WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

(AP Photo/Ivan Valencia)

14 Oct 2019 | News

Political, Ethnic, and Civil Society Activists Remain at Risk in Colombia

Since WOLA’s last update on July 25, the consequences of lack of implementation and reneging on the peace accords have reverberated throughout the country in waves of ethnic and political violence, as well as the rearmament of a small but significant portion of demobilized FARC.

Shamelessly, the Colombian government has hollowly portrayed a commitment to peace implementation while ignoring the harsh realities caused by its lack of political action and will. In response, the Defend the Peace Movement (Defendamos la Paz, DLP) wrote a letter denouncing the “Colombian government’s position, which is pro-peace externally, to obtain resources, and anti-peace internally, to dismantle the bulk of the peace accord.”

DLP, a movement grouping a wide variety of pro-peace political and civil society actors, of which WOLA is a part of, specifically denounces the “progressive dismantling of verification and international accompaniment to the peace process.”

The Norwegian and Cuban diplomatic missions have been ignored, the Verification Commissions marginalized, and there has been a reluctance to extend the mandate of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, all of which amount to a strategic disengagement of international guarantors and oversight to the peace accord.

The continuation of this empty external rhetoric, alongside internal jabs to the peace accords, will only destroy the gains accomplished since 2016, and revamp armed conflict.

The full letter by DLP can be found here.

The international community and U.S. Congress must remain vigilant and critical of any action endangering the constitution and legitimacy of the peace accords. Below is a list of the incidents that have occurred since our last update:

Human Rights Ombudsman and Mayoral Candidate Murdered Along with Five Others (Cauca)

Karina García, her mother, a city council candidate, and three others were brutally murdered as their vehicle was intercepted, shot at, and torched.

The elections in Cauca have been marred with death threats and harassment, with over 40 flyers threatening candidates supporting the peace accord spread by FARC splinter groups, the Black Eagles (Águilas Negras), and the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia, AGC) paramilitaries.

The National Federation of Ombudsmen (Federación Nacional de Personeros de Colombia, FENALPER), released a statement that indicated that García had previously been included in a list for protection sent to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which received no response.

Four Indigenous Guards Murdered as Armed Groups Aim to Gain Control of the Territory (Cauca)

On August 1, unknown men in the Huellas Caloto reserve murdered an indigenous guard, Gersain Yatacue Escue. Escue was preforming territorial control activities when armed men, who claimed to be FARC dissidents, murdered him.

On August 4, another Toribio community member, Enrique Guejia Taquinas, was murdered. These events come in close proximity to the attempted attack on the Kiwe Thegnas Indigenous Guard on July 26, allegedly perpetuated by FARC dissidents, which left four guards injured. Later that month, the Indigenous Human Rights Commission (Comisión de Derechos Humanos de los Pueblos Indigenas, CDDHHPI) reported an explosion in a heavily trafficked street in Caloto, Cauca on August 9.

When the Indigenous Guard responded to the incident, unidentified actors attacked them with long-range weapons. The next day, when some members of the Indigenous Guard were traveling by bus, they were met with an attack that resulted in two deaths and one injury.

These violent events depict the security crisis that is taking place in indigenous communities in Cauca and how the peaceful indigenous guard is being left at the mercy of illegal armed groups.

Longtime Afro-Colombian Leader Murdered (Cauca) 

Victor Campaz had been a longtime ethnic social leader and a member of the Chanzará, Cauca Community Council Board of Directors before he was murdered on September 3.

Armed man boarded the boat Victor was taking to Nariño and shot him after wounding another man and kidnaping a woman released the next day. He was beloved and respected by the community. COCOCAUCA, an umbrella organization of community councils and grassroots Afro-Colombian organizations of the Cauca pacific coast reported the incident with a heavy heart.

Extrajudicial Killing of Indigenous Man Framed as Guerilla (Valle del Cauca)

Ómar Guasaquillo and an unidentified man were attacked by the military, killing Guasaquillo and injuring the second man, who is being treated in the Jamundí hospital.

The local community and human rights organizations expressed doubts over the military’s formal version of events and found Guasaquillo’s body dressed in camouflage with a weapon beside it, even though Guasaquillo was not part of any armed group. The community proceeded to block the area off until an investigative unit arrived. The case is being compared to the “false positive” scandal the Colombia military faced less than a decade ago.

Community Reporter Murdered (Nariño)

On June 11, two gunmen on a motorcycle shot and killed Libardo Montenegro in Samaniego, Nariño. Montenegro was a veteran reporter for the community radio station, Samaniego Stereo.

According to Havana Times although the murder remains unsolved, this incident has prevented journalists in the region from reporting on the event in fear of becoming targets themselves. It has been speculated that the murder might be a response to Montenegto’s recent coverage of drug-fueled violence in Samaniego.

Social Leader Murdered (Caquetá)

Contagio Radio reported the murder of social leader Yissela Trujillo in Puerto Rico, Caquetá on July 27. Unidentified attackers killed both Trujillo and her spouse. This event comes a week after a mass protest across the country and globe movement for the protection of social leaders in Colombia. Local authorities deemed Trujillo a victim of armed conflict.

LGBT Activist Killed (Atlantico)

LGBT activist Ariel López was killed on August 1 in his home in Barranquilla, making him the eighth LGBT rights activist to be killed since the beginning on 2018. López coordinated programs developed in the 2016 peace accords to strengthen and protect LGBT rights. Caribe Afrimativo reports Barranquilla sees 18 to 25 members of the LGBT community murdered every year. This year there have already been 18 cases recorded.

Paramilitaries Murder Farmer in Peace Community (San José de Apartadó)

On August 18, the San Jose de Apartadó Peace Community reported the murder of Wever Andrés Arias Garzón. Paramilitaries entered his home while his wife was at the marketplace and shot him four times.

It took 19 hours after the incident had occurred for police forces to arrive to the scene in order to pick up the body. Once they had arrived, the officials claimed that the helicopter to pick up the body would take 6 hours to arrive and that they were tired; the family, they said, would be better off taking the body to San José themselves. Due to the incompetence of the police force, the family transferred the body themselves.

Garzón was part of the paramilitary’s hit list along with two other community members that have previously been murdered: Deimer Usuga Holguín (January 16) and Yeminson Borja Jaramillo (July 7).

Indigenous Communities Displaced by Armed Confrontation (Chocó)

On June 6, and since April of 2019, the Colombian National Indigenous Organization (Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia, ONIC) has reported that a series of threats, plunder of livestock and armed confrontation has led to the displacement of people from the Juradó municipality.

Over 1,500 Embera Katío, Jumara Carra, Wounaan and Embera indigenous peoples from the Cedral, Buenavista, Pichindè, Bongo, and Eyasake communities have been displaced to Santa Terecita and Dos Bocas, now also confined by violent actors. A high level of illness among children and elderly people has been reported, as food runs low and communication becomes limited.

Additionally, in the Cedral community of the Embera Wonnan, there has been a series of confrontations with the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, ELN) and the AGC. These confrontations have led to a termination of communication with exterior municipalities and a displacement level labeled as a humanitarian crisis.

Attempted Murder on Social and Human Rights Leader (Buenaventura)

On July 25, Nomadesc reported that multiple unidentified subjects opened fire on the home of Carlos Alberto Tovar Mosquera, a social leader and human rights defender in Buenaventura. He suffered some injuries.

Before the incident, Mosquera had requested protection from the National Protection Unit (Unidad Nacional de Protección, UNP), receiving no response. Tovar Mosquera served as a coordinator for the Access to Justice, Protection, and Memory Working Group for Victims (Mesa de Acceso a la Justicia, Protección, Víctimas y Memoria).

Human Rights Ombudsman and Social Leader Suffers Threats and Attempted Kidnapping (Nariño)

According to anti-censorship coalition the League against Silence (La Liga Contra el Silencio), Nariño Human Rights Ombudsman Sonia Zoraida Cifuentes Melo has been the target of four death threats and an attempted kidnaping in the month of July. She told journalists about alleged ties between the mayor of Policarpa with drug trafficking and illegal armed groups, as well as the alleged misuse of public funds.

These claims have been corroborated by four more sources, one of them a government official, who has chosen to remain anonymous for their safety. Cifuentes Melo presented herself as an anonymous source but was identified by the mayor herself in an interview with journalist Sebastian Villa.

As the risk on her two daughters and her life escalate, the UNP is still evaluating the level of risk faced by Cifuentes Melo, but Villa fears that the evaluation may take too long and leave them vulnerable to more attacks.

FARC Splinter Group Sends Death Threats to Indigenous Leaders and Guards (Northern Cauca)

On August 17, FARC splinter group the Dagoberto Ramos Front declared the indigenous leadership and guard of Northern Cauca and Valle del Cauca military targets for resisting illicit-use crops and armed presence in their territories.

This threat was directed to the following leaders: Nelson Lemus, Ayda Quilcue, Luz Julicue, Oveimar Tenorio, Albeiro Tomayo, Hector Casamachín, Raquel Trujillo, Alex Lulico, Cristian Rivera, Diego Pinzón, Horacio Dagua, Emilio Valencia, and Ernesto Dagua.

The threat indicated that illegal groups in the areas had information on these leaders’ movements, their security detail, and of their travels to neighboring municipalities, Pradera and Florida.

Vice President of the Indigenous Regional Council of Huila Threatened (Huila)

On May 29, the Colombian National Indigenous Organization (Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia, ONIC) along with the Indigenous Regional Council of Huila (Consejo Regional Indígena del Huila, CRIHU) reported a threat to María Beatriz Vivas, current Vice President of CRIHU. The incident occurred on May 15 when four men on motorcycles ran over a young student and harassed him for Vivas’ home address. The group of men proceeded to say that they knew where Vivas’ sister lived, indicating that the threat was extended to all of her family.

Death Threats to Executive Committee of Teachers Union (Bogotá)

The Colombian Education Worker’s Federation (Federación Colombiana de Trabajadores de la Educación, FECODE) a teacher’s union demanding improvements in their health services and security, received two death threats from a group called the Black Eagles on Septmeber 3. The Black Eagles’ threat reads, “Death to all the guerilla collaborators, so called social and union leaders”.

Although the threat was issued to all 15 members, Nelson Alarcón (President), Martha Alfonso (Vice President), Domingo Ayala (Prosecutor), María Eugenia Londoño (Gender, Equality, and Inclusivity Office), Carlos Rivas (Labor and Judicial Affairs Office), and Isabel Olaya (Organization and Education Union Office), were explicitly mentioned in the threat.

To protect the livelihood of the teachers, Fecode has postponed their march, “Great Caravan for the Defense of Life, Peace and Democracy” that was programed to take place on the 6th. The event was originally programmed to begin in Bogotá and then cross Toez, Caloto, Cauca and other regions of the country where violence against social leaders and teachers are rampant.

Excessive Force and False Charges Leveled Against Indigenous Minor (Cauca)

On April 5, the Indigenous Regional Council of Cauca (Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca, CRIC) reported members of the Anti-riot Squadron (Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios, ESMAD) used excessive force on Jhon Frey Chocue, a minor. Chocue, a member of the CRIC and Shat Tama Kiwe organization, was wounded, captured, and wrongly charged with handling explosive devices for dodging tear gas canisters shot by the riot police.

Paramilitaries Threaten Leaders of Indigenous Communities (Chocó)

Since July 1, armed members of the AGC dressed as civilians began circulating around Embera communities calling for meetings with their leaders. On June 20, the AGC issued threats to indigenous leaders, such as Gemán Pernia and Argemiro Bailarín from the Nuevo Cañaveral Indigenous Reserve. Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz, CIJP) reported that a man approached the community warning them that Bailarín, dubbed the head of their community, should not return and that he would die for speaking out against the AGC. The man new where Argemiro lived and where he traveled. The AGC also threatened to kill other Embera leaders from the Uradá Jigumiandó Reserve.

Harassment of Land Restitution Social Leader (Chocó)

On August 2, the CIJP reported two men following social leader Liria Rosa García in Belén de Bajirá. A UNP guard accompanied García when the men took down the UNP vehicle’s license plate, forcing García to take a different route home for her protection. Belén de Bajirá is a municipality controlled by the AGC García focuses on land restitution in the region and has been the target of previous harassment and a number of death threats.

Armed Men Intimidate Community (Chocó)

On July 30, four armed men entered the Centro Jigua community located in the Collective Territory of Jiguamiandó. CIJP reported that despite requests by the local community asking the men to vacate the area, the men refused their request and stayed. The community is located 8 kilometers (5 miles) from an unresponsive military unit.

Death Threats to Five Journalists (Valle del Cauca)

On August 7, the Second Vice President of the Senate, Alexander López Maya, publicly addressed President Ivan Duque stating that the government should assure the protection of five journalists that received death threats via text in Cali.

The journalists that received the message were Eduardo Manzano (Noticias Caracol), Fransuá Martínez (Blu Radio), Miguel Ángel Palta (Noticiero 90 Minutos) and two cameramen, Alexander Cárdenas and Arlex Piedrahita (Noticias Caracol).

Although the origin of the message is still unknown, the journalists have concluded that it came as a response to a story on the power cuts in various municipalities in Cauca, proposed by the Attorney General’s office, which are targeting zones where there are illicit-use crops.

López Maya concluded by stating that as of this year Valle de Cauca has faced threats to 5 journalists, the murder of 33 indigenous people, 7 attempted murders, and 38 threats to collective indigenous groups.

Death Threats to Social Leader (Cauca)

On July 24, social leader and member of the (Asociación Municipal Campesina de Trabajadores y Trabajadoras de Piamonte, ASIMTRACAMPIC), Maydany Salcedo, was alerted by police that they had intercepted a call that stated that there would be an attempt on her life.

On August 8 she once again received a death threat through text message telling her to stay away from Piamonte. Salcedo was also threatened on April 11th, 2018 and September 1st, 2017. These threats have stemmed from her involvement in implementing the Peace Accords and in organizations such as the Programa Nacional Integral de Sustitución (PNIS).

Harassment of Human Rights Defender (Antioquia)

On August 16, human rights defender and social leader Cruz Arley Estupiñan Mosquera, along with his family, where forced to flee their home in Medellín due to harassment. The institutions in charge of his protection have been unresponsive.

Breach of Sovereignty on Indigenous Territory (Putumayo)

CDDHHPI reported the incursion of 33 soldiers of the 27th Colombian military brigade into the Buenavista Indigenous Reserve, violating the sovereignty of the community and placing them in danger. The Indigenous Guard responded by escorting the soldiers out of their sovereign land. The soldiers responded that the uniforms of the Indigenous Guard resembled those of the FARC’s 48th Brigade. These remarks are a representation of the stigmatization towards the indigenous guard and population.

Peaceful Protestors met with Disproportionate Force and Abuse (Meta)

The Communities Building Peace in the Territories (Comunidades Construyendo Paz en los Territorios, CONPAZ) are tracking the peaceful protests in Maripán, Meta, which were subjected to disproportionate violence.

On August 28, after days of harassment, 50 units of the anti-riot police (ESMAD) and two helicopters launched a disproportionate use of force against 302 indigenous, Afro-Colombian, and peasant families that were peacefully soliciting the municipality to give them a guarantee to land titling in Maripán, Meta. More than 500 people make up the peaceful protest settlements.

ESMAD forces have killed one person, injured another and detained ten, two of which are minors. Previously, on August 26, the ESMAD and local government destroyed property used by the settlement to protect themselves from rain and cold, including their mattresses, food and cooking supplies. 

Young Afro-Colombian Community Council Member Missing (Valle del Cauca)

Since August 16, 24 year-old Jose Luis Mondragón Lozano, has been missing. Mondragón Lozano is a member of the Community Council of Malaguita in Bajo San Juan, in the Buenaventura district. At the time of his disappearance he was in Cali, where he has been residing for the past two years and works in construction. The missing persons report was filed on August 27 to the Immediate Action Command of the police.

Indigenous Commission’s Session Suspended (Bogotá)

On August 30, the CDDHHPI released a statement condemning the lack of political will of the current government to heed the calls of indigenous organizations in a time of humanitarian crisis.

Since Iván Duque became president about a year ago, there have been 18,948 cases of violence, displacement, threats and murders recorded by the CDDHHPI. Since 2015, there have been 343 accords signed between the government and the commission that have not been honored. Iván Márquez’s rearmament has already caused an increase in violence and threats to the indigenous population in Cauca and Putumayo and the commission finds that it is will only worsen if the government remains indifferent.

Incident at the Peace and Justice Commission (Popayán)

The Justice and Peace Commission reported that on July 30 a man approached a security detail from the National Protection Unit (Unidad Nacional de Protección, UNP) working at the Peace and Justice Commission asking for the “Fudacauca Foundation”. Once the guard responded that the foundation was not located in the building, the man proceeded to take multiple pictures of the interior of the building. Seconds later, he got into a car with another man and proceeded to circle around the building while taking pictures.

Police authorities were alerted to the strange incident once the subjects left the vicinity. Human rights defenders Diego Manzano, Viviana Martínez and Gloria Cecilia Orcué were located in the building.

Anti-Union Violence Persists in Colombia

As of July 12, ten members of the Fensuagro agricultural union have been killed so far in 2019.

The International Trade Union Confederation’s latest report documents Colombia as the most dangerous country for labor organizing, plus a poor labor rights record. In the last year, Colombia has been responsible for two-thirds of the trade unionist murders worldwide.

The Guardian references this report in a plea for the Colombian government to uphold its commitment to the 2016 peace accords.

Labor Union Protests at Nestle Colombia

On August 29, members of the National Union of Food Industry Workers (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Industria de Alimentos, Sinaltrainal) issued a statement on the poor working conditions at Nestle Colombia.

The union protested the corporation by chaining themselves in front of the many Nestle factories, starting at 5:00 a.m. The union pointed out that many of their rights and accords relating to work conditions had not been respected. Furthermore, they have experienced many attacks on their security, such as murders, attempted murders, as well as surveillance. Additionally, in the past few months they have been subject to collective firings, faulty procedures to assess the conditions of transport vehicles, and other proceedings that have raised alarm for consumers of their products.

The union met with the president and the head of corporate sustainability on August 23 to raise these concerns; however, the conversation was set aside to focus on the economic projection of the company.

Harassment, Persecution, and Toxic Working Environment at Taglheef Industries (Cartagena)

On August 20, the Biofilm Workers Union (Sindicato de Trabajadores de Bio Film, Sintrabiofilm) released a statement to their company asking for reform in three specific areas.

The areas included the improvement of gas pipelines that are currently deteriorating and pose a threat to the worker’s well-being, a new vehicle and transportation route that drops off workers as close to their home as possible to assure their safe passage, and finally, that each worker receive a copy of the fire safety manual as required under Colombian law.

These demands follow the incident involving Biofilm worker Yesón Morales, who was stabbed on the back on his way home due to the large distance between his house and where the company official dropped him off. As a response to the incident, Morales wrote a memo to the company complaining about the conditions, to which the company later responded by labeling his statement as a disciplinary offense.

The second case is that of Carlos Beltrán, who on September 8 had all his belonging stolen on his way home. Taglheef Industries, which acquired Biofilm earlier this year, has a history of intimidating their workers and disregarding their complaints.