WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

(AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

10 Jan 2020 | News

Colombia Update: Protests, Bojayá, and Security for Social Leaders

A national strike and widespread peaceful protests took place at the end of 2019 in Colombia. Despite the circulation of a November 20 statement signed by 34 U.S. groups and a long list of academics insisting the Colombian government respects the right to protest, the Duque administration responded with repression. As a result, hundreds were arbitrarily detained, many wounded and property destroyed. After the November 23 death of Dylan Cruz due to injuries inflicted by the ESMAD (anti-riot police), U.S. groups issued a second statement urging the State Department and the U.S. Congress to “place a moratorium on sales of crowd control weapons to Colombia until the ESMAD has either been replaced by a new force or undergone a full overhaul toward building a dramatically different more rights respecting culture and doctrine based on de-escalation, respect for peaceful protest and minimal use of force.” Given that protests will begin anew in January, we urge U.S. policymakers to heed this request.

We are extremely concerned about the security situation facing the Afro-Colombian and Emberá indigenous leaders of the Bojayá communities in the Chocó. Hundreds of national and international civil society actors and organizations signed on to a statement condemning the situation only months after the burial ceremony for the victims of the emblematic 2002 Massacre of Bojayá. The ongoing lack of effective security and protection measures for social leaders means we continue to see murders, threats and abuse taking place at an alarming rate. We ask that you act to guarantee the safety and security of human rights defenders, social leaders and ethnic minority (Afro-Colombian and indigenous) communities in Colombia.

Below you will find a summary of the cases of concern WOLA received since November 2019 until the present:

Rural Farmer Leader Murdered (Huila)
On December 25, a man shot Reinaldo Carrillo Vera as he left his house in the Los Pinos neighborhood of Pitalito (Huila). Reinaldo was a leader with the National Association of Rural Farmers (Asociación Nacional de Usuarios Campesinos, ANUC). The ANUC advocates and works for agrarian reform and land titling, two of the most dangerous issues for social leaders in Colombia.

Social and Cultural Leader Murdered (Nariño)
On December 24, two unidentified men murdered Lucy Villareal after she finished teaching a workshop for children in the township of Llorente in Tumaco (Nariño). Lucy was a member of the Indoiamericanto Cultural Foundation and was a cultural leader of the Pasto Carnival. El Espectador reported the murder and identified three armed groups vying for control of the region’s drug production, placing rural communities in high risk of confinement, forced displacement, and violence.

Indigenous Leader Assassinated (Santander de Quilichao)
On November 9, indigenous leader Genaro Quiguanas Ipia from the Toribio municipality was assassinated. According to the Indigenous Regional Council of Cauca (Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca, CRIC), Quiguanas Ipia was murdered by unknown persons early in the morning and died on his way to the hospital due to fatal injuries. This incident took place two weeks after five people died and six were injured in Tacueyó, among them leader Cristina Taquinas Bautista. Finally, the UN Office on Human Rights reported that more than 50 assassinations took place in the Nasa Indigenous Reserve in 2019.

Indigenous Human Rights Defender Murdered (Cauca)
On November 3, Jesus Eduardo Mestizo Yosando, an indigenous human rights defender and founder of the Avelino UI Indigenous Association was murdered. Before leaving on a trip, Mestizo Yosando’s partner alerted him of unknown men that were located outside their home. Upon leaving the house, two armed men approached him, killed him, and proceeded to drag his body to a bush, where they took his luggage and all forms of identification. At the time of the murder, Mestizo Yosando was an active member of the association, which is part of the framework of the Process for National Unity of Southwest Colombia (Proceso de Unidad Popular del Suroccidente Colombiano, PUPSOC).

Indigenous Youth Leader Murdered (Cauca)
On December 16, an unidentified man murdered Cristian Andrés Vitonás Yatacué, a 20-year-old indigenous youth leader member of the Avelino UI Indigenous Association and the Marcha Patriotica party. Colombia’s Human Rights Ombudsman had previously declared the Avelino UI Indigenous Association to be in high risk of danger. Cristian had been involved in community organizing and human rights defense since he was a teenager in the Toribio, Cauca reservation. According to the Indigenous Regional Council of Cauca (CRIC, for its Spanish acronym), 71 natives have been murdered in Cauca during 2019.

Two Indigenous Traditional Healers Murdered (Putumayo)
On October 31, two indigenous traditional healers, Pedro Jamioy and Rosa Jacanamejoy, were murdered in Sibundoy, Putumayo. Local police stated that the victims were last seen consuming yagé with a third individual from neighboring Puerto Asís that hadn’t returned since. According to El Espectador, the police have begun their investigation on this third individual but have not found any other suspects since.

Protection Unit Officials Murdered (Chocó)
On November 13, the Commission for Peace and Justice, the Ministry of the Interior, and UNP reported that one of their officials, Róbinson Romaña Cuesta, had been found dead in Chocó after being missing for three days. On November 12, his partner, León Jairo Rendón Ortiz, who had also been missing, was found in a nearby location by the Armed Forces. Both officers were detained on the same day by what authorities believe to be a narcotrafficking organization in Domingodó, Carmen del Darién. Romaña and Rendón were part of the security detail for social leaders within Chocó. Finally, Pablo Elías González, the director of UNP, condemned the murders and called upon authorities to find those responsible and convict them.

According to a report by CM&, a Colombian news broadcasting network, the UNP headquarters across the state have received threats calling the entity a “military objective” and stating that both the UNP officers and the social leaders that they are protecting are at risk. Since receiving the threat, there have been four UNP officers killed. Furthermore, the areas that are the most vulnerable for UNP officers are Chocó, Cauca, Putumayo, Catatumbo, and Nariño, which has prompted Director González to call for a change in the security protocol in collaboration with public forces to prevent these risks.

Mother and Grandfather of Social Leader Murdered in his Absence (Nariño)
On December 26, a group of armed men arrived at the house of Fabio Montero Enríquez in Leiva, Nariño looking to murder him only to find he was not there. Instead, they murdered his mother and grandfather who were in the house, El Tiempo reported. Fabio was a member of the Human Rights Commission of the Marcha Patriotica, and of the Rural Farmer Association of Nariño (Asociación de Trabajadores Campesinos de Nariño, ASTRACAN).

Indigenous Community Member Murdered (Cauca)
On November 6, indigenous community member, Luis Cruz Suárez, was murdered in the Cáceres municipality, Cauca. Cruz Suárez was part of the Senú indigenous community in the Córdoba department. The perpetrator of the incident and the cause of death are still undetermined and local authorities continue to coordinate with the armed forces to reach the community to begin their investigation. According to Caracol Radio, Cruz Suárez had received no death threats prior to the incident. Caracol Radio pointed out that the area where the murder took place is disputed between criminal groups, Clan del Golfo and los Caparros.

Two Dead, Two Wounded, and One Person Detained as Armed Actors Increase Presence (Cauca)
Colombia’s pacific coast continues to suffer under the increased presence of illegal armed groups as they edge closer to communities and gain territorial control. The town of Guapi, Cauca has seen a rise in violence in the past two months, COCOCAUCA reports. On December 18, a young man was shot eight times, and on December 23, the son of a former legal representative of the Upper Guapi Community Council was shot two times. Both men survived. On January 1, the ELN murdered Cristian David Caicedo after allegedly confusing him for a member of a rival armed group. David was the son of a prominent member of the National Space for Previous Consultation of Black Communities. Hours later, FARC ex-combatant Benjamin Banguera was murdered after refusing recruitment from various armed groups. Benjamin had suffered an assassination attempt in 2018 and had received numerous death threats.

Rural Farmer Leader Murdered (Antioquia)
On November 20, the National Coordinator of Cultivators of Coca, Poppy, and Marihuana (Coordinadora Nacional de Cultivadores de Coca, Amapola, y Marihuana, COCCAM) denounced the murder of one of their delegates, Walter Enrique Rodriguez Delgado on November 19. The incident took place in La Caucana in the municipality of Tarazá, where Rodriquez Delgado was leading the proceedings of the National Integral Program for Substitution (Programa Nacional Integral de Substitucion, PNIS). Rodriguez Delgado was also assessing the security conditions and the tensions between the community and illegal armed groups that is currently prevalent in the region. He was murdered during his commute between his home and La Caucana in a sector called La Piedra. As a result, COCCAM has called on the government and local authorities to find the perpetrator and scale up the protections for those working toward peace in the PNIS framework and overall.

Indigenous Community Members Killed and Injured (Cauca)
On November 19, delegate Jair Muñoz announced the murder of Indigenous Guard Miliano Chocue and injuries caused to five others before Cauca’s Congress. Those injured included the ex-councilmember of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC), Yordi Yunda, and José Santos Tombé. Members of the Indigenous Guard have encountered tensions with armed groups over territorial control and the cultivation of illicit-use crops in the past, likely making this incident a result of those tensions. Finally, this incident has produced a wide range of outrage, including Senator Iván Cepeda, who stated that the militarization of territories in Cauca would not be enough to protect community members.

Afro-Colombian Leader Survives Assassination Attempt (Bolivar)
On December 27, Milena Quiroz was traveling with her bodyguard when her vehicle was shot at multiple times in the Las Palmas township of Morales, Bolivar. No one was hurt. The assailants were waiting on the road for the vehicle to pass. Milena is the spokesperson for the Commission for Dialogue of South Bolivar, Middle, and South Cesar (Comisión de Interlocución del Sur de Bolívar, Centro, Sur del Cesar, CISBCSC), former mayoral candidate for Arenal, Bolivar, and legal representative of the Olave Arincón Amela Afro-descendent Community Council. In 2017, she was wrongfully imprisoned for eight months on charges of rebellion before a judge freed her.

Indigenous Community Displaced for 33 Months (Buenaventura)
On November 19, CONPAZ issued a report outlining the conditions currently experienced by the 27 families belonging to the Wounaan community from the Chag Pie Tordó Reserve (Chocó), that have been displaced in Buenaventura for the past 33 months. The community, which has been displaced since February 20, 2017, has suffered through many extraneous conditions such as, malnutrition, fear of paramilitary actions in Buenaventura, and inability to practice traditional medicinal practices among other things. They had previously left Chocó due to the forced recruitment of minors, bombings, and militarization. Almost three years since their displacement, the families have been attending meetings with relevant authorities to receive assurance from them that they will be able to return to their original land. Furthermore, the report stated that out of the 60 total families that had been displaced on that day, 33 have returned to Chocó without having any guarantee that their land would be returned.

1,500 Afro-Colombians Detained by Illegal Armed Groups (Cauca)
On December 2, COCOCAUCA reported that 1,5000 Afro-Colombians from the Concepción, Santa Rosa, and San Antonio communities in the Guapi municipality are being detained by members of the FARC’s 30th Front and the ELN’s José María Becerra Front in the region. Based on reports from ethnic authorities, during the early parts of the day it was rumored that two had been killed, that number went up to six by the end of the day. These affected communities are part of the Río Guajuí Community Council and have been subject to victimization due to the presence of armed actors in the region that has also caused territorial control disputes. Since their territories lay near a river that flows into the Pacific, these lands have become a popular route for narco-trafficking.

Paramilitaries Confine Bojayá Communities and Threaten to Kill Afro-Colombian Leader (Chocó)
On December 31, around 300 members of the AGC (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia) paramilitary group arrived at Pogue and three other communities of Bojayá and confined their population. On January 3, armed actors gave Leyner Palacios two hours to leave the region or die. Leyner became a prominent leader for the Bojayá victims’ movement after the 2002 massacre where he lost 28 family members. Amnesty International issued an Urgent Action of January 3 urging President Ivan Duque and Ambassador to the U.S. Francisco Santos, to provide collective protection measures for Leyner and the communities of Bojayá.

Human Rights Defender Detained (Norte de Santander)
November 8, the Peasant Association of Catatumbo (Asociación Campesina del Catatumbo, ASCAMCAT) called attention to the retention of peasant human rights defender, Celiar Martínez, for two months. The organization expressed their concern for Martínez’s retention in San Pablo, in the Teorama municipality, where the presence of armed actors is prevalent, and demanded he be returned to his family. The organization, which Martínez was a part of, stated that this incident demonstrates the need for further protection of human rights defenders in the region who are trying to ameliorate the conditions in a region that has long been victim of the armed conflict.

Human Rights Defenders Threatened by Paramilitary (Chocó)
On November 4, four AGC (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia) paramilitaries followed defenders from the Intereclesial Justice and Peace Commission (CIJP) and their National Protection Unit (UNP) security details. CIJP reports that the AGC are exerting coercive control over land rights activist Enrique Petro and his family. Mr. Petro resides in the Biodiversity Zone in the collective territory of Curvaradó. As CIJP approached Mr. Petro’s home, armed paramilitaries asked the UNP bodyguards to give them the names of the defenders. Throughout the CIJP’s visit, the paramilitaries lurked around the property to monitor their activity. CIIJP point out that various members of this paramilitary group continue to operate freely in the territory despite the presence of the armed forces in the area. The armed forces are not stopping the paramilitaries’ actions. Therefore, they continue to recruit young people, issue death threats, and to intimidate civilians. CIJP urges the government to implement the protective measures outlined by the Interamerican System of Human Rights and the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP). They insist that Enrique Petro’s protections measures need to be increased.

Indigenous Community Members Kidnapped (Chocó)
On November 28, the La Larga and Tumaradó Basin Community Council (Consejo Comunitario de la Cuenca de La Larga y Tumaradó, COCOLATU) denounced the kidnapping of eight indigenous community members the previous day. The people kidnapped were: Víctor Manuel Correa, president of the local council, Julio Correa, Rosember Ibañez, Sandra Medrano, Freddy Correa, Saulo David, Tito David, and Omar Quintana. The organization has made claims against the state demanding the protection of community leaders that defend territorial rights and victims of the armed conflict. The current situation has the potential to displace two thousand families that claim land in the La Larga and Tumaradó region. Finally, COCOLATU demanded the release of these community leaders and guaranteed protections for leaders.

Armed Conflict Leaves Three Injured (Nariño)
On December 4, the Diario Del Sur reported that two minors, nine and thirteen years of age, and an adult were injured because of armed combat by two illegal armed groups in Nariño. The disputes by the illegal armed groups stem from their aim to assert control over the territory and grow illicit-use crops, a situation which has led to the forced displacement of 800 residents. The communities in Nariño have experienced a series of cross fires between illegal armed groups across the department and have in turn fled to the communities calling upon the government for protection.

Human Rights Lawyer Threatened (Norte de Santander)
On November 9, Diego Martínez, the lawyer representing the assassinated ex-combatant of the FARC, Dilmar Torres, received a death threat from Aguilas Negras. Martínez represents multiple human rights defenders aside from Torres, who assassinated by members of the armed forces, was threatened that if he did not stop representing these victims the illegal armed group would “finish them”. The threat goes on to state their hostility toward the JEP, calling them “guerilla lawyers”, and that Aguilas Negras is aware of all the lawyers and former combatants’ whereabouts despite their security details. According to El Espectador, this threat might be a response to recent developments in the Torres case, where the courts in Norte de Santander are determining whether military officials should be tried in civil or military courts. This new development has grave implications for the five dismissed military officers that were implicated in Torres’ investigation. These fives military officers are: Coronel Jorge Pérez Amézquita, Daniel Gómez, Cristian Casilimas Pulido, William Alarcón Castrillón, and Yeison Buriticá Duarte.

Threats Issued against Protection Officials (Antioquia and Chocó)
In an audio message released by Caracol Radio on November 13, an UNP official revealed that members of the Gulf Clan had intimidated UNP officers while they were escorting leaders from Antioquia and Chocó to Pavarandó and Pavarandocito de Riosucio. The officials were sent threats from the clan asking them to take the leaders to a specific location so that clan members could have a chat with them. Furthermore, during their interactions with clan members they took their long-range weapons and made officials’ livelihood contingent on their delivery of the leaders. Through these actions the Golfo Clan restricted their mobility and issued a curfew, prohibiting protection vehicles from circulating from 6 P.M. to 6 A.M. This ultimately led to the official to have to retire from the area. Lastly, the UNP officers called for greater security measures to be taken in these locations, specifically in Pueblo Rico, La Urada.

Death Threats to Union Members (Bogotá)
On October 31, members of the Sintrabrinks union received death threats from the Aguilas Negras through Whatsapp. These messages were targeted toward the following union members: Romer Díaz, Rigoberto Bello, Javier Vega, Ronis Atencia, and José Claros. Romer Díaz, the president of Sintrabrinks in Bogotá released a statement saying that those individuals might have been targeted due to their denouncing of the company’s harmful environmental policies and lack of respect for workers’ rights. These threats to union members and their families have been reported to the office of the District Attorney and the UNP. Furthermore, this event led to a response by UNI Américas, an international federation that Sintrabrinks is a part of, which calls upon the Duque administration to dissipate the intolerant climate that has been present against union members.

Clashes between Guerillas Threaten Afro-Colombian Communities (Valle del Cauca)
On January 4, the National Afro Colombian Peace Council (CONPA) issued a statement about the potential of clashes between armed groups along the Raposo River in Buenaventura. The river is home to around 2,300 inhabitants and 13 communities who hold collective land titles. In the past few years, the Jaime Martinez Column, a FARC splinter group, began to establish themselves in the lower part of the river while the ELN did so in the upper part. On January 2, the ELN arrived at the community of El Tigre in the lower part of the river and announced they would take control of the entire river. They shot at an approaching boat on the mere suspicion of it being part of the Jaime Martinez Column, then detained several people of the community and later let them go. On January 3, two boats with reinforcements for the Jaime Martinez Column arrived to the Cocalito community. The news and further tensions displaced 20 people from the Guadualito community because of fear of a violent confrontation. Along with the paramilitary incursion in Bojayá, paramilitaries announcing the takeover of the Lower San Juan and Calima rivers in Buenaventura and Chocó, and government inaction, armed confrontation between armed groups in the pacific region seem imminent.

Teenager Taken from Displaced Afro-Colombian Mother Dies Mysteriously
The Association for Internally Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES) reported that 14-year-old Yan Carlos Montaño Cuero died (exact date unknown) from mysterious circumstances while under the care of the Colombian Institute for Family Wellbeing (Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar, ICBF). Armed conflict displaced him and his mother, Ana Meira Castro Caicedo, from El Charco, Nariño, along with her other 5 children in 2007. The ICBF took her children due to lack of economic resources to pay for childcare while she worked. On December 20, she was asked to sign a document at the ICBF office but was not allowed to read it. When she refused to sign, officials took the document and informed her that her son had committed suicide. On multiple occasions, Ms. Caicedo had attempted to get her children returned to her. She even sued the ICBF to regain custody. As a response, the ICBF forbid her any access to her children six months before the death of Yan Carlos. AFRODES is calling for an investigation into Mr. Cuero’s death and the treatment ICBF has provided this family.

ELN Asserts Control over Guapi (Cauca)
On November 13, Cococauca reported on an announcement that was shared through social media and WhatsApp issuing threats to community members bythe ELN. The announcement declared anyone collaborating with FARC 29th Front demobilized combatants as “military objectives”. This list included taxi drivers who were framed as being responsible for mobilizing the dissidents and assist them in getting away with crimes. Furthermore, the announcement declared a 7 P.M. curfew for circulating around Guapi punishable by death.

Following the announcement, on November 14 at 7:50 P.M., there were six shots heard in the La Fortaleza neighborhood. According to Cococauca, armed individuals were attempting to murder a FARC demobilized combatant, who retired in 2008, and ended up damaging his home, but he was able to survive. These events have been framed as the ELN’s attempt to establish social and territorial control. Cococauca has called on local authorities to provide more protections for the Guapi community.

Disappearances of Two Rural Farmers (Cauca)
The Inter-Church Commission on Peace and Justice reported that on November 23, Felipe Adarme and Marco Tulio Cortés disappeared in Popayán, Cauca. According to the report, the two peasants were detained by three National Police units and then placed on the back of a police car cuffed. Both of their families went in search for them only to find their motorcycle with the key still on and their belongings. That afternoon they went to report the incident to the police station only to be told by Coronel Novoa that there was no police involvement in the detention. Moreover, an officer that had been implicated in the incident by witnesses took his own life the day after the incident. Lastly, Felipe Adarme is the husband of the mayor-elect for Sucre and an outspoken community leader that denounced electoral fraud that occurred in the last election. The commission calls upon the state to act to bring the two rural farmers back to their community alive.

Humanitarian Crisis in Chocó Worsens
On November 25, the Interethnic Solidarity Forum of Chocó (Foro Interétnico Solidaridad Chocó, FISCH), the Indigenous Bureau of Chocó (Mesa Indígena del Chocó), and the Quibdó, Apartadó, and Istmina-Tadó Dioceses released a joint statement on the growing humanitarian crisis in Chocó. Despite all the constitutional protections established by the state and international pressures, the government has not honored its promises. The indicators of this crisis include: food insecurity, rising unemployment, low quality of education, housing, health services, and infrastructure, rising urban violence, assassinations of social leaders, displacement of rural communities, the establishment of mines, recruitment of minors into armed groups, an increase in cultivations of illicit crops, and narco-trafficking routes. To alleviate this situation, these organizations have recommended to begin dialogue between the government and civil society groups, the creation of a structural plan to transform the humanitarian, economic, social, and environmental conditions of the department. Moreover, the reestablishment of negotiations between the government and the ELN to reach peace and a stronger justice system to prevent organized crime.

Women Victims of Police Brutality Intimidated so They Do Not Press Charges (Cauca)
On December 24, a couple confronted shoe store employee Carolina Urbano demanding they be given their money back shoes bought by their daughter that she did not like. When Ms. Urbano refused, the man threatened to call the police. Soon after, a man dressed in civilian clothing who identified himself as agent Manuel Alejandro Sampayo Caicedo appeared. He proceeded to verbally assault and push the owner of the store, Carolina’s sister, to the ground. Carolina intervened, and the police officer beat her until onlookers pulled him away. She was left with a fractured foot.

More police officers arrived at the scene. They threatened the two women with closing their store if they reported the incident. They then forced them into a police car disregarding the injuries inflicted on Ms. Urbano by police officer Sampayo. At the police station, the two women were forced to sign a document they were not given a copy of. At the hospital, Ms. Urbano requested documentation for medical leave, but the doctor refused. Since she was accusing a police officer of having attacked her, the doctor did not want to get himself involved in her case because it was too dangerous. On December 26, Ms. Urbano tried to report the incident to the local Attorney General’s office. There she was remitted to forensic medicine, where she was denied service because she did not have medical reports from the hospital. The two ladies were traumatized by this experience and fear for their lives after having received threats from Mr. Sampayo Caicedo.

Government Removes Security Detail, Placing NGO at Risk (Antioquia)
On October 30, the government announced that it would cut back the collective security detail granted by the UNP to the Forjando Futuros foundation. Since then, director Gerardo Vega, has spoken out about this change on El Espectador, emphasizing the security risks that come with land restitution. In the last couple of years, the NGO has received multiple threats and 23 individuals with land claims have been murdered in Urabá (Antioquia). More specifically, the security detail that the government removed is that which protects members of the NGO while they travel for meetings with victims or data collection trips. Vega attributes this change in policy to pressures from businessmen that had previously funded paramilitary groups. Lastly, this change has grave implications on the ability of the NGO to carry out its mission and fulfill individuals’ claims to land.

Threats and Retentions in Rural Farmer Community (Meta)
On November 14, the Interchurch Peace and Justice Commission (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz) reported that the previous day ten armed individuals wearing camouflage held a young man from the El Castillo municipality, Meta, and questioned him about a member of the Communal Action Board of the La Cima Block (Junta de Acción Comunal de la Vereda La Cima). These individuals had arrived in the community on November 6, when they began to threaten residents and plunder their homes. According to community members, the group took money for each of the homes, a radio, a shotgun, some cellphones, and forced a community member to cook for them the entire day while the others were held against their will. Community members report that the group had asked for the leaders of the community, members of the Communal Action Committee, and asserted their permanent control over the community’s work activities. The Interchurch Peace and Justice Commission pointed about that the group continue to be present in the community without any response from the Colombian government.

Duque Administration Responds to Peaceful Protests with Repression (Bogotá)
Multiple organizations have condemned the Duque administration’s repressive response to the November 21 strike and subsequent protests. On November 21, hundreds of thousands of Colombians took to the streets to protest Duque’s labor, tax and economic reforms; the government’s lack of political will to implement the 2016 peace deal and the alarming rate of killings of social leaders, among other issues. 66 indigenous communities from the Amazon region protested and issued statements urging the State to protect the environment and their territories to guarantee their continued physical existence.

Prior to November 21, the police conducted questionable raids of members of social justice organizations and others. On November 19, 37 homes of human rights defender, social leaders, and alternative media services were illegaly raided in Bogotá, Cali, and Medellín. These homes were reportedly targeted because of the individuals’ participation in the National Strike and were interpreted by many as a form of intimidation to stop the protests.

The Corporation for Legal Freedom (CJL) reported that authorities did not present a search warrant when entering most homes. In addition to these raids, the presence of security forces was increased in the streets. The government issued multiple decrees instructing governors and mayors to declare curfews in their cities. Members of the Democratic Center Party and officials made public statements that questioned the validity of the strike, thus stigmatizing and criminalizing the protest before it even took place. Leaders of the Centro Democratico party fomented panic by framing the protests in ways that generated fear. On November 23, a protestor died because of wounds inflicted upon him by the ESMAD. 390 have been injured.

On November 27, the National Strike Committee (Comité Nacional de Paro) met with President Duque with the hopes of setting up a dialogue on 12 different points protestors want addressed. They subsequently stepped out of these talks when the government insisted on a national dialogue that was not with the protestors nor involved any kind of negotiation. After initial talks broke apart, protests continued and other attempts of resolving the issue with the government failed. The government continued to insist on its own way of doing things ignoring the demands of the protestors. With the end of the year holidays protests eventually stopped. However, they are scheduled to start up again on January 21.

Afro-Colombian Union Leader’s Protection Status at Risk (Valle del Cauca)
On October 3, union leader for the EMCALI USE Union in Santiago de Cali, Harold Viáfara González, had his security detail, originally granted by the UNP, further scaled back. In 2013, the UNP revoked his security detail, a decision that he has fought in court ever since. He was recently told by the UNP that he would be granted a panic button, a measure that he finds to be insufficient with the level of risk that he is in. Due to his position, Viáfara González is the subject of multiple threats, two of which are still active today, and has been followed to his home and workplace. Based on a recent judicial branch ruling, Viáfara González’s status is of “Extraordinary Risk” and he has requested that the UNP grant him additional protections. These protections include a vehicle, two armed bodyguards, a communication system, and a bulletproof vest. The decision upon this request seems to continue to be undetermined by the UNP.

Transportation Union Speaks Out Against Arbitrary Firings (Cartagena)
On October 30, the National Transportation Union (Sindicato Nacional del Transporte, SNTT) denounced the firings of 11 port workers, citing that they were fired under false pretenses. These workers were security camera operators at CCTO Cartagena Containers and they have been replaced by a private security company with no possibility for relocation. Upon their dismissal, according to the union, the issues that the company cited were maintenance problems from the company, not things that they could resolve. In their statement, the union asserted that the firings were illegal according to the labor accords (PAL) within the framework of the Free Trade Agreement with the United States. Finally, these firings have affected employees that have worked for the company for more than 20 years.

Armed Forces Infringe on Indigenous Communities’ Territorial Autonomy (Putumayo)
On November 8, 40 military officers left the Nasa Reserve of El Descanso in Puerto Guzmán, Putumayo, after staying in the territory for three days. According to the Interchurch Justice and Peace Commission, this act was a violation of territorial autonomy by the indigenous community. Upon their departure, the officers stated that they would be back every three months to fulfill and undisclosed objective. The military unit, the Domingo Rico Battalion, led by Captain Barreto entered the territory on November 5. The community responded by creating a human chain to prevent their entrance, stating that the Constitutional Court Ruling 383/03 requires members of the armed forces to seek permission before entering the territory. Despite the warning, the military stayed for three days, something that the captain is known for doing. Last month, Captain Barreto ordered similar acts in the Aguaditas and Cabildo Cerro de Guadua Reserves. Since the incident, there has been no response from the Ministry of Defense or Interior to condemn this violation of protocol.

Environmental Activists continue to be Persecuted
According to a November 12 report, the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC) stated environmental and human rights defenders have been facing more instances of being monitored, threatened, harassed, and even murdered than in previous years. The report found that 88% of organizations surveyed believe that the situation for civil society groups has deteriorated in recent years and 68% believe that decision-makers in their state perceive environmental movements as threatening. The Secretary General for the SSNC released a statement calling on the UN, EU, and Swedish government to try to stop unsustainable investments. Furthermore, companies need to become more transparent in their extractions, abide by the rule of law, reduce corruption, and promote dialogue with stakeholders.

Indigenous Group at Risk after Non-Compliance with Precautionary Measures (Putumayo)
On November 13, the Center for Justice & International Law (CEJIL) issued a statement regarding the Colombian government’s non-compliance about the implementation of precautionary measures to protect the Sinoa people. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) had advocated on behalf of the indigenous group a year and a half ago to prevent the current risk that they are facing: physical and cultural extermination. This issue is prevalent in the Gonzaya, Buenavista and PoPiyuya, Piñuña regions where the presence of armed actors has led to displacement, threats, forced recruitment, and a disruption in their ability to exercise cultural and spiritual practices. Earlier this year, in August, the Sinoa people met with government officials, however, the officials sent did not have decision-making capacities thus the promises made were empty. Thus, the CEJIL, IACHR, and the Sinoa people are calling for the government to uphold their promises and offer this indigenous community a differentiated approach toward greater protective measures.

State Limits Right to Protest (Bogotá)
On November 19, two human rights defenders from the Inter-Church Peace and Justice Commission observed excessive use of force used against a student protest. The National Police forcibly removed a banner that students from the National University had put up on a crosswalk bridge protesting the 18 children killed earlier this year in August. This relates to the events where 18 children died during a military bombardment operation in San Vicente del Cagúan. An hour after the protest was shut down the two human rights defenders along with four colleagues were followed back to work where they encountered ESMAD officers. According to statements by the defenders, the student protesters were not engaging in any vandalism or obstruction of roads during their protest and were simply engaging in their right to keep military forces accountable for their actions. The state’s response to the protest rose concerns over their repression of freedom of speech and right to protest and its implications in defending human rights.

State Officials Enter Human Rights NGO without a Warrant
According to CIJP, on November 19, a student leader from the Metropolitan Technical Institute (Instituto Tecnológico Metropolitano, ITM) reported illegal proceedings by state officials at the Juridical Liberty Corporation (Corporación Jurídica Libertad) building. The student is a member of the BC 25 Collective and Colombian Communist Youth group. When she entered the building two officers identified themselves as SIJIN Antiterrorism Unit officers Jhon Jairo Solarte and Juan Camilo Sánchez Vélez, and proceeded to taking her identification document and register all of her belongings. In their statement, the NGO pointed out that the officers had entered private property and began to hold an arbitrary investigation without possessing the appropriate warrant. Moreover, this incident was interpreted as further demonstration of the harassment and intimidation that social movements receive from public forces in Colombia.

Bojayá Reflects on Security Condition of the Community 17 Years after Massacre (Chocó)
On November 17, the Interethnic Solidarity Forum of Chocó (Foro Interétnico Solidaridad Chocó), the High Community Council of the Integral Peasant Association of Atrato (COCOMACIA), the Federation of Associations of Indigenous Canons of Chocó (FEDEOREWA), the Indigenous Bureau of Chocó (Mesa Indígena del Chocó), and the Quibdó Diocese released a statement on the status of Bojayá after the 2002 massacre. They point out that after the accords and the FARC’s exit from the territory, the ELN has established themselves in their place, growing militarily and harassing the population. Despite many reports by national and international institutions pointing toward human right abuses in the area, the government is yet to respond to the situation. Currently, the area is experiencing a risk of further exploitation of natural resources and an increasing number of illicit crops, recruitment of minors, displacement of ethnic communities, and threats and murders of ethnic leaders. Given the strong impacts that the community has felt during the armed conflict, the urged the Duque administration and the Armed Forces to take greater action in implementing the accords to prevent further suffering.

Indigenous Community Demands the Return to Their Land (Valle del Cauca)
On November 29, the Interchurch Justice and Peace Commission reported that the Río Pichimá Quebrada indigenous community has declared that they will return to their original territory on November 30. This community has spent five months and 25 days displaced under poor conditions in respects to access to health, nourishment, shelter, and education in Santa Genoveva de Docordó. The community has declared their return after state authorities had declared that they would form a transitional justice subcommittee to facilitate their return; however, the meeting was pushed back from November 14 to November 20 and eventually never took place. These conditions have led to the death of one-year-old Joseh Ortiz Moña due to health complications. Furthermore, there are a total of 95 families that have been displaced.

Indigenous Communities Issue Statement to the President (Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta)
On July 27, 2018 the indigenous communities and organizations part of the Territorial Council (Consejo Territorial de Cabildos, CTC), such as Kogi (OGT), Arhuaco (CIT), Wiwa (OWYBT), and Kankuamo (OIK) issued a statement to President Santos Calderón regarding protecting their territorial integrity. The communities called for the full implementation of the appropriate resolutions to guarantee the protection of territorial, cultural, economic, and environmental factors that have the potential to place the existence of the communities at risk. Although the communities recognize the advances made by the Santo administrations with their special focus on indigenous communities, building a strategy with the UN to combat climate change, and development projects with a special focus on their territories (PDET), there is still progress that can be made. To reach their aim, the communities concluded by extending an invitation to authorities at all levels of government to engage in an intercultural dialogue with the indigenous communities and human rights defenders to uphold the integrity of the Sierra Nevada, where their territories lay. Finally, the communities have called on the then President-elect Duque to uphold and continue the policies of the Santos administration.

Teachers Federation Denounces Government’s Response to Protests (Bogotá)
The Colombian Federation of Educators (FECODE) denounced the government’s repressive actions and use of force during the November protests. According to FECODE, the repressive tactics used by the ESMAD have led to grave consequences including the death of Dilan Cruz. The federation pointed out that the right to protest is a pivotal one especially given the topics that these protests are attempting to address: corruption, human rights, long-term peace, dignified work, diversity, and the environment. The federation asks that the ESMAD be dismantled because they abuse their power. FECODE members are asking for increased funding for education, health, and other social investments in the country’s 1,100 municipalities.

LASA Issues Statement Raising Concern for Student Protest Repression (Medellín)
In November, the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) issued a statement emphasizing their growing concern over the repression of peaceful student demonstrations that have taken place since January. These protests began on September 23-27, when students mobilized to put an end to corruption in the pubic university administration. The student protests continued throughout October until multiple different movements and groups decided to join the students by calling a November 21 general strike. The student protests in Bogotá led to multiple arrests and injuries perpetrated by the ESMAD, as well as damages to government property, much of which was captured on video and circulated on social media.

In October, several incidents occurred throughout Colombia. On October 10 when students gathered to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the biggest mobilization of 2018, they were met with ESMAD units. On October 17, students protested the unconstitutionality of Article 44 of the annual budget passed by Congress the previous day, which would require public universities to pay the costs of lawsuits that they lost. Again, this protest was met with ESMAD violence. At a follow up protests on October 18, ESMAD violence left multiple students injured in Medellín.

LASA points to the agreements reached between the students and authorities on December 2018. At that time, leaders of student organizations and government representatives agreed to guarantees that allow students to protest without being harmed. Unfortunately, after this agreement was reached many student leaders received death threats where they are labeled as terrorists and guerilla supporters. The government has not honored the agreement. LASA calls on government officials to uphold the December 2018 agreement and protect the student’s right to protest to promote discussion on key issues.

Problematic Census Data Shows a “Statistical Genocide” of Ethnic Minorities
On November 14, the Afro-Colombian National Council for Peace (CONPA) released a letter addressed to Juan Daniel Oviedo, Director of the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE), expressing their concern over the disappearances of 1.3 million black, Afro-Colombian, Raizal, and Palenquero identifying peoples. Results of the 2018 Population and Housing Census show a 30.8% reduction of the overall group of people that identified as black, Afro-Colombian, Raizal, and Palenquero compared to 2005. The group went from 4,311,757 in 2005 to being reduced by 1,329,000 people in 2018. CONPA has labeled this phenomenon as “a result of an institutional error that amounts to a statistical genocide”. Furthermore, it was attributed to weak institutional procedures and structural racism within state institutions. The reason given for the discrepancy is that the census is determined by samples which are not reflective of the overall person-to-person presence of these ethnic groups, which holds dangerous implications in the realm of social, political, and economic livelihood in the state for those communities.

We thank you in advance for your attention to these most important matters. Please contact us should you need any further information at (202) 797-2171 or gsanchez@wola.org



Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli,

Director for the Andes,

January 9, 2020