We wish to bring to your attention the following cases of human rights abuses in Colombia. We urge you to act to guarantee the safety of the persons and communities concerned, as well justice for the victims.
After Five Indigenous are Murdered in Cauca, Killings Continue (Cauca)
On October 29, a brazen attack by illegal armed groups in Cauca, Colombia left indigenous authority Ne’h Wesx Cristina Taquinas Bautista and four members of the Nasa Tacueyo indigenous reserve dead, with another six people wounded. The massacre took place while the indigenous guard was doing their scheduled rounds in the town of Luz. According to the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC, by its Spanish acronym), a black car containing armed members of a FARC dissident group ignored signals by the indigenous guard and proceeded to shoot everyone in sight. In defiance of humanitarian international law, the armed actors also shot at the ambulance that later arrived at the scene to transport the injured to a place where their wounds could be treated.
On October 31, armed men killed engineer Carlos Mario López, army sub-officer Diego Torres Rodríguez, Diego Cerguera, and Roosebelt Saavedra in Corinto, Cauca, only two days after the indigenous massacre in the same region. The four men were not indigenous. The Indigenous Guard found the bodies and stated they had signs of torture. Another unidentified murder took place the same day in Caloto, close to Toribio and Corinto.
These incidents are not a surprise, WOLA has constantly been alerting the U.S. authorities of the deteriorating security situation facing indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities in Cauca since the signing of the 2016 peace accord. According to the National Organization for Indigenous Persons (ONIC), 115 indigenous have been assassinated in 2019 so far. A total of 135 killed since Duque took office.
Making matters worse, president Duque has refused to sit down with indigenous authorities in their territories to figure out the best way forward to prevent further killings and abuses from taking place. Rather, he has sent 2,500 soldiers to militarize the area, even though these type of militarization efforts often do not resolve the fundamental issues causing the security concerns and often places ethnic communities in a state of higher vulnerability. The tools to protect ethnic minorities in high conflictive areas are found in the 2016 peace accord and the application of its Ethnic Chapter. For more information we encourage reading Ethnic Communities are the Pathway to Peace in Colombia’s Abandoned Areas.
In the northern Cauca case, the ONIC states the following regarding militarization: “…its presence intensifies the tension in the region and does not guarantee the compliance of rights, which is why we think it’s necessary to figure out alternatives to stop the extermination that our communities are being exposed to in that region.” To address this, they are proposing that the Duque government work jointly with them to implement a “Pilot Plan for the Erradication and Substitution of Ilicit Crops.” U.S. authorities should back the indigenous authorities’ recommendations for how best to address the security situation in northern Cauca.
ONIC notes that since October 29 at least 17 indigenous were killed:
Oct. 29- A traditional NASA authority and five Indigenous guards massacred in Tacueyo, Cauca
Oct. 31- 4 indigenous assassinated in Corinto, Cauca.
Oct. 31- A Kamentsá couple killed in Putumayo.
Oct. 31- Embera Indigenous guard killed in Chigorodó.
Oct. 31- A Wiwa Indigenous murdered in Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
Nov. 2- An Indigenous youth in Toribío, Cauca.
Nov. 3- An Indigenous killed in Tacueyó, Cauca.
On November 6, ONIC denounced the murder of Luis Enrique de la Cruz Suarez, a member of the Senu ethnic group. His body was found by the indigenous guard in Caceres municipality in the Bajo Cauca region of Antioquia. Initial information points to the possibility that he was killed for promoting the country-wide protest that is planned for November 21.
Army Fires at Social Leader Yolanda Gonzalez Garcia Killing Her Gov. Issued Bodyguard (Arauca)
On September 19, the Departmental Secretary of the Independent Alliance Party of Arauca and former Saravena council member was riding in an armored car with her body guards issued by the National Protection Unit (UNP) was stopped by members of the Colombian army. The members of the army shouted to Yolanda and others in the vehicles to put their arms in the air and get out of the car. According to Ms. Garcia who WOLA met with on October 9 in the hospital, as soon as she put their hands in the air, the soldiers fired immediately killing her bodyguard, Ezequiel Mendez Riveros. Ms. Garcia, who was gravely wounded, fell to the ground appearing to be dead. She was later rescued by an unknown man thought to belong to the security forces who witnessed the attack and took her to the hospital.
According to the army this incident was a military error. The soldiers were in pursuit of a car that was stolen in Lejia (near Pamplona). However, a voice recording made at the scene also indicates that the shots took place after the victims were asked to raise their hands. Also, the UNP car is a reddish color with plates FZT-103 while the stolen car is white with HRO-948 plates. Ms. Garcia had received death threats from multiple illegal armed groups for years and her husband, another social leader, was murdered in 2010. Investigations were launched into the Sept. 19 attack. Delicate information obtained by WOLA points to the possibility that this may not have been an unfortunate accident of military error. U.S. authorities must do their own investigation and urge Colombia that there is justice and that Ms. Garcia and her family’s lives are protected.
Extrajudicial Assassination and Cover Up of Demobilized FARC Combatant Dímar Torres (Catatumbo)
On April 23, the Farmer Association of Catatumbo (Asociacion de Campesinos de Catatumbo, ASCAMCAT), reported the murder of demobilized FARC combatant Dímar Torres Arévalo at the hands of the Colombian army. The grass roots organization reports what the local Community Action Board (Junta de Accion Comunal, JAC) describes first-hand: On April 22, 2019, the community of Carrizal heard gunshots and proceeded to check everyone was safe before noticing Dímar was missing. Around 80 members of the community walked to the nearest military check point, there to protect the Caño Limón oil pipeline, suspecting they had detained him. Upon their denial, they began searching and found a shallow hole that led them to Dímar’s tortured body, shot four times.
On April 24, Defense Minister Guillermo Botero confirmed a soldier had killed Dímar accidentally when he attempted to take the soldier’s rifle, which caused it to go off. On April 27, General Diego Villegas of the Vulcan Task Force, who is under investigation for extrajudicial killings in the 2000s, publicly asked the community for forgiveness for the murder of Dímar by one of his subordinates, contradicting Botero. The attorney general charged soldier Daniel Gómez with homicide and imprisoned him in army barracks The Senate’s Peace commission declared this an extrajudicial killing. On May 17, Coronel Jorge Armando Pérez Amézquita was linked to the case for hiding information. A day after that, the New York Times published a story exposing new army directives demanding higher body counts and less thoroughness when choosing kill targets. Two days later, John Blanco, second lieutenant and commander of Daniel Gómez, was let go from the army for collaborating with investigations. Congress clamored for the resignation of Botero, asking for an apology to Dímar’s family at the least, which he denied them.
On June 1, new information evidences the cold-blooded murder and the soldiers’ intent to make Dímar look like a guerilla member, reminiscent of the ‘false positive’ cases of 2008. The United Nations condemned the murder and urged the Colombian government to “cease inciting violence against demobilized individuals of the FARC-EP and to meet the guarantees that were made to them during the negotiations in Havana, most importantly respect of the right to life.” On August 23, Daniel Gómez, the material perpetrator of Dímar’s murder, presented a confession made days after the killing in exchange for a reduced sentence. The defense of Coronel Amézquita, superior of Gómez and Blanco, preemptively demanded his case be tried under military justice along with three other accused soldiers, stalling any further proceedings until the higher courts made their decision.
On October 27, Semana magazine uncovered proof that Coronel Amézquita had ordered Dímar be killed through a WhatsApp group chat, all corroborated by the Attorney General’s Office. The group chat, titled “Dímar Torres,” detailed how Coronel Amézquita sent Gómez to stalk Dímar and his community, telling him “they were next.” After killing Dímar, Gómez wrote on the chat “I already killed him,
Coronel,” to which Amézquita told him to use his radio to report no new developments and then asked, “What did that son of a bitch say?” The operation to extrajudicially kill Dímar, then a farmer loved by his community, was given after a soldier was killed by a land mine while protecting the Caño Limón pipeline, for which Dímar was blamed for with no proof whatsoever. After the fact, Amézquita told his troops, “I don’t need to report anything. I need to avenge the soldier’s death, we have to kill.”
Defense Minister Claims “14 criminals” Killed, Hiding Seven were Children
Amidst a heated debate in the Colombian Senate over the dismissal of Defense Minister Guillermo Botero, Senator Roy Barreras presented a report by the Medical Examiner’s Office that identified the bodies of seven children in a September 2 bombing that killed 18 in San Vicente del Gaguán, Caquetá. Originally, the Defense Minister reported a successful bombing which victims were “14 criminals killed in combat operations,” later specified as FARC dissidents. The Attorney General later confirmed that eight children were killed. Among the eight children was one 12-year-old girl. Four of the other bodies were so obliterated it was impossible to determine their exact ages, although the report assured they were younger than 20 years-old. Six out of the eight minors are identified as 12-year-old Ángela María Gaitán, 17-year-old Aibimiller Morales, 17-year-old Wilmer Alfredo Castro, 16-year-old Diana Medina, 15-year-old José Rojas, and 17-year-old Jhon Edison Pinzón. The bombing was so disproportionate that even two months after the fact, two out of the 18 killed remain unidentified.
Marine Infantry Detains and Threatens Afronayeros (Valle del Cauca)
According to the Naya Community Council, on November 5 in the tourist boardwalk of Buenaventura two marine boats known as “piranas” detained Seberiano Nunez (34) and his son Olmer Angulo Hinestroza (16) for over an hour. The soldiers then proceeded to intimidate the two Afronayeros from the Naya Community Council by firing at least 10 shots in the air, threatening with killing them and to register them as “rats and guerillas.” Six soldiers were involved in the incident and it stopped when one of them turned on the others and defended the men. This soldier stated to the others that this had to stop before the situation turned into another extrajudicial killing or “false positive.” The two Afronayeros are covered under cautionary protective measures that were issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to the Naya collective territory.
While the November 6 resignation of Minister of Defense Botero is a welcome step, we urge that whomever replaces him works to put into place measures to prevent further deaths like the above from taking place. We note that human rights groups have criticized the Duque administration for promoting nine generals linked to extrajudicial killings cases. On December 10, 2018 the Duque administration made Nicacio de Jesús Martínez Espinel, who was linked to 27 extrajudicial killings as commander of the Tenth Brigade between 2004-2006, the new head of Colombia’ army. On December 21, 2018 General Martínez and Defense Minister Botero promoted 19 commanders to key positions, of which three have ongoing investigations for extrajudicial killings and six are indirectly linked to such cases. Humans Rights Watch has detailed each case and questioned Colombia’s government on these promotions. U.S. policymakers should make sure that the new Minister of Defense does not have links to human rights abuses and that the Colombian judicial authorities investigate and sanction the perpetrators of the cases in this document.
Indigenous Social Leader Murdered (Cauca)
On August 13, the indigenous guard, Toribio Canas Velasco, 53, was murdered in his home. The Indigenous Regional Council of Cauca (CRIC) reported that Canas Velasco, from the Kiwe Thegna community, was in his room along with friends when hooded men entered his home and shot him. It was also reported that he died instantaneously. This murder comes a day after the National Gathering of Indigenous Guards, where the group warned authorities that illegal armed groups had threatened their territory. That same day the Indigenous Guard found a message attributed to the Sinaloa Cartel from Mexico that stated their intention to “begin cleansing” Cauca. This coincides with indigenous leader, Arsenio Vascues’, statement that the cartel would begin to recruit minors to dominate areas with illicit crops. NB: WOLA has received conflicting information concerning whether the Sinaloa Cartel is in Cauca. Some groups say yes while some security experts claim it may be other illegal groups masking themselves as the Sinaloa Cartel to foment fear. In any event, whomever is behind the threats has the intent of killing people. This incident was followed by a statement from the UN calling for greater protective and preventative measures taken to protect the lives of indigenous leaders.
Indigenous Leader Murdered (Quindío)
On October 17, ONIC reported that Embera indigenous leader, Constantino Ramírez Bedoya, was murdered while he was riding his motorcycle at night through the Dachi Agore indigenous reserve. Ramírez Bedoya was one of the founders of the Regional Indigenous Organization of Quindío (ORIQUIN), where he played a key role as a leading councilmember. ONIC has framed this incident as part of the “indigenous genocide” that has been taking place under the Duque administration that has allowed for the murders of 115 indigenous leaders this past year. The murder of such an important member of the community has been perceived as an attack on the whole community.
Social Leader Allegedly Murdered by National Army (Cauca)
On October 28, the National Association of Peasant Reserve Zones (Asociación Nacional de Zonas de Reserva Campesina, ANZORC), reported that young social leader Flower Jair Trompeta Pavi was tortured and then murdered by what communities are identifying as members of the National Army. The community was alerted of the incident once shots were heard and later the sound of a helicopter flying overhead. Trompeta Pavi was a member of the Pro-Constitution Workers Association of the Peasant Reserve Zones (Asociación de Trabajadores Pro-Constitución Zonas de Reserva Campesina, ASTRAZONACAL). The claims of National Army involvement have not yet been confirmed by authorities in the ground that have also proposed that Trompeta Pavi might have been caught in a cross-fire between the military and FARC dissidents. Corinto municipality residents ask that authorities closely investigate the possibility that this incident was an extrajudicial killing.
Radio Host Murdered (Nariño)
On October 18, local radio host of Planeta Estereo, Javier Cordoba, was shot and killed while hosting his show. He is the second radio host to be murdered in Nariño this year and the fourth member of the media in Colombia. This incident comes after the Aguilas Negras issued a death threat to nine journalists in Nariño, labeling them “military objectives”. It is still unclear whether the prosecution is looking into these murders and threats issued to the journalists. This incident led to an outcry from the press freedom foundation, FLIP, and the EU Embassy, who released a statement saying, “the development of the country also depends on its right to be informed”. According to reports by FLIP, this year has been the most violent for press freedom advocates since the establishment of the organization in 2006. Overall, there has been 340 press freedom violations, affecting 410 media workers.
FARC Ex-Combatant and Party Member Murdered (Meta)
On October 28, Francisco De Roux, President of the Truth Commission, issued a declaration condemning the murder to FARC ex-combatant and current party member, Alexander Parra. The declaration called on the state to investigate the case as well as issue more protections to those individuals that have “put down their weapons to work toward reconciliation”. Parra was murdered by a hooded man that entered his home and shot him. His home was in a Territorial Space for Reincorporation and Capacitation (Espacio Territorial de Reincorporación y Capacitación, ETCR). Parra was a known leader of the ECTR. He oversaw the transition to civil life of ex-combatants, advising them, and making sure that they completed the process. Parra was also married to Luz Marina Giraldo, one of the three female candidates running for a spot in the Council of Mesetas as a member of the FARC Party.
Ex-Governor of Indigenous Reserve Murdered (Caquetá)
On September 20, the ex-governor of the indigenous reserve Aguas Negras, Víctor Manuel Chanit Aguilar, was reported missing by his family. After the efforts of a community led search party, on September 22, they were able to find his body that was stripped of most of his clothing and showed signs of torture. The family later reported that they found footprints that resembled those of military boots near their house and that the body was located near a place where a group of militaries usually gathered. This group never helped in the search of the ex-governor. They even laughed at the search party when they were collecting his remains. The mayor of La Tagua took charge of picking up the remains due to a lack of response from the police and attorney’s office. Furthermore, this incident has led to the displacement of 76 people (17 families) to La Tagua due to fears of possible disappearances or homicides like what occurred to the ex-governor.
Indigenous Community Member Killed (Nariño)
On October 13, the ONIC reported the murder of Lilia Patricia García from the ancestral territory of Watsalpí. García, was the secretary of the indigenous Awá municipal council. She died because of being shot in the back by a hooded man. The incident occurred on a road that lead to the educative institution, “Los Telembies”, where displaced children gather to study. García was an outspoken advocate of forming a legal constitution for the indigenous reserve raising complaints to the Colombian Institute of Rural Development (INCODER). For the García family this is yet another loss given the murder of their 15-year-old son in 2015 at the hands of the paramilitary group “Rastrojos”, which resulted in their displacement. The family attributes their losses to the lack of differential treatment when it comes to protective and preventative measures. Overall, this is part of a larger trend where 99% of the Watsalpí community finds itself in a situation of displacement due to the presence of armed groups.
Killing of Two Indigenous Community Members (Cauca)
On September 24, the CRIC reported the murder of two indigenous community members in Páez, Cauca. The two victims, José David Musse Campo, 19 years old, and Yilverso Alberto Velasco Yacuechime were stabbed and shot on their way back from a soccer game by unknown men. Musse Campo was an active member of the Colombian military who was on leave at the time of the incident. In their report, the CRIC tied these incidents as part of the broader humanitarian crisis taking place in Cauca.
Series of Murders and Armed Activity in Guapi (Cauca)
A series of violent incidents have taken place in Guapi, Cauca that indicate there is a need to develop better protection measures for this community. On September 18, a 36-year-old shoemaker, Manuel Vergara Obregón, was declared missing. On September 25, he was found behind his home tied up with signs of torture and two shots to the head. Five days prior on September 20, William Aristizabal was murdered while at work. On September 21, there was an armed combat between the ELN and the 30th Front of the FARC-EP that resulted in two persons injured. On September 25, another armed battle occurred between two unidentified groups. There are indications the later could be linked to an attempted murder in the Las Américas neighborhood. On September 26, Fortaleza neighborhood also experienced fighting between the ELN and the 30th Front of the FARC-EP. That same day in Cali, a grenade was detonated leading to a locality wide power cut, leaving communities confused and scared. Finally, on August 29, Iván Marquéz’s announcement to take up arms again resulted in graffiti being drawn all over Guapi stating “FARC-EP Frente Jaime Martínez”.
Between January and October, fighting between armed groups left 14 people dead in Guapi. The victims are Elmer Andrés Cárdenas Jiménez, Ingrid Lorena Villegas Sandoval, Jerson Fernando Piedrahita, Luis Carlos Sinisterra Bonilla, Andrés Mauricio Sinisterra, Fabio Leonardo Torres, Jhon Jader Moran Álvarez, Neulith Liliana Oliveros López, Junior Alexis Obregon Cuero, Víctor Campaz, William Alberto Aristizabal Buitrago, Eider Fernando Solís Obregón, and Ferley Solis Hurtado. In response to this, the Mayor’s office has put in place a curfew until October 30. From 9pm to 5am persons cannot go outside of their homes. Most persons were doing this before the curfew out of fear. Polices forces have overtaken civilian property in violation of Humanitarian International Law. The community is concerned that government announced that it would increase military forces in the region. This is problematic because already this department is one of the most militarized areas of the country.
Community Under Threat (Valle del Cauca)
A PBI Colombia report indicated that multiple assassinations, combat, forced disappearances, extortion, and forced recruitment of minors are taking place in Buenaventura. On July 5, combat operations between the” Urabeños” and the “Bustamante” (two successor paramilitary groups) led to the mass displacement of over 200 families. The security situation is particularly acute for the port city’s ethnic population. Between July-September, 80 members of the Buenaventura Civic Strike Committee received death threats. In some of the cases, these persons were also followed, harassed, or experienced having their phones intercepted.
Juan Rodrigo Machado, the son of Afro-Colombian human rights defender Temístocles Machado who was assassinated over a year ago was harassed by four illegally armed men in his home. On July 25, the coordinator of the Access to Justice Committee, Carlos Alberto Tovar, survived an assassination attempt in his home that has left him in intensive care after being shot six times. His colleagues have indicated that the incident might be connected to the result of Tovar’s investigation into corruption in the Buenaventura Mayor’s Office. Finally, Civil Strike Committee and Black Communities Process (PCN) member, Danelly Estupiñan, reported having received death threats, being followed and harassed to the Attorney General’s Office that she was receiving threats. She is currently displaced due to on-going security incidents linked to a plan to assassinate her that began in August.
Student Mobilization Leads to ESMAD Intervention (Bogotá)
On September 27, a student-led mobilization speaking out against corruption in various educational institutions was violently repressed by the ESMAD (Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron). The protest took place the Distrital and Cundinamarca Universities. During the demonstration, ESMAD forces entered the universities and threw tear gas and stun grenades. They reportedly hit students during their efforts to capture them. This incident has raised questions on the legitimacy and authority of ESMAD in a society that seeks peace through dialogue, negotiation, and peaceful protest. A statement by members of the academic community called upon the government and the media to reassess their negative portrayals of the students who were simply exercising their rights.
Human Rights Defender Receives Death Threats (Bogotá)
On October 8, human rights defender and lawyer, Germán Romero Sánchez received death threats. The latest threat took place on October 3. Romero Sánchez’s partner received it via phone while he was dropping off his children at school. This incident is one in a series of concerning events. On September 4 four men stole Romero Sánchez’s laptop containing delicate information including the identities of witnesses in his human rights cases. On August 20, Romero Sánchez reported being followed by two men on a motorbike when he was returning home from Popayán accompanied by his bodyguard from the National Protection Unit. Between July and August, members of his family received multiple calls during the night from an unknown caller saying that Romero Sánchez should return their call. Romero Sánchez is involved in a series of high-profile human rights cases.
Aguilas Negras Threaten Nine Journalists (Nariño)
On September 26, the Aguilas Negras threatened nine journalists and declared them to be “military objectives”. The journalists are Francisco Terán (Periódico Punto), Lucy Saldaña (Todelar Radio), Paulo Paz (W Radio), Winston Virachacha (Romántica Estéreo), Eduardo Botina (Telepasto), Nathalia Cabrera (Radio Nacional), Luis Murillo (Nariño Journalist Association), Miguel Angel Villarreal (Nariño Television), and Lorena Caicedo (Noticias Uno). According to this threat the journalists are “left-wing social leaders.” This is a deliberate attempt to intimidate the media to silence them. Earlier in September, journalist Natalia Vabrera was forced to flee Nariño after receiving multiple death threats phone calls from the Aguilas Negras.
Trade Unionist Under Threat (Valle del Cauca)
On September 24, Abel Rivera Trujillo, a worker at Nestle Colombia and union leader for Sinaltrainal, received a death threat from the Aguilas Negras. It appears to have come as a response to Rivera Trujillo’s candidacy for the Tuluá Municipal Council for the Green Party (Partido Verde). Sinaltrainal has released a statement denouncing these threats and calling upon the Colombian government to charge the perpetrators involved.
Series of Security Incidents in the San Jose de Apartado Peace Community (Antioquia)
On October 4, the San José de Apartadó Peace Community issued a report detailing security problems they experienced between September and October. On September 17, the community spotted the presence of a paramilitary group dressed in camouflage and holding weapons in Arenas Altas. On September 18, members of the community along with the Ombudsman’s office and members of the international community toured the community and spotted two other paramilitary groups, including one of which identified themselves as part of the “public forces”. On September 25, Elkin Ortiz, who is responsible for a series of property damages in the area, destroyed fences along the plantain and cacao crops. The motivation behind these damages appear to be linked to the paramilitary control of the region. On September 27, members of the community were informed that once they had left La Esperanza, private property of the community, 7 members of a paramilitary had entered property grounds in a threatening manner while members were working in the estate.
On September 28 and 29, members of the Peace Community along with national and international accompaniers travelled to the Las Camelias humanitarian zone in Chocó. They found the area to be heavily controlled by paramilitaries placing civilians at great risk. The group reported that these paramilitaries were operating under the protection and umbrella of the “public forces”. Finally, on September 28 Coronel Carlos Padilla hosted a ceremony in honor of the victims of the February 21, 2005 massacre in San José de Apartadó. Although the ceremony was held as a sign of good faith from the government, the individuals in attendance were mostly family members of the victims, the ceremonial plaque omitted the name of Bellanira Areiza citing no reason, and the murder was framed as simply part of the armed conflict. The community has framed this event as the government’s attempt to show a “new face” without properly addressing the root of the problem.
Death Threats Issued to Labor Union Members (Valle del Cauca)
On October 24, a member of the National Union of Food Workers (Sinaltrainal), José Onofre Esquivel Luna, found a flyer posted on his door titled “Escporron2- Return of Cleansing and Order”. The flyer contains the names of Nestlé workers and union members: Abel Rivera Trujillo, William de Jesús Zapata, Omar Rengifo Rojas, Wilson Riaño, José Onofre Esquivel Luna, José Mauricio Valencia Tomayo, Luis Javier Correa Suarez, Epifanio Dominguez, Edison Salazar, Rafael Esquivel, Jairo Crespo Cárdenas, Luis Alberto Béron Cañarte, and William Leyes Lozano. These unionists all belong to the Sinaltrainal, FOSIN-ASONPEJUPES and SINTRAENTEDDIMCCOL unions. The flyer declares them to be enemies and the authors state that their goal was to “exterminate all of the guerilla fighters that have infiltrated the Nestlé workers union”. This year Sinaltrainal has suffered one murder and eight violent situations. While authorities have condemned these incidents, the government has not taken any steps to alleviate the situation.
Special Jurisdiction for Peace Issues Special Protection Measures for Chocó Communities
According to a PBI Colombia report, on July 30, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) issued urgent protection measures for the inhabitants of the Humanitarian Zones and Biodiversity Zones in the Jiguamiandó and Curvaradó river basins. These ethnic communities are known for having taken in former FARC combatants and for giving information and testimonies used in the JEP’s case 004. This case pertains to 3,523 incidents of massacres, forced disappearances, illegal land appropriation, gender-based violence, and sexual violence. This demand from the JEP is a mechanism to hold state institutions accountable for the protection of these individuals. Institutions including the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Defense, the Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría), the Inspector General’s Office, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Judge Censors Journalist
Claudia Julieta Duque is a well-known journalist whose suffered kidnapping, illegal interceptions, psychological torture, and death threats over the last 26 years. The latest in her case states that during the multiple court proceedings against the perpetrators of her attacks, especially the case that she brought against former now defunct Colombian Intelligence Agency DAS deputy director Emiro Rojas Granados, the judge ruled that Duque is not allowed to “give information to the media or discuss her case or the trial”. This violation of freedom of expression was condemned by the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), Edison Lanza, the Inter-American Commissions’ Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, and Alberto Brunori, the representative of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights in Colombia. Several of her cases have experienced irregularities that allowed many of her perpetrators to be released without undergoing trials. Given the complexity of these cases, being able to speak out about developments is a way for Claudia to guarantee that the legal proceedings will move towards justice.
Tensions Between Peasant Guard and Armed Forces
On October 14, the Institute for Peace and Development Studies (Instituto de Estudios para el Desarrollo y la Paz, Indepaz), cited growing tensions between the Peasant Guard and the armed forces after a speech delivered by an army official. The official stated that the Peasant Guard was an obstacle for the armed forces in terms of fulfilling their duties. He pointed out that the Guard does not and should not be considered legitimate since they are “an invention made in Havana”. Lastly, they alleged that some of the Peasant Guards had asked the armed forces to retire or move locations since they were infringing on their territory, something which is illegal to request. In turn, the response of the Peasant Guard has been to state that the Peasant Reserve Zones (ZRC) along with their own guard were created because of their need to further protect their lives and the threats posed to the communities by the residual armed groups that continue to inhabit the region. Indepaz concludes that the best course of action to resolve this issue would be to open dialogue between the armed forces, police force, and the Peasant and Indigenous Guards.
Presense of Illegal Armed Groups Leads to Displacement in Jurado (Chocó)
On October 17, 20 inhabitants of Guarín in Juradó were forced to migrate to the municipal city after 50 heavily armed men entered the town claiming that they were looking for three individuals to “settle scores”. Every day at different times shots can be heard coming from the city center. The public forces have also experienced harassment by these armed groups. The town finds itself in a constant state of fear, especially given that the armed forces haven’t shown any indication that they are willing to mitigate the violence in the region. Officials from Juradó have called for more sustained efforts from the armed forces to mitigate this conflict to prevent the further displacement of their people.
Eight Protest Leaders Arrested (Casanare)
On September 23, days after a Canadian oil firm, Frontera Energy, paid $1 million to the Colombian military, local authorities in San Luis de Palenque have begun to arrest protest leaders against the company. The eight individuals arrested have spent 10 months in jail and are being charged with conspiracy to commit a crime, assault, attempted homicide of an officer and blocking public roads. These charges came as a response to two contracts signed between the Defense Ministry and the company that states that the military would provide “special protection” of company interests. According to an intelligence report produced by the military, the arrested leaders were accused of being part of a criminal organization. These events come as a breaking point of several months of tensions that began after Frontera Energy broke its agreement to provide jobs and infrastructure projects to the local community in January. Social leaders have called for the involvement of the UN citing human rights claims.
Somos Defensores 2019 Report Findings
A report from the “We Are Defenders” Program (Programa Somos Defensores) covering January to June 2019 identified key trends concerning human rights defenders. These include misrepresentation of the number of killings of social leaders and the non-application of preventative policies. The Duque government is constantly changing policies which results in inadequate attention to the issue. The area where there is the most misinformation is in the statistics utilized to record the murders of social leaders. The government’s claim that there is a 35% reduction in assassinations is an exaggerated claim that distorts statistical analysis conducted by Colombian university professors. While murders may have gone down, there is fear that Duque’s policies will reverse this trend. The 2016 peace accord offers a comprehensive security implementation mechanism. Instead of this the Duque administration is putting in place a plan titled the Opportune Action Plan (Plan de Acción Oportuna, PAO). The PAO does not offer the same mechanisms found in the peace accord. Rather, it prioritizes the militarization of territories, as well as financial and material forms of protection. According to Somos Defensores, the PAO’s areas of focus will not effectively solve the broader problems that lead to insecurity for defenders. The report notes that while there is a decrease in killings of social leaders, threats against them have increased. No real preventive mechanisms exist to protect defenders from threats.
Civic Society Platform Quits Dialogue with Government on Safety for Human Rights Defenders
On November 6, The Confluence, a large civil society platform made up of the Colombian Europe United States Coordination, the Alliance of Social Organizations, the Colombian Platform for Human Rights, Democracy, and Development, and the Agrarian, Farmer, Ethnic, and Popular Summit, abandoned the consultation process initiated by the government. Since May, the Confluence has worked on the formulation of public policies to guarantee respect and safety for the work of human rights defenders. The space was conceived to integrate civil society and have accompaniment from the international community. However, civil society was forced to leave the space in the face of a lack of political will, increased state violence, growing humanitarian crises, and cases whereby security forces cohabit with paramilitaries. The latest example quoted is that of Cauca, where all the proposed measures to guarantee the communities’ safety like respecting and strengthening self-protection mechanisms and autonomy were ignored as this administration sent 2,500 soldiers to the region.
Labor Rights and Protections Backsliding in Cali (Valle del Cauca)
WOLA is concerned that even though UNP determined that Afro-Colombian trade unionist Harold Viafara Gonzalez of the USE that this entity is attempting to take away this unionist’s protection measures. This is a situation was reported to the authorities previously, however, they insist on leaving Mr. Viafara Gonzalez unprotected exposing him to potentially being harmed or assassinated. U.S. policymakers should contact the UNP and urge that his full protection mechanisms are reinstated.
The joint platform of Coordinated Unions (SINDIPUBLICA, SINTraFeP and SINTRANORE) that from part of the Superintendent for Notation and Registry (SNR) are protesting irregular activities taking place in this entity. Some of the women have took over the installations this week. While the workers want to hold a general strike to get their demands met they are afraid to do so because under the current circumstances striking comes with serious reprisals. Ever since the Ministry of Labor did not protect the AVIANCA airline pilots ACDAC union and others from reprisals after they staged a strike these workers along with others around Colombia feel they cannot strike for fear of retribution.