situation is just one of many examples of the many obstacles the land and restitution is facing in Colombia.

Community Leader Extorted by Alleged FARC Dissident (Putumayo)

On December 6, the CJIP reported that Sandra Lagos, member of Association of Sustainable Integral Development of the Amazonic Pearl (Asociación de Desarrollo Integral Sostenible de La Perla Amazónica, ADISPA) that represents the Peasant Reserve Zone of the Amazonic Pearl (Zona de Reserva Campesina de la Perla Amazónica, ZRCPA) received a telephone death threat. During the call, an alleged FARC dissident member who identified himself as “Antonio” requested that Sandra meet him later that day. When she refused, he threatened her insisting that she, along with her family, leave the region immediately or pay $4,850,000 Colombian pesos in order to stay. She refused again and “Antonio” demanded she pay $900,000 for “medication.” Sandra led the process of territorial defense regarding the socio-environmental effects of the British oil company Amerisur. She also participated in the process of the implementation of the National Comprehensive Program for the Substitution of Illicit Crops (Programa Nacional Integral para la Sustitución Voluntaria de Cultivos Ilícitos, PNIS). In 2018, Sandra was harassed and falsely accused of illicit enrichment by members of the police in Puerto Asís. She has not received any protection from the State.

Embera Indigenous Leader Threatened (Antioquia)

On November 6, the ONIC reported that Embera indigenous leader José Leonardo Domico was threatened. Domico received death threats against him and his mother via text messages from unknown individuals. José is the legal representative for the Indigenous Organization of Antioquia (Pueblos Indígenas de Antioquia). He filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office after receiving the threats and requests that the government find and prosecute those responsible for sending him recurring threats. Domico also urges armed groups present in Antioquia to respect the indigenous.

Armed Actors Threaten Land Claimants (Antioquia)

On November 27, the Popular Training Institute (Instituto Popular de Capacitación, IPC) reported that a group of armed men threatened rural farmers José de la Cruz Castro Hernández, Santiago Calle Medina, Camilo Arteaga Castro, and Oscar Blanquicet Berrío. The men demanded that José, Santiago, Camilo, and Oscar immediately leave the land they occupy. If they do not do so, they will set their houses on fire. All municipalities the in the Urabá-Antioqueno region are on high alert due to the vulnerability of peasant land claimants. IPC is concerned that the institutions in the region are not guaranteeing their safety.

Attack against SINALTRAINAL Workers (Valle del Cauca)

The National Union for Agri-Food System Workers (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores del Sistema Agroalimentario, SINALTRAINAL) reports an attack against their workers in Bugalagrande on November 14. An unknown individual traveling by car was seen taking pictures of union members entering and leaving the Bugalagrande region headquarters. SINALTRAINAL immediately notified the police and the individual left before authorities arrived. This incident is part of a series of threats and attacks against the union, and the fifth against the Bugalagrande branch this year. The most recent incident occurred on October 30 when several shots were fired at the residence of SINALTRAINAL President Omar Rengifo Rojas. SINALTRAINAL suspects these attacks are part of a systematic plan to destabilize the union.

Armed Actor Harasses Leader in Humanitarian Zone (Valle del Cauca)

On December 6, CIJP reported the presence of a man carrying a weapon in the Puente Icaco Humanitarian Zone. The man harassed one of the community leaders during a Justice and Peace delegations and took pictures of the event. The leader tried to report the incident to the Inspector General’s office, but was told he could not do so because it did not constitute as a legitimate offense.

Neoparamilitares Intimidate Persons in Humanitarian Zone (Antioquia)

On December 6, CIJP reported that six men entered the Vida y Trabajo La Balsita Humanitarian Zone on a motorcycle. The men, recognized as neo paramilitaries belonging to the Self-Defense Gaitanistas of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia, AGC), walked around the community and requested to meet with the its population, offering gifts for the children with the excuse of the approaching Christmas holiday. The men also said they would undertake a census of the youth in this particular community. When asked to leave, they refused and did not deliver the mentioned information. After staying an hour, they left the community.

Intra-Urban Displacement in Medellin Increasing (Antioquia)

IPC responded to Medellin Mayor Federico Gutierrez’s statements before magistrates of the Constitutional Court on November 29 where he said that intra-urban displacement had decreased during the past 35 months of his administration. IPC says that while intra-urban displacement does not have the characteristic of being “mass displacements” like in previous times, it continues and is intensifying. According to IPC, six intra-urban displacements took place within the city (Robledo, Belen Zafra, San Javier, and Altavista). The total number of newly displaced persons including those coming from outside the city is over 12,000. Aura Marleny Arcila, Councilwoman of Medellin, announced that in the past year displacement has increased in comunas 13, 16 and 17 and that 55% of the victims are women. The Councilwoman finds that one out of four persons, some 700,000 persons, in Medellin are direct and indirect victims of the armed conflict. Intra-urban displacement is caused by disputes among criminal structures operating in the city including the AGC.

Further, between January 1 to November 25, 2018 statistics from the Sub-Secretary of Human Rights in Medellin indicate that the 12,000 persons (double that of 2017) were displaced from the surrounding Antioquia department to the city. Over 5,000 of the displaced come from five municipalities located in the Bajo Cauca region with Taraza being the biggest expulsor. In this area, displacement is caused by armed confrontations between the AGC, the ‘Caparrapos’, the ELN and FARC dissident groups. The areas affected by the polemic Hidroituango project are also generating displaced persons.

On a more positive note we also wanted to make you aware of the following news:


ILO Court Ruling Finds ACDAC Pilots’ Strike to be Legal (Bogotá)

On November 16, the ENS announced that the International Labor Organization(Organización Internacional del Trabajo, ILO) found the Colombian Supreme Court’s ruling which declared the Colombian Association of Civil Aviators (Asociación Colombiana de Aviadores Civiles, ACDAC) pilots’ November 2017 strike was illegal to be wrong. By doing this the ILO, is saying that the pilot’s strike was legal. The new ruling does not consider aerial travel as an essential public service, granting the pilots the right to protest. However, the ILO states that a non-essential service can be deemed as essential if a strike exceeds a certain period of time and endangers the safety and health of others. This resolution obliges the Colombian government to advance in their process of defining essential public services in Colombia. ILO reiterates that no group should be subject to sanctions for carrying out or attempting a strike. In this case, many pilots were fired and their credibility destroyed in the media by Avianca Company, and those fired cannot get hired elsewhere because they are thought to be on a “no-hire” list.