WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

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21 Jun 2019 | News

Peace Implementation Needed to Address Colombia’s Security and Humanitarian Crisis

Since WOLA’s last update on June 4, nine more Colombian social leaders or members of Afro-Colombian, indigenous and rural communities were murdered. In total, WOLA has documented 70 murders of leaders or members of vulnerable ethnic communities in 2019.

During the month of June, the Duque administration embarked on a public relations tour in the U.S. and Europe in an attempt to convince the international community his government is committed to implementing the peace accords and safeguards the security of social leaders and vulnerable populations. Back in Colombia, historically violent regions that hoped for respite under the peace agreement are slipping back into the conflict zones they once were. On June 18, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released its 2019 global trends report that found that with nearly 8 million internally displaced persons, Colombia has the highest total population of IDPs in the world. Colombia is also the recipient of the largest number of fleeing Venezuelans with UNHCR estimating this to be over 1.71 million persons. While the country is doing its best to address the needs of Venezuelans, the combination of such high numbers of IDPs and refugees with tremendous needs is overburdening Colombian institutions. For both of the IDP and Venezuelan migration situation to be properly attended to, full implementation of the peace accord is required.

We stand with our partners in Colombia and call on U.S. policymakers and the international community to urge the Duque administration to protect social leaders and to prioritize peace implementation in coordination with civil society in the most remote regions of Colombia.

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

Confined and Displaced Indigenous Communities (Chocó)

In our previous Urgent Action, WOLA reported on the pending crisis facing around 5,000 indigenous people in Chocó. The ELN and AGC have been embroiled in violent combat operations among the different populations and across the region. Both sides have resorted to child recruitment and to planting anti-personnel mines across the territory. The National Indigenous Authorities of Colombia (ONIC) and La FM recently reported that around 1,700 people of the Embera and Wounaan peoples were displaced yet remain confined in the municipality of Juradó among different reservations. Around 241 people have fallen ill with no access to medication. Classes have been suspended since April 22, raising the chances of the illegal armed groups recruiting the young indigenous children trapped by escalating conflict.

Four Young Awá Indigenous Leaders Murdered in a Weekend (Nariño)

After numerous threats to Awá leaders in the month of May, four young leaders were murdered during the weekend of June 7. The Awá peoples Indigenous Unit (Unidad Indigena del Pueblo Awá, UNIPA) reports the first victim as Rocío García Pai, who had disappeared on Tuesday June 4. Her body showed clear signs of torture and was found in the Nulpe River three days after she disappeared. On the Thursday of that week, student Jacqueline Burgos Pai was disappeared only to be found beaten and shot three times the following day. She was 18 years old and had been exercising her leadership potential at an Awá general assembly on June 4th and 5th. The third victim was Robert Dionisio García Bisbicús who was 21 years old. He was killed in his home as armed men in motorcycles rode past and shot him. Henry Fabian Moncayo was also killed in a targeted murder during that week while walking with his partner, who was unharmed.

Human Rights Ombudsman Murdered by Hitmen (Nariño)

Ombudsman Paula Andrea Rosero was murdered on May 20th. The UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) denounced her murder the following day. She was a human rights attorney and had previously uncovered a local corruption scandal in 2016. Supposed hitmen shot her at point blank range.

Social Leader and Community Board President Murdered (Sucre)

On June 6, Julián Quiñones Uñate, president of the Community Action Board (Junta de Accion Comunal, JAC) of Guayabal, was murdered. He was driving a motorcycle near his house when he was intercepted and repeatedly shot by hitmen. Caracol Radio reports that Julián had previously denounced rampant corruption in the construction of a sports center in Coveñas.

Beloved Radio Host Murdered (Nariño)

For three decades, Libardo Montenegro, a popular radio host, was a familiar voice at the Samaniego Stereo radio. Libardo was murdered on June 12. The World Association for Community Radio (Asociación Mundial de Radios Comunitarias, AMARC) demand his murder be investigated and the perpetrators be brought to justice.

Family Member of Community Leader and Activist Murdered in Brutal Attack (Antioquia)

On Thursday May 6, a group of armed people threw a grenade in a commercial building and opened fire on civilians, killing two people and wounding seven. Among the murdered was Diana Gutierrez cousin of William Gutierrez, a leader in the Rios Vivos movement and president of the Association of Fishers and Artisanal Gold workers of Puerto Valdivia (Asociación de Pescadores y Barequeros de Puerto Valdivia). AIDA reports that members of the movement have been previously murdered, threatened, and intimidated because of their work defending the Cauca River in opposition to the Hidroituango Dam Project. The project has dammed the river and many communities who depended on its resources are being forced to relocate, starve to death, or suffer recurrent landslides along the banks of the river.

Two Social Leaders Missing and Suspected Dead (Cauca)

Brothers Adolfo and Oscar Caicedo were reported missing on June 9. Shortly after the search began, rumors spread about their murder and their bodies being tossed in the Plateado River. Oscar Caicedo was president of the Playa Menuda JAC in the Sanjoc Community Council, while Adolfo dedicated his life to the protection of the Joli River. COCOCAUCA (Coordinación de Consejos Comunitarios Y Organizaciones de base del Pueblo Negro de la Costa Pacífica del Cauca) already mourns the death of these two prominent leaders.

Attempted Murder on Prominent Human Rights Leader (Bolivar)

Mayerlys Angarita, a leader of the Special Council of Women on Gender Focus in Peace, the entity in charge of providing a differential gender consideration to peace accord implementation, was shot at multiple times in an assassination attempt on May 18th. The leader and gender advocate from Montes de Maria was traveling with one of her daughters, a nephew, and a bodyguard from the UNP. No one was injured except for an assailant who was wounded by the UNP bodyguard and captured by authorities. Mayelrys has suffered two other assassination attempts in 2012 and 2015 because of her tireless activism. The attack was reported by the Special Council of Women on Gender Focus in Peace.

Attempted Murder on Afro-Colombian Social Leader (Cauca)

Ceferino Sánchez and his wife were shot at while driving on the night of June 7. Ceferino is a social leader and part of the community council, who reported the incident. Men in motorcycles shot multiple times at his vehicle. Luckily, no one was injured.

 Indigenous Teacher Attacked and Left for Dead (Cauca)

High School Indigenous teacher Alexander Garbato García was attacked by four men who beat him repeatedly while shouting racist slurs. The beating only stopped when his assailant believed he was dead. None of his possessions were stolen, indicating a personal hate crime based on his ethnicity. The ONIC reported the attack took place on May 1st.

President of Workers Union Suffers Assassination Attempt (Valle del Cauca)

Ricardo Muñoz, president of the Union for Municipal Workers in Cali (Sindicato de Trabajadores de las Empresas Municipales de Cali, SINTRAEMCALI) was attacked by armed men on May 17. His bodyguard managed to fend off the attackers. Ricardo’s UNP detail vehicle was taken from him by the agency even after suffering another attack on February 28. SINTRAEMCALI reported the facts the day they took place.

Prominent Afro-Colombian Leader Threatened (Valle del Cauca)

On May 24, Nidiria Ruiz Medina, leader of the AINI Women’s Association and the National spokesperson for Communities Building Peace in the Territories (CONPAZ) received a death threat at her home. The note read “A bullet for Nidiria”. Nidiria has been one of the strongest advocates for peace in the Naya region, where she’s led the construction of PDETs, organized illicit-use crop substitution, and sought the reconstruction of historic memory on the disappeared victims of conflict. Witness for Peace reported the death threat and has launched a campaign in her protection.

Afro-Colombian Women Leaders Receive Death Threats (Valle del Cauca)

Yency Murillo Sarria and Mary Cruz Renteria Mina received death threats via text on June 10. The two prominent Afro-Colombian leaders have been working for over a decade to ensure the safety of women and children in Buenaventura and coordinate the sub-commission on Women of the Buenaventura Civic Strike. They have repeatedly denounced the lack of promised funding from the local government, which the threat warned them to stop doing or be silenced by a bullet. The facts were reported by the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Civic Strike.

Indigenous Mayoral Candidate Receives Death Threats (Risaralda)

On May 6th, Leonardo Fabio Siágama Gutiérrez, Embera Chami tribe mayoral candidate for the Pueblo Rico municipality, received text messages telling him to forego his political aspirations or be murdered. The text also reprimanded him for reporting past threats, both received in February. He was also told that the security measures he has now would not be enough to save his life if he decided to peruse his candidacy. ONIC reported the fact as civil society organizations fear a rise in violence due to regional elections in October.

Human Rights Defender Threatened by State Forces (Putumayo)

On May 20th, Carlos Fernandez, a human rights defender of the Inter-Church Commission of Justice and Peace (Comision Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz) and his UNP security detail were held at gunpoint by five soldiers from the XXVII Jungle Brigade. The army men demanded to search the bodyguards and when they identified their weapons, the soldiers drew their guns and said they had orders to “kill anybody who was armed.” The situation was diffused through dialogue but remains emblematic of the new directives of the Colombian army to increase body counts with little scrutiny for their victims.

Social Leaders Threatened Nearing Regional Elections (Arauca)

On May 11th, the Farmer Association of Arauca (Asociación Campesina de Arauca, ACA) reported death threats directed to leaders of a collective of civil society organizations in Arauca (La Mesa de organizaciones civicas y populares de Arauca, MOCIPAR) and local political movements. The threats were scattered in pamphlets from the Gaitanistas Self-defense Force (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia, AGC) paramilitary group and named specific leaders of the aforementioned organizations such as their president and their Secretary of Education.

Environmental Activist is Victim of Multiple Attacks (Cesar)

Dorys Stella Guitierrez and her family have been victims of various attacks. She is a social leader of San Martin, the President of CORDATEC (The Corporation of Water, Land and Ecosystems Defenders) and a member of REDEPAZ. She was specifically targeted because of her work with CORDATEC on the environment land rights, and opposition of fracking.

Paramilitaries Threaten Indigenous Population with Social Cleansing (Cauca)

On April 17, the paramilitary group Black Eagles (Águilas Negras) scattered pamphlets across the department in a calculated threat to all members and leaders of the “minga” indigenous protests that took place in May. The paramilitary group threatened a social cleansing of indigenous social leaders for impeding the state’s development in the region. ONIC reported that the threat targeted Feliciano Valencia, Nelson Lemus, the indigenous representative for the House of Representatives Abel David Jaramillo, and the Cauca indigenous guard as a whole. Congressman Abel has a security detail that is rarely equipped to travel with him to the more isolated parts of his constituency, putting him in grave danger of an attack.

Environmental Organizations Receive Death Threats (Tolima)

On May 14, members of multiple environmental organizations in Cajamarca received threats via email. The message from the Black Eagles explicitly said they were going to murder all environmentalists in the region. Previously, these organizations fiercely opposed the “La Colosa” mining project licensed to the multi-national Company AngloGold Ashanti, halting what would have been one of the largest open-air mining projects in Latin America. The mentioned organizations include the Environmental Committee in Defense of Life (Comité Ambiental en Defensa de la Vid)a and allied organizations Farmer Awareness (Conciencia Campesina), Socio-environmental Youth Collective of Cajamarca (Colectivo Socio-ambiental Juvenil de Cajamarca, COSAJUCA) and the Catholic University of Colombia, as well as the President of the Municipal Council of Cajamarca. The International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights reported the facts and called on President Duque to intervene.

Supporters of Presidential Candidate Gustavo Petro Receive Death Threats

Left-wing voters and supporters of Senator and previous presidential candidate Gustavo Petro and his Colombia Humana Party have been threatened by the Black Eagles paramilitary group. The group accuses Petro of being a guerillas and a communist. The note lists seven women’s rights activists including Gustavo Petro’s ex-wife, Maria Luz Herrán Cárdenas. Colombia Reports indicate that the death threats extend to all those who call themselves human rights defenders and warn of a democratic cleansing ahead of regional elections in October.

New York Times Photojournalist Flees the Country Due to Threats

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has reported that Federico Rios left the country on May 19 because of online harassment and threats he received in response to his work with the New York Times (NYT). This happened around the same time as Nicholas Casey, NYT Andes Director, fled the country after similar threats in response to an article about the army’s orders to raise body counts and lower military operations standards.

Oceanos S.A. and Paramilitary Groups Terrorize Local Families (Bolivar)

Human rights lawyers and defenders claim that the Oceanos S.A. company has colluded with paramilitary groups to forcibly displace, torment, and pollute the homes of the Godoy family and other native Afro-descendent farmers and fishers of Turba, the Dique Chanel, Matunilla and Puerto Badel. These groups were reported to have “threatened, intimidated, and forced them to sell their property.” The company Oceanos S.A has also contributed to the systematic violence against afro-descendant groups through repression, massive accumulation of land in Island of Covado, and the prohibition of fishing in certain communities dependent on this activity. On April 11th, various members of the Godoy family decided to return to their land and by the same token were made victims of violent actions and intimidation and death threats on behalf of the company (Oceanos S.A). It is cited that on May 24, as the inspector of Turbana carried out her work, heavily armed men claiming to be Oceanos’ security team surrounded the townspeople in intimidating manner. When the police arrived, they did not contest or inspect the identity or affiliation of the armed men.

Government Forces Displace Indigenous Peoples (Cauca)

The Communication Collective of Corinto (Colectivo de Comunicación Corinto) reported that on June 6 the army began forcibly displacing indigenous families exercising their autonomous environmental protection “Liberation of Mother Earth” practices. The land is part of the autonomous indigenous territory and is suspected to be illegally used by private interests seeking to exploit it.

Union Leaders Increasingly Persecuted (Valle del Cauca)

The National Union for Food Industry Workers (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Industria de Alimentos, SINALTRAINAL) has seen a rise in attacks and threats to its leaders and members, with wide-spread threats to “kill all union members.” Most of the threatened unionists have been those working with Colombina S.A. and Nestle of Colombia S.A. So far, four of their leaders have been attacked and Brayan Eduardo Ceballos was murdered on February 5.

Pacifist Community Warns of Paramilitary Takeover (Antioquia)

On May 11, a group of 8 paramilitary arrived in the independent pacifist community of San Jose de Apartadó and identified themselves as AGC members. The paramilitary men of the AGC Eastern Block infiltrated and co-opted the communities JACs, began instructing residents to attend meetings led by paramilitary groups, and either submit to their orders or face sanctions imposed by them. On May 15, a group of teachers paid by the state and residents part of the JAC of neighboring Mulatos Medio took over the community’s most sacred place of gathering, shared for over 15 years as a sacred memorial for past massacres. The town residents report that the paramilitary group has fully settled in the community and began to impose its oppressive rule.

 Civil Society Coalition Calls Out State Reneging on Commitments (Nariño)

The Platform of the Social Organizations for Victims and Human Rights Defenders of Nariño, which is made up of 19 civil society organizations, denounces government officials for not attending a meeting with the Peace and Post-conflict Senatorial Commission and themselves on June 14 and 15. When the government decided to send “delegates” and no high ranking officials, the Senatorial Commission canceled, leaving these organizations abandoned in the midst of a rapidly deteriorating security situation. They cite the continuous killing of at least 15 social leaders since the beginning of 2019. If you have read this far in this Urgent Actions, you will have read of six leaders form Nariño murdered in the matter of a month.

 Report on Psychosocial Effects of Post-Conflict Dynamics on Communities (Antioquia)

CREDHOS (Regional Corporation for Defense of Human Rights – Corporacion Regional para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos) produced a report on the psychological and social effects of human rights violations in different parts of the Magdalena Region. The report finds that most people affected are women. Some of the main problems they face are forced displacement, interfamilial violence, torture, social exclusion and stigmatization. CREDHOS finds that these problems have translated into a variation in one’s mood, anxiety, family related issues and drug consumption. Most of the people affected by the armed conflict in that region have been reported to be between the age of 25 and 60. The report also analyzes the inclusion and the participation of victims and groups that are representing victims within the process of the truth commission. It finds that while some groups have been included, many still feel unrepresented.