WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

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18 Jan 2019 | News

January Update: Colombian Social Leaders Begin 2019 with a Disturbing Security Situation

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) strongly condemns the bomb attack that took place on January 17 near a police academy in Bogota that prematurely took the lives of 21 persons and injured 68 others. We extend our deepest condolences and solidarity with the victims and their families during this difficult time. Colombian authorities should thoroughly investigate this cowardly, barbaric act and to bring all behind it to justice. We echo several of our Colombian partners who state that despite this horrible act, the hope for a complete peace in Colombia should not be abandoned nor should this act justify a return to violence. While challenges remain, Colombia has advanced greatly due to the historic 2016 peace accord with the FARC and should continue to consolidate peace in every way possible.

Additionally, we strongly encourage Colombian and international authorities to intervene in the following human rights cases:

Afro-Colombian Community Leader Murdered (Magdalena)
On January 6, Colombian authorities announced that displaced Afro-Colombian women’s rights leader Maritza Quiroz was murdered in her home in San Isidro. According to Ms. Quiroz’s son, Luis Camilo, unknown subjects entered his home late at night on January 5 and told him to hide under his bed. They then took out their weapons and shot Ms. Quiroz several times. Maritza Quiroz – already a victim of forced displacement – had asked the Colombian government for protection but did not receive adequate support. Quiroz, whose husband was assassinated years before, leaves behind 4 children. She was a member of ANAFRO, the collective of Afro-Colombian authorities that forms part of the National Afro-Colombian Peace Council (CONPA) and the Ethnic Commission.

Afro-Colombian Social Leader Murdered (Cauca)
On January 1, the Colombian advocacy group RECON announced that social leader Gilberto Valencia was murdered. Valencia, a recipient of many awards and recognition for his “Traveling Dialogues for Peace” initiative was an active member of the human rights community in Colombia. Spreading peace through music, Valencia’s “Traveling Dialogues for Peace” traveled throughout the country with several songs highlighting the many agreements that were signed at the Havana Peace Dialogues. Details of his assassination have not been published and RECON has called for a full investigation.

Social Leader Murdered in Hacarí (Norte de Santander)
On January 6, Blu Radio reported that social leader Wilson Pérez Ascanio was murdered on January 5 by unknown men. The armed men – riding a motorcycle – rode past Pérez and shot him several times. After the attack, Pérez was brought immediately to the hospital but there was nothing that could be done to save his life. Wilson Pérez Ascanio was an active member of the Hacarí community and played an integral role in the social advocacy group, Movement for the Popular Constituent (Movimiento por la Constituyente Popular, MCP). He was 34 years old.

Rural Farmer Advocate Assassinated (Antioquia)
Contagio Radio announced that rural farmer advocate Javier Enrique Tapias was murdered on December 26. While riding on his motorcycle with Irma Restrepo, Tapias was approached by an unknown motorcycle with two unidentified actors who opened fire on Tapias and Restrepo. Both were killed. Tapias was a strong land reform advocate and was an active member of the Farmer’s Association of Bajo Cauca (Asociación de Capesinos del Bajo Cauca, Asocbac). Locals have urged Colombian officials to investigate the murders of Tapias, 56 and Restrepo, 36.

Social Leader and Singer Murdered (Bolívar)
The Association of Agroecological and Mining Brotherhoods of Guamocó (Asociación de Hermandades Agroecológicas y Mineras de Guamocó, Aheramigua) announced that on January 15 one of its members, Victor Manuel Trujillo Trujillo, was murdered by the Guillermo Ariza ELN front. Trujillo played an active role in organizing the strike of agriculture workers in 2013 but was forced to leave the organization and Colombia for three months after being interrogated for his and Aheramigua’s alleged ties to the ELN. Aheramigua has denounced the ELN several times for intimidating and threatening its members while also recruiting under-age youths from the surrounding areas. Aheramigua has called for the ELN to stop the violence and for the Colombian government to immediately begin peace negotiations with the group.

Indigenous Embera Woman Murdered (Chocó)
On December 29, an Embera indigenous couple walking to the town of El Valle was shot at by a group of unknown armed actors. The man was able to escape the gunfire and take refuge in the mountains, unfortunately, the woman, Maye Sarco Dogirama, could not and was later found dead at the scene. She was 22 years old. While the shooters have not been identified, indigenous authorities believe the attack was coordinated by members of the Clan del Golfo illegal armed group.

Key Witness in Massacre Case Murdered (Santander)
Colombian newspaper El Espectador reported that on December 21, Natalia Andrea Galeano García was gunned down on a public bus in the city of Bucaramanga. Galeano García, originally
from Pereira, was set to be a key witness and provide testimony on a 2015 massacre that killed four people in her hometown of Pereira. The testimony was set to take place on January 17, 2019. Galeano García received protection from the Colombian government but the assassination still took place in a public area in the city. Galeano García leaves behind her husband and her 7 month-old son.

Indigenous Leader Assassinated (Nariño)
On January 12, indigenous leader of the Awá community Leonardo Nastacuas Rodríguez was murdered by unknown actors. Reports say that several unidentified armed combatants entered Mr. Rodríguez’s home in Ricaurte and opened fired against him. This is the second confirmed homicide committed against an Awá community member in 2019. Leonardo Nastacuas Rodríguez was 36 years old and leaves behind a two year old daughter. The indigenous community has called on the Colombian government to commit a thorough investigation of the murder.

Two Young Afro-Colombians Assassinated (Chocó)
According to advocacy organization Earth and Life of Riosucio (Tierra y Vida de Riosucio), two young Afro-Colombian men were assassinated in the town of Riosucio. According to reports, two unidentified actors entered the house of Pedro Moreno, 20, and shot him five times. That same night, Yuber Cordoba, 20, was shot in a nearby neighborhood. Mr. Cordoba, is the nephew of Marino Cordoba, president of AFRODES, member of the Afro-Colombian Peace Council and finalist for the 2019 Martin Ennals Human Rights Award. Yuber is the fifth relative of Marino Cordoba to have been killed in the past two years. The communities of Riosucio and several social organizations have called on the Colombian government to provide better security measures for the Bajo Atrato region to ward off illegally armed groups. According to Yeison Farid Mosquera, director of Earth and Life of Riosucio, the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia, AGC) has a strong presence in the region and has threatened and murdered many young people in the community. This ‘social cleansing’ has led to forced displacement and assassinations of several social leaders. Community leaders have called on President Iván Duque to take action and put an end to the violence.

Social Leader Suffers Assassination Attempt (Valle del Cauca)
The National Movement for Victims of Crimes Committed by the State (Movimiento Nacional de Víctimas de Crímenes de Estado, MOVICE) reported that there was an attempted assassination against social leader and activist Alfamir Castillo Bermúdez on January 11. Driving in her government issued security vehicle, Alfamir Castillo Bermúdez was attacked by two armed, unidentified men on a motorcycle. Castillo has been a vocal critic of the Colombian military and tireless advocate for truth since 2008 when it was discovered that her son was the target of an unauthorized, extrajudicial killing by the Colombian military. Since 2012, Castillo’s organizing resulted in her receiving several threats, harassments, forced displacement, and even exile. Between October 2018 and January 2019, Castillo received several text messages and emails threatening her with death for speaking out against the Colombian military. These began at the same time as her testimony in front of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace where she testified against General Mario Montoya Uribe. Several human rights groups are calling on the Colombian government to launch a full-fledged investigation into the attack against Alfamir Castillo Bermúdez’s and for increased protection measures to be taken.

Paramilitary Group Threatens Indigenous Leaders in Northern Cauca (Cauca)
On December 18, the paramilitary group Black Eagles (Águilas Negras) released pamphlets in Northern Cauca targeting several indigenous community leaders. The pamphlet also placed prices for the killings of indigenous governors, captains, guards, and bailiffs.

Paramilitary Group Threatens Afro-Colombian Leaders in Northern Cauca (Cauca)
On January 16, the paramilitary group Black Eagles released pamphlets in Northern Cauca targeting prominent Afro-Colombian social leaders. The pamphlet promised 5,000,000 Colombian Pesos for the heads Héctor Marino Carabalí, Deyanira Peña, Andres Felipe Posu, and Edis Lasso. The paramilitary group also announced the new cities in which the social leaders moved to after receiving increased threats.

Indigenous Leader Followed by Unidentified Actors (Cauca)
On January 13, the Association of Indigenous Cabildos of Northern Cauca (Asociación Cabildos Indígenas del Norte del Cauca, ACIN) reported that high ranking indigenous authority Rubén Orley Velasco of the indigenous council Tacueyó was followed by unknown armed actors. The unidentified followers – dressed in black – quickly fled the scene when the Kiwe Thegnas Indigenous Guard was notified. The Indigenous Guard has been deployed to find the unidentified individuals. This is another worrisome threat from the northern part of Cauca where death threats, displacements, and murders have been on the rise in the last few months.

Assassination Attempt against Indigenous Leader (Cauca)
On December 20, ACIN reported an attempted assassination plot against indigenous leader Germán Valencia Medina in his community of Vilachí. Mr. Valencia, brother of Senator Feliciano Valencia was attacked by six hooded individuals and is currently recovering in the Santander de Quilichao Cauca Hospital.

Indigenous Embera Man Detained by Paramilitary Group (Antioquia)
On December 31, 24 year-old Carlos Rubiano was detained for a half hour by two members of the AGC. Justice and Peace (Justicia y Paz) reports that Rubiano was taken by two armed men in ski masks as he was leaving his community of Alto Guayabal. Mr. Rubiano was interrogated by the AGC members demanding to know information of his community’s cooperation with members of the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, ELN). Rubiano stated that neither he nor his community have any ties to the ELN. The Embera communities of Alto Guayabal and Coredocito have been taken hostage, intimated and threatened several times by AGC members under the pretext of exposing ELN operations.

Indigenous Governor Threatened (Putumayo)
On December 15, Jesús Antonio Tisoy Agreda, governor of the Inga Wuasipung Reservation, received an anonymous death threat giving him 24 hours to leave the town Villagarzón or to face the consequences. The National Organization of the Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon (Organización Nacional de los Pueblos Indígenas de la Amazonía Colombiana, OPIAC) reported that upon receiving this call, Mr. Tisoy filed a denouncement with the Colombian government. Both Mr. Tisoy and OPIAC are calling for the government to launch a full investigation of the threat made and for heightened security for Mr. Tisoy and his family.

Foundation Focused on Victims of Forced Disappearances Attacked (Bogotá)
Colombian newspaper El Espectador reported on January 12 that the headquarters of the Nydia Erika Bautista Foundation was attacked in the early morning. No one was hurt in the attack but the glass windows on the outside of the house were completely smashed. The Nydia Erika Bautista Foundation, under security protection since 2014, has produced surveillance footage of a lone actor committing the attack. The Foundation is focused on seeking justice for victims of forced disappearances and has already sent the footage to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C.

Union Worker Unjustly Dismissed (Caldas)
The National Union of Workers of the Fatty Food Products Industry (El Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Industria de Productos Grasos y Alimenticios, SINTRAIMAGRA) reported that one of its members, Gustavo Grisales, was unjustly dismissed by milk production company Alpina on January 10. SINTRAIMARGA has declared that Mr. Grisales’s dismissal is one of many persecutions taking place around the country as companies look to remove all union-affiliated workers. SINTRAIMAGRA has called for the immediate reinstatement of Mr. Grisales.

100 Colombians under Security Threat at the Beginning of 2019
A January 14 article in the Colombian newspaper El Espectador reports that there are already 100 Colombian social leaders under threat in the New Year. The most alarming situation is
currently in the Pacific Region (mainly the Department of Chocó) where there are 27 people under threat. The Caribbean region and the central region of the country are also under heavy threat. These cases are all under the purview of National Protection Unit (Unidad Nacional de Protección, UNP) that has claimed that 96% of those under threat have received some form of protection.

Security Roundtable Convened in Response to Increasing Death Threats (Bolívar)
On January 12, Dumek Turbay, mayor of El Salado convened a roundtable discussion to discuss the increasing death threats lodged against 12 local social leaders. El Salado, a town infamously known for the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefendensas Unidas de Colombia, AUC) led massacre of 66 people in 2000, has come under increased pressure as death threats have run rampant amongst social leaders and now journalists. Mayor Turbay hopes to confront these issues head-on with a roundtable discussion and a “Council for Life” discussion set to take place on February 7.

Bajo Cauca Cemeteries Prove a Difficult Challenge for Finding Unidentified People (Antioquia)
This article from the Popular Training Institute (Instituto Popular de Capacitación, IPC) highlights the growing number of identified dead in the Antioquia region of Bajo Cauca. Bodies dragged from different areas by the military, massacres, and uninvestigated murders have all played a chilling role in bringing the number up.

Bishops of the Dioceses of Istmina call for Peace with the ELN (Chocó)
On December 20, Bishops of the Dioceses of Istmina – Tadó, Apartadó and Quibdó – called on the Colombian government and the ELN to resume peace negotiations. The Bishops stated that the people of Chocó have continued to suffer as no resolution is in sight. They demanded both parties to think about the people their war was impacting and to be more thoughtful and willing to bring peace back onto the table.

Afro-Colombian Advocacy Group Calls for full Implementation of Law 70
On January 10, the Advocacy for Afro-Colombian Communities (Proceso de Comunidades Negras en Colombia, PCN) called on the Colombian government to strengthen efforts to implement Law 70 passed in 1993. After 25 years of its signing into law, the Colombian government has not applied the proper resources to allow Afro-Colombian communities to participate in community development plans and has ignored several requests for land restitution.

In closing we wish to inform you that at the petition of the ONIC, AFRODES, CODHES and WOLA the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will be holding a hearing on February 15 in Sucre, Bolivia on the grave security situation faced indigenous leaders in Colombia. It is our hope that this hearing will lead to greater attention and protection solutions for Colombia’s indigenous leaders and communities who are facing rapidly decaying human rights situation.

We thank you in advance for actions you can take to seek justice for these cases and protection for those under threat. For further information please contact me at (202) 797-2171 or [email protected]


Gimena Sanchez
Director for the Andes
January 18, 2019