The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, released his December 26, 2019 report on his November 20 to December 3, 2018 visit to Colombia. The report concludes that “the vast majority of human rights defenders in Colombia are unable to work in a safe and supportive environment.” Mr. Forst recognizes efforts made by the Colombia government, the structural issues leading to the crisis of security for social leaders in rural areas promoting implementation of the 2016 peace accord, land, environmental rights and the rights of ethnic minorities. He notes that the affectations have a gendered dimension when it comes to women defenders. Forst highlights, among others, the lack of an integrated presence of the State in areas previously controlled by the FARC-EP and “the lack of political determination and failure to allocate sufficient funds for the implementation of the Peace Agreement” as key structural causes behind the high security risk faced by defenders. The Special Rapporteur offers a constructive, well-informed set of recommendations to the Colombian government on how to improve this situation. We strongly encourage all U.S. policymakers and the international community to echo Mr. Forst’s recommendations and assist Colombia in implementing them.
Sadly, the Colombian government responded to Forst’s report with a 20-page defense that basically sought to discredit Mr. Forst’s conclusions. This reaction and the content of Colombia’s supposed defense only validates the idea that they are more interested in appearing they are implementing peace and upholding human rights than doing so. As Colombia continues to discredit efforts to improve the security for defenders and vulnerable communities, the security concerns continue.
Since our last report on January 9, WOLA received the following cases of concern. We ask that you act to guarantee justice for the victims and protection for those under threat of harm.
Murder of Indigenous Guard Sparks Displacement (Chocó)
On January 5, a group of heavily armed men believed to be members of the ELN killed Anular Rojas Isamara in the Agua Blanca Tribuga Indigenous Reservation in Nuquí (Chocó). Anular was a member of the indigenous guard of the Emberá Dobida. His murder and the fear of illegal armed actors caused the displacement of 23 Emberá families totaling 100 individuals including women, children, and seniors. The Permanent Table for the Dialogue and the Concentration of Chocó’s Indigenous Peoples (Mesa Permanente de Dialogo y Concentración de los Pueblos Indígenas del Chocó) condemns the assassination of Anular and the circumstances that caused such displacement. In Chocó, indigenous communities’ lives are under threat due to armed combat between illegal groups and the restriction to their movement by anti-personnel landmines. The latter threats their food security since it prevents civilians from cultivating their crops and hunting for food.
Social Leaders Murdered (Putumayo)
On January 8, armed men assassinated Oscar Quintero and Gentil Hernandez in Santa Lucia (Putumayo). Both Oscar and Gentil served on the Community Action Boards (Junta de Acción Comunal, JAC) of their respective communities. The armed men then proceed to Arturo Tovar’s house, another social leader who was recently displaced. The Jose Maria and Santa Lucia communities in Puerto Guzman are denouncing the paramilitary presence in their areas and the resulting selective assassinations, death threats and a restriction of their movement.
Nasa Indigenous Spiritual Leader Murder (Cauca)
On January 7, two alleged FARC dissidents murdered elder Nasa spiritual leader Virginia Silva in the indigenous reservation of Belalcazar-Paez (Cauca). Virginia was shot in front of her husband. The Indigenous Cauca Association of Nasa Cxha cxha Cauca Cabildos (La Asociación de Cabildos Nasa Cxha cxha del Cauca) reported increased violence in Tierradentro, Cauca. Indigenous authorities noted that the armed forces’ occupation of their ancestral territories is leading to deforestation and accumulation of garbage in the areas where they perform sacred rituals.
Social Leader Assassinated (Huila)
On January 9, hitmen murdered social leader Mireya Hernandez, treasurer for the JAC in Algeciras (Huila). Her husband, who was present during the incident, was not physically harmed.
Two Environmentalists Murdered (Magdalena Medio)
On December 20, Rodrigo Monsalve and Nathalia Jimenez, environmental activists from Bogotá, were murdered while on vacation in Perico Aguao, Magdalena Medio. This region, which was relatively peaceful since the Resistencia Tayrona paramilitaries demobilized in 2006 has returned to violence. Currently, 13 different illegal armed groups (paramilitaries and criminal bands) are vying for control of the territory. This is leading to violence, extortion and crime. In 2019, illegal armed groups murdered various persons. On January 6, Afro-Colombian leader Martiza Quiroz Leiva, of the Santa Marta’s Victims Table (Mesa de Victimas de Santa Marta) was murdered in San Isidro. On January 14, Wilton Fauder Orrego, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta’s National Park contractor was murdered in the Perico Aquao. On February 12, Juan Carlos Pedrozo, a human resources manager for Daabon, was killed as he drove through Buritica after visiting a banana plantation. On May 30, Luis Joaquin Trujillo, President of the Quebrada del Sol hamlet’s JAC, was assassinated in Los Linderos. Leandro Jhonatan Lara (alias “Barbas”), leader of the criminal organization “Los Pachencas,” ordered his death.
Social Leader Killed Along with Elder (Putumayo)
On January 7, paramilitaries murdered Gloria Ocampo and Heladio Moreno in Puerto Guzman (Putumayo). Gloria formed part of the La Estrella’s JAC. She was also delegate of the Municipal Participatory Planning Council (Consejo Municipal de Planeación Participativa) and of the Development Programs with Territorial Focus (Programas de Desarrollo con Enfoque Territorial, PDET). According to Semana, Gloria advocated for illicit crop substitution efforts. The later made her a military target by an illegal armed group called the Sinaloa Clan. The magazine also points out that the violence in Puerto Guzman is due to the fighting over control of the area between the Sinaloa Clan and FARC dissidents from the former First Front.
Social Leader Assassinated (North Santander)
The Catatumbo Campesino Association (Asociacion Campesina de Catatumbo, ASCAMCAT) reported that social leader Tulio Sandoval Chia was killed in La Silla (North Santander). On January 10, armed men arrived at Tulio’s house, dragged him out, and shot him in front of his relatives. Tulio was the regional coordinator for the Coordination of Coca, Marihuana, and Poppy Growers (Coordinadora de Cultivadores de Coca Marihuana y Amapola, COCCAM), and of the Marcha Patriótica party. Tulio promoted the implementation of the peace agreement’s voluntary substitution of illicit crops program in the Catatumbo region.
Social Leader Murdered (North Santander)
On January 26, social leader Fernando Quintero Mena was killed in Convención municipality (North Santander). Fernando was the president of the Guasiles Sur town’s JAC, a member of the Ecological Committee of the Association of Community Action Boards of La Trinidad (Comité Ecológico de la Asociación de Juntas de Acción Comunal de La Trinidad), a prominent leader during the founding of the Catatumbo’s Social Integration Committee (Comité de Integración Social del Catatumbo), and a former Convención councilman.
Indigenous Community Members Murdered (Cauca)
On January 11, El Tiempo reported the assassination of Amparo Guejia Mestizo and Juan Pablo Dicue Guejia in the road that connects the Caloto and Toribio municipalities in Cauca. Amparo and Juan Pablo were members of the indigenous reservation of Huellas in Caloto. A three-year-old who was traveling with them was unharmed.
Indigenous Persons Kidnapped and Assassinated (La Guajira)
The Shipa Wayuu Association of Traditional and Indigenous Authorities of the Wayuu Peoples (Asociación de Autoridades Tradicionales Indígena Wayuu “Shipa Wayuu”) denounced the kidnapping, torture, and murder of Hernan Uriana (father), Hernan Uriana (son) and Juan Uriana between January 28 and January 30. Two other Wayuu, Hilario Uriana and the professor Luz Marina Uriana, were also kidnapped. The communities believe that a criminal gang led by the Wayuu Ovidio Gomez is responsible for these crimes. These security incidents place the community at risk of displacement.
Social Leader Assassinated (Cordoba)
On January 13, a hitman killed Jorge Luis Betancourt inside his house. Jorge was a rural farmer leader and sports coordinator for the JAC in the village of San Francisco de Rayo (Cordoba).
Guerillas Kill Afro-Colombian Leader and Kidnap Others (Chocó)
According to the Afro-Colombian Nóvita community (Chocó) the National Liberation Army (Ejercito Nacional de Liberacion, ELN) murdered social leader Samuel Federico Peñalosa on January 13. During this incursion they also kidnapped an unknown number of rural farmers. El Espectador notes that this event took place only weeks after 300 Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia, AGC) advanced along the Atrato River.
Union Leader Murdered (Putumayo)
On January 16, hitmen murdered social leader Yordan Tovar in Puerto Asis (Putumayo). Yordan was a rural farmer union leader of the Union of Putumayo’s Campesino and Frontiersman Workers (Sindicato de Trabajadores Campesinos Fronterizos del Putumayo, SINTCAFROMAYO). He was also a human rights defender and a member of the Patriotic March (Marcha Patriotica) political party.
Armed Conflicts between FARC Dissidents Cause Massive Displacement (Nariño)
On January 20, Semana reported that armed combat between different FARC dissident groups displaced more than 3,500 persons from the Rio Chagui rural area (Nariño). The 32 Afro-Colombian towns affected by the displacement are part of the Community Council of Rio Chagui. The later consists of approximately 1,000 minors and 1,200 women. They are currently displaced in Tumaco waiting for humanitarian assistance.
Government Abandons Afro-Colombian Displaced Community (Nariño)
The Colombian government has failed to provide humanitarian assistance to the 300 persons displaced from San Francisco in Mosquera (Nariño). On August 26, 2019, armed combat between the 30th Front of the FARC and dissidents formerly led by the now deceased alias “Guacho,” displaced 220 Afro-Colombian families to Playa Nueva and El Firme villages. Locals are concerned that operations led by the military and navy operations are failing to protect the leaders of collectively owned Afro-Colombian territories. Community Council leaders are under threat after two social leaders, Carlos Jimmy Prado and Jefferson Preciado, were assassinated in 2019.
Combat Operations Take Place in OAS Protected Town (Cauca)
On January 9, armed combat took place between the armed forces and FARC dissidents in Pedregal, Cauca. During these confrontations, 20 families were caught in the crossfire. Fortunately, no one was hurt. This is concerning since Pedegral was granted protectionary measures by the Organization of American States (OAS)’s Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on August 13, 2010.
Paramilitaries Intensify Activities in Ethnic Territories (Chocó)
From January 3 and 6, members of the AGC paramilitary group increased their presence in Jiguamiandó, Chocó. On January 5, some 30 AGC members arrived at the indigenous Emberá community of Derade demanding to meet with the community’s leaders. The paramilitaries directed the community to deforest areas and to plant coca in their territories. The indigenous leaders rejected this order. On January 6, other AGC members arrived at the Alto Guayabal Humanitarian Settlement. They left only after the environmental guard persuaded them to do so. It is problematic that the AGC is forcing communities to house armed informants in their homes against their will. Their presence is forcing leaders to flee the area.
UNP Removes Journalist’s Security Detail
On January 13, the National Protection Unit (Unidad Nacional de Protección, UNP) plans to remove the security detail of human rights defender and journalist Ricardo Ruiz Dias. According to the Foundation for the Freedom of the Press (Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa, FLIP), Ricardo was attacked more than 33 times in recent years (21 times in 2018 and 12 times in 2019). Just in the past six months, FLIP registered seven violent actions against Rricardo, which have put not only his life but also his journalistic activity at risk. Despite these and other violent actions against him, the UNP informed Ricardo that his security detail will be replaced with a panic button. Ricardo has said that the Attorney General’s investigations into his complaints are stagnant.
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 [email protected]
Director for the Andes
February 7, 2020