WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

(AP Photo/Ivan Valencia)

4 Jun 2019 | News

Indigenous and Social Leaders Remain at Risk in Colombia

Since WOLA’s last update on April 29, at least a dozen more Colombian activists or members of vulnerable Afro-Colombian, indigenous and rural communities were murdered. In total, 60 cases of murdered social leaders or members of vulnerable ethnic communities were reported to WOLA so far this year.

As the Duque administration refuses to implement the peace accord in its entirety, social leaders at the forefront of the accord are facing a security crisis. The international community, 79 Members of Congress, and international publications, like the New York Times and Washington Post, have called out Duque’s government for reneging on its commitment to peace. WOLA expresses its deep appreciation to the 79 Members of the US Congress who are encouraging Secretary of State Pompeo to advance peace and human rights protections in Colombia. We ask that policymakers, civil society, the international community and others continue to act to improve human rights and support peace in Colombia.

Below is a list of the incidents that have occurred since our April update:

Regional Indigenous Authority Concerned About Violence and Hate Speech (Cauca)

The Indigenous Council of the Cauca Region (Consejo Regional Indigena del Cauca, CRIC) urges that action be taken to address the deteriorating human rights situation in the country. The CRIC condemned the torture and murder of former FARC combatant Dimar Torres on April 22. They reject the persecution and false accusations made against supporters of the indigenous mobilization (“minga” protests). Among those subject to false accusations are social leader Juan Carlos Cuervo and University of Cauca student Lina Isabela Medina Alegría. The CRIC is indignant towards the May 4 attempted massacre of Afro-Colombian leaders including Goldman Environmental Prize winner Francia Marquez in Santander de Quilichao, Cauca. The May 4 attack left two bodyguards wounded. WOLA stated that the gravity of this event requires a bold response from both the Colombian and US governments.

The CRIC points out that Senator Álvaro Uribe Velez’s remarks against the “minga” amount to hate speech. The former President stated: “if calm, firm, and socially conscious authority implies the necessity of a massacre, it is because on the other side there is more violence and terror than there is protest.” The CRIC reiterates that indigenous communities are committed to the peace accords and its Ethnic Chapter, and that they are opposed to the presence of illegal armed groups and drug trafficking in their territories.

 Embera Indigenous Leader Murdered, Communities Facing Dire Situations (Chocó)

On April 12, armed men dragged Aquileo Mecheche Baragón out of his home and shot him three times in the face. Aquileo, member of the Embera Dovida ethnic group, served as the headmaster of the Jagual Indigenous Educational Institution. He was instrumental in leading the Civic Strike that took place in Chocó in November 2018, for which he received many death threats from the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia, AGC).

On April 23, the AGC announced to the nearby indigenous community of Cedral that they came to stay. They ordered the 400 people living in this community to remain in the territory. Civilians are being used as a human shields against the National Liberation Army (ELN), which engaged in gunfire attacks with the AGC. The illegal armed groups are utilizing this indigenous territory as a route for drug trafficking and it is littered with anti-personnel mines. In Cedral, you also have persons from Bongo who were forcibly displaced by the ELN on April 16. Both the locals and the IDPs fear for their safety and are under threat of displacement.

The Eyásake, Pichindé, and Dos Bocas communities are unable to access food due to the restriction of movements placed upon them by the illegal groups. As a result, children are beginning to die of malnutrition. Blockades of civilians are also taking place in the Carmen del Darién and Riosucio municipalities of the Choco. The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia, ONIC) issued two statements on the humanitarian crisis facing these indigenous communities. In them, they note six other indigenous communities, the Embara Dóbida, Chamí, Katío, Wounnan, Zenu and Tule are also facing obstacles.

Social Leader Murdered (Nariño)   

Upon returning from the market to his home, social leader Marco Antonio Adrada Viana was assassinated. His wife and son who were with him were not harmed.  Marco Antonio was an active member of the El Sauce, Nariño Community Action Board (Junta de Acción Comunal, JAC) for 35 years.

Social Leader and Companions Murdered (Nariño)

On May 2, assailants murdered three members of the Afro-Colombian Community Council of the Iscuandé River Basin. Milton Hernández, a prominent leader, was killed alongside Carlos Obando and his son Daniel. El País reports the leaders suffered multiple knife and bullet wounds.

Documentary Filmmaker Murdered (Arauca)

On May 9, two armed men in a motorcycle shot and killed documentary filmmaker Mauricio Lezama in la Esmeralda, Arauca. The newspaper El Espectador reported that photographer Ricardo Llain was also injured during this attack. Mauricio was part of the Film Council of the Arauca department and led many cultural initiatives in the region. He was working on a movie about social leader Maya Villareal, who survived persecution of the Patriotic Union Party in the 1980s and 1990s.

Indigenous Women Murdered, 12 year-old girl Wounded (Chocó)

According to the Indigenous People’s Human Rights Commission (Comision de Derechos Humanos de los Pueblos Indigenas, CDDHHPI), two hooded men shot and killed Remelia Aizama Aizama and wounded a 12 year-old girl on May 1st. Remelia Aizama Aizama, a member of the Embera Chamí tribe in Campo Alegre, Chocó. Remelia was cooking for her community before being murdered. The injured 12 year-old girl had to wait long hours before receiving medical attention, as the community is remote and far from the closest hospital.

Armed Assailants Attempt to Murder Indigenous Leaders (Caquetá)

On May 12, armed men disrupted the school where indigenous leaders Doris Jacanamijoy and Flora Maca were working with children at risk of forced recruitment. The assailants violently clashed with the leaders’ bodyguards but fortunately no one was injured. Indigenous leader Mario Jacanamijoy, family member of Doris, was murdered two years ago. The community is shocked and fears for their leaders, according to Caracol News.

Riot Police Wound Peaceful Indigenous Leader and Protestors (Putumayo)

As indigenous protests ended on April 6, some indigenous continued to protest without blocking roads. According to the National Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon (Organización Nacional de los Pueblos Indígenas de la Amazonia Colombiana, OPIAC), the protestors were occupying the side of a road they had previously blocked when the Colombian anti-riot police (Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios, ESMAD) attacked them. Without provocation, the ESMAD used live rounds and stun grenades against unarmed protestors that resulted in injuries in six persons. Among those attacked was OPIAC president Julio Cesar López Jamioy of Mocoa, Putumayo. Reports indicate that the protestors were allowing vehicles to pass and they were exercising their constitutional right to protest when the attack took place. Indigenous organizations report an increase in unlawful incursions by state security forces into indigenous territories. These have resulted in the looting of sacred artifacts belonging to Coreguaje peoples. Furthermore, the ESMAD has utilized coercion to prevent indigenous persons from joining the protests. The police extensively filmed the protestors. OPIAC fears this footage may be used to identify persons that will later face reprisals for participating in the protests.

ELN Harass Indigenous Chieftain’s Security Team (Norte de Santander)

On April 19, the Chieftain (Cacique) of the Indigenous reserve of Motilón Barí in Norte de Santander, his legal aide, assistant, and two National Protection Unit (Unidad Nacional de Proteccion, UNP) bodyguards where stopped while in their vehicle and boarded by multiple ELN combatants. The indigenous authority was harassed while his security detail was stripped from their weapons and held for more than an hour. ONIC reported the incident while adding that these events are happening far more often than in past years, highlighting incidents where the ELN fighters fire against indigenous populations before fleeing into Venezuela.

Paramilitaries Threaten Indigenous Protesters (Cauca)

Many participants of the indigenous protests received death threats from the Black Eagles (Aguilas Negras) paramilitaries. On April 26, the ONIC stated that the threat was issued in order to scare indigenous leaders away from protesting.

Indigenous Women’s Group Threatened on Facebook (Guajira)

The Black Eagles issued a death threat on Facebook against six members of the Wayuu Women Strength Group (Fuerza de Mujeres Wayuu or Sütsüin Jiyeyuu Wayuu, FMW-SJW). Among those targeted are Karmen Ramírez, Miguel Ramírez, Jakeline Romero, Deris Paz, Luis Misael Socarra, and Dulcy Cotes. Paramilitaries are threatening to kill them for carrying out advocacy efforts in defense of gender and indigenous land rights. FMW-SJW reported the threat on May 3, so far the UNP has not responded to their request for protection.

Paramilitaries Plan to Attack on Indigenous Leaders (Chocó)

Justice and Peace (Justicia y Paz) reported that two alleged AGC members stopped an indigenous civilian on April 23. They proceeded to interrogate him on the whereabouts of 12 indigenous leaders and their meeting places. The list of leaders was read from a cellphone and the civilian, feeling threatened, disclosed important information before being advised by the surrounding community to withhold further compromising details. The AGC’s targets are: Aurencio Rubiano, Dilio Bailarín, Zaginimbi Bailarín, Eladin Carupia Domicó, Didier Cuñapa, Omar Bailarin, Germán Pernia, Gabriel Jomi Duamza, Armando Siniguí, Leonardo Bailarín, and Joaquín Cuñapa Carupia. Colombian authorities should take steps to protect these indigenous leaders.

Harrowing Account of Threats and Disruption of Life as Told by Leader (Bolívar)

Yirleis Velazco, legal representative of the Association of Women Cultivating Life, recounts how death threats are disrupting her work and life. In a glimpse into the life of a social leader in Colombia, El Espectador spoke to her on May 8. Yirleis, a victim of rape during a paramilitary massacre in 2000, was forcibly displaced from El Salado, Bolívar where she worked empowering more than 160 survivors of sexual violence. As her organization grew, death threats spread to her family. She fell into a deep depression and lost her job due to fear of leaving her house. After 14 formal complaints to the police, she was relocated and given a bulletproof vest and emergency cellphone, yet she says she could’ve been just as easily shot in the head.

Armed Men Threaten Workers Union Board Member (Valle del Cauca)

On May 5, two armed men entered William Andres Ramirez Grisales’ house and proceeded to threaten him at gunpoint. The men insisted that William quit his union duties or be shot. William is on the Board of Directors of the National Union of Food Industry Workers (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Industria de Alimentos, SINALTRAINAL) and works at the Colombina Group. He has worked tirelessly on massive arbitrary firings, precarious labor conditions, third-party outsourcing, and efforts to block the established of collective bargains and trade unions. SINALTRAINAL reports that this incident is just the latest one against their union, which suffers from systematic persecution of its members for upholding labor rights.

Pamphlets Warn of Social Cleansing (Valle del Cauca)

Bonaverenses woke up on May 7 to find pamphlets littering their town that indicate that illegal armed groups plan to carry out social cleansings of drug users, thieves, prostitutes and any youth out past their 10 p.m. curfew. The pamphlet apologizes for any innocent casualties that might occur during the process. The text does not mention the threats coming from a specific organization, it just says “the organization.”

Armed Actors Converge on Indigenous Populations (Antioquia)

The Embera Eyábida tribe in the Río Murindó and Río Chaguerado indigenous reserves is being placed in harm’s way by armed groups. The illegal and legal armed groups that are fighting a guerilla style war amongst themselves are utilizing the communities as human shields. The area contains an estimated 2,070 inhabitants. Sources believe that perhaps 600 families and 600 children are being used as cover by these groups. On April 15, the ONIC reiterated that the indigenous Colombians do not form part of the armed conflict, and therefore should be left out entirely.

Police Torch Farmers’ Homes in Displacement Attempt (Guaviare)

The Farmers’ Alliance of the Guaviare and Southern Meta (Alianza Campesina del Guaviare y Sur del Meta) reported the arrest of 4 farmers and 4 minors of the Angoleta village who were boarded onto helicopters and taken to San Jose del Guaviare on April 25. The farmers were arrested on charges of deforestation of the Natural National Park of Chiribiquete, expanded on 2018 to include the peasants’ homes, settled and owned by these families for over 30 years. The farmers where released a day later and told they had 3 days to vacate their homes. When they returned to Angoleta they found their homes engulfed in flames. One of the only bridges in this remote village was destroyed.

Seventy Organizations Oppose the Tribugá Port Project (Chocó)

In a letter to President Duque and local administrations, seventy social, environmental, ethnic, and civil society organizations opposed plans to build the Tribugá port. Andes University and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) warn about the proposed Tribugá port project could have catastrophic effects on the region’s food sources and wildlife. El Espectador highlights that such an economic project should include a previous consultation process with the indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities living in the Nuquí area. The government’s National Development Plan (Plan Nacional de Desarrollo, PND) indicates that this project is important to the Duque administration. Ecotourism has grown in the Nuquí and the port could jeopardize that industry.

Two Workers Die Every Day Due to Precarious Working Conditions in Colombia

The International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Agency for Labor Information (Agencia de Información Laboral, AIL) report that every hour, 221 Colombian workers suffer an injury on the job and that two die every day. Those in the agricultural sector are the most at risk of injury and only 10.4% have safety measures and insurance in place.

 ARGOS Cement Company Arbitrarily Fires Union Members (Bolívar)

Jhonny Rincon, a unionist and electrical engineer for Argos Cements (of the Argos Group) in Cartagena, was fired on May 6. This followed Jhonny’s efforts to guarantee the rights to collective bargaining and union participation. Jhonny is part of the National Union for Cement Workers (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Industria del Cemento y afines, SINTRAINCEM). Many SINTRAINCEM members, including Jhonny, are threatened with losing their jobs if they do not quit their union membership.

Small Victory for Health Workers Union Indicative of Persistent Labor Abuse (Antioquia) 

On May 8, the Colombian Health Minister fined the Las Vegas Clinic in Medellin 50 million pesos (around US $15,000) for harassment and persecution of health workers associated with the union and violation of their right to free association. Yenny Vanegas, former president of the Union for Health Workers and Social Security (Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Salud y la Seguridad Social, Sintrasass) says that the fine will not hurt the owners of the hospital, but it will set a precedent and force them to respect worker’s rights in the future. Sintrasass protects 44 workers in the Las Vegas Clinic, of which 90% are female nurses and secretaries.