We take this opportunity to invite you to a WOLA webinar on Wednesday, April 7 at 10:00 a.m. EDT, hosted alongside local civil society, about the Colombian region of Catatumbo and the urgent calls for a humanitarian accord. We will discuss the instability and violence facing this Northwest region that borders Venezuela, the dire need for a humanitarian accord, and what U.S. policymakers can do to support these efforts. This will surely be an important conversation for U.S. foreign policy in the region and we encourage you to attend. You can sign up here.
We remain extremely concerned about ongoing incidents of violence against Indigenous, Afro-Colombian, and rural communities in Colombia. Social leaders and human rights defenders in these communities remain extremely vulnerable. On March 11, Afro-Colombian leader Luis Ernesto Olave was traveling by road from Pereira to Quibdó when an object was launched at his car causing it to crash. There are indications this was not an accident but a deliberate attempt to silence Mr. Olave’s work defending Afro-Colombian rights. We greatly appreciate the U.S. Embassy’s assistance with getting Mr. Olave transported to Bogotá to receive emergency surgery to save the functioning of his injured arm. U.S. policymakers should call on Colombian authorities to guarantee Mr. Olave’s and his family’s safety and for an effective and expeditious investigation into this crime, holding the material and intellectual authors accountable. We also ask that U.S. policymakers intervene to guarantee the safety and security of Afro-Colombian trade unionist, Harold Viafra, whose been notified by the National Protection Unit (Unidad Nacional de Protección, UNP) that his security measures will be taken away despite his risks remaining the same.
On March 26, WOLA, alongside 24 other U.S. and Colombian organizations, sent a letter to President Biden calling for an end to U.S. support for aerial herbicide fumigation in Colombia. Colombia’s government is moving closer to reinstating a program, suspended in 2015, that would spray herbicides from aircraft over territories where coca is cultivated. The organizations succinctly laid out the reasons why reinstating the program would be an unfortunate policy mistake: it targets poor households in ungoverned areas, sending a message of cruelty and associates that message with the United States; it weakens governance and threatens to worsen security in Colombia’s ungoverned territories, where illegal economies and armed groups thrive; it’s not effective at reducing the coca crop in the long term; it goes against what Colombia’s 2016 peace accord promised; it risks large-scale social discord; it may carry risks for human health and the environment; and it’s dangerous for the eradicators themselves.
Below, WOLA brings to your attention the following incidents of human rights violations we have received in recent weeks:
Massacre in Indigenous Community on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast (La Guajira)
On February 20, heavily armed persons massacred three men in the Cerua Wayuu Indigenous community in Maicao municipality, La Guajira department. The victims, two from the community and one from Venezuela, were performing masonry work in a local cemetery when the unidentified armed individuals began shooting at them indiscriminately. The incident is allegedly linked to land disputes in the region and community members urge state authorities to intervene to prevent these growing disputes.
Civilians Massacred in Rural Community During a Soccer Tournament (Nariño)
On February 21, a group of armed men opened fire on civilians, who were gathered for a soccer tournament, in the Puerto Rico hamlet of the Tumaco municipality, Nariño department. Community members notified the military in the area about the situation earlier that day. The security forces, however, did not come to the area until much later even though they were located in nearby towns. According to the National Association of Solidarity Aid (Asociación Nacional de Ayuda Solidaria, ANDAS), the armed men murdered eight people and left several injured. Two individuals were transported to an Ecuadorian hospital to receive urgent medical attention. ANDAS demands that the Colombian state, specifically the military, protect and guarantee the safety of rural communities.
Human Rights Defenders Criminalized at Alarming Rates (Antioquia, Cesar, Cauca, Huila, Casanare)
On February 23, the Committee of Solidarity for Political Prisoners (Fundación Comité de Solidaridad con los Presos Políticos) published data highlighting the less-visible persecution practices and criminalization of human rights defenders and social leaders in Colombia. In the last eight years, there has been an increasing misuse of criminal law to persecute human rights defenders. Other aggressions often made towards social leaders include threats, assassinations, attempted murder, disappearances, sexual violence, and the stealing of private personal information. These practices have concrete effects of paralyzing or dissuading the work of defending human rights.
The data indicates that between 2012 and 2019, about 33 human rights defenders were actively persecuted each year. This amounts to at least three persecutions taking place per month. Of the 249 defenders prosecuted in courts during the period analyzed, 74 percent were environmental defenders and 71 percent resided in the Antioquia, Cesar, Cauca, Huila, and Casanare departments. These departments boast high concentrations of natural resources and hold 35.7 percent of mining titles in the country and 46 percent of petroleum exploration areas. The report recognizes that these regions are militarized because of armed conflict that affects the mining-energy infrastructure, but also due to rising socio-environmental and unionization efforts. Many private companies allegedly work with state security forces to protect their interests, which places human rights defenders at risk and often leads to false criminalization.
Former Indigenous Governor and Three Others Killed by Armed Group (Nariño)
On February 23, an illegal armed group assassinated four people in La Variante, Tumaco municipality, Nariño department. Among the victims was Marcos Pai, former Governor of La Brava Indigenous Reserve. According to the Indigenous Unity of the Awá People (Unidad Indígena del Pueblo Awá, UNIPA), an armed group that illegally operates in the region apprehended Pai and the three other victims for failing to comply with mobility restrictions imposed by the armed group. The victims were tortured and killed. UNIPA considers this crime to be linked to the state’s abandonment of rural and Indigenous territories and demands a structural solution to this ongoing violence against Indigenous peoples. On February 23, INDEPAZ reported that in 2021 armed actors murdered 26 social leaders. On that date, INDEPAZ registered 15 massacres in six departments resulting in a total of 55 deaths.
Indigenous Leader Killed by Landmines that Confine Entire Communities (Chocó)
On February 23, Indigenous Leader Máximo Baquiaza was killed by a landmine, and two others were left injured. Máximo was a member of the Chanú community in Bojayá municipality, Chocó department. It is a grave situation because the confrontations among armed groups confine approximately 12 Indigenous communities. Landmines have left several injured and killed many. The community has been at high alert for over a year, requesting immediate action and assistance from the national and departmental government, the Victims Unit, and international human rights organizations. According to a local census, approximately 2,500 people—including children, the elderly, and pregnant women—are confined and cannot continue with essential activities for their basic survival.
Business Lawyer Allegedly Linked to Land Dispossession and Paramilitary Violence Appointed as Regional Ombudsman (Antioquia)
On February 26, the national Ombudsman Carlos Camargo appointed José Augusto Rendón García as the new regional ombudsman for Urabá municipality, Antioquia department. Rendón García is a business attorney known by local media and civil society groups for being actively hostile against land restitution and the rights of the victims of the armed conflict. In a March 5 statement, civil society groups including the Center for Research and Social Education (Centro de Investigación y Educación Popular, CINEP), the Forging Futures Foundation (Fundación Forjando Futuros), the Colombian Commission of Jurists (Comisión Colombiana de Juristas), the Inter-Eclessial Commission for Justice and Peace (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz, CIJP), the Popular Training Institute (Instituto Popular de Capacitación, IPC), and the Land and Peace Association (Asociación Tierra y Paz) expressed outrage at the appointment and characterized it as an affront to the dignity of ethnic and Campesino victims and human rights organizations who have struggled for decades to recover their right to land that was seized, among other factors, as a result of a co-optation of state institutions. The regional Ombudsman’s Office, which Rendón García is now in charge of, previously documented and verified evidence that demonstrates how Rendón García—in his capacity as a business attorney—issued threatening warnings about new cycles of paramilitary violence in various cases where victims continued to promote their restitution processes and refused to accede to demands by businesses. The civil society groups call on the Colombian state to address the latent threat posed by Rendón García’s appointment and ensure victims’ right to truth, justice, and non-repetition. They expect nothing from a person known for discrediting, defiling, and threatening victims of the armed conflict at the head of a state entity whose sole function is to safeguard human rights.
On March 8, the San José de Apartadó (SJA) peace community condemned Rendón García’s appointment as Urabá’s Ombudsman. In its statement, the SJA peace community detailed Rendón García’s role as an attorney in a scheme to disregard the community’s legitimate land rights to the La Roncona farm. The SJA peace community has peacefully exercised possession of the farm for over 23 years, but Rendón García introduced an alleged false witness, a well-known paramilitary by the alias SAMIR, during a case that is currently attempting to dispossess their land. In the most recent hearing on the La Roncona farm case, Attorney Rendón García resigned and left his wife as a replacement. The SJA peace community explained that it is now clear he resigned so he could accept his appointment as Regional Ombudsman. The community firmly believes Rendón García does not have the crucial impartiality required to carry out this important state role. The SJA community publicly declared a rupture in its relationship with the regional Ombudsman’s Office, as it has in the past, in protest to what they see as a brazen appointment.
Indigenous Leader Murdered (Nariño)
On March 3, armed men assassinated Carmen Ofelia Cumbalaza, an Indigenous leader and pre-candidate for the Cumbal municipal council in Nariño department. Cumbalaza was an important practitioner of ancestral medicine. Several organizations, including the March 8 Feminist Organization (Corporación feminista 8 de marzo) and the Commission of Indigenous Women of Pueblo de los Pastos (Comisión de mujeres indígenas del Pueblo de los Pastos), strongly condemned her murder, and called for justice in her case and broader protections for social leaders.
Guerilla Group Assassinates Indigenous Guard Member (Chocó)
On February 17, members of the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, ELN) guerrilla group assassinated Alejandro Manugama, an Indigenous Guard member and traditional medic of the Tahamy del Alto Andágueda reserve in Bagadó municipality, Chocó department. Days prior, community members reported the presence of Western Front ELN members in the reserve.
Academics Denounce Violence and Advocate for the Suspension of Fracking (Santander)
On March 3, environmental academics and professors denounced violence against environmental social leaders in the town of Puerto Wilches, Santander department. In a statement to members of the Independent Interdisciplinary Commission on Fracking in Colombia, the academics and professors underscored grave concern about the ongoing violence against environmental leaders, which violates the conditions agreed upon in the Integrated Research Pilot Project (Proyecto Piloto de Investigación Integral, PPII)—a program evaluating the effects of fracking and whether the practice should resume after a 2018 suspension. The statement makes reference to the conditions of transparency, dialogue, and active citizen participation that the Commission agreed to when initiating the pilot program. The statement’s signatories denounce all acts of violence against the communities and leaders. Violence in the territories affects trust and the relationship among the government, companies, and communities. Consequently, the academics and professors, alongside Congress members and civil society groups, advocate for the suspension of the PPII to protect the lives and integrity of the threatened social leaders.
Indigenous Leader Threatened (Valle Del Cauca)
On February 26, armed groups threatened Indigenous leader Ricardo González Chirimia via a phone call. González Chirimia, a leader in the town of Córdoba on the outskirts of Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca department, is a member of the Association of Indigenous Councils of the Cauca Valley – Pacific Region (Asociación de Cabildos Indígenas del Valle del Cauca- Regional Pacífico, ACIVA-RP). He is also a board member of the Association of Communities Building Peace in Colombia (Asociación Comunidades Construyendo Paz en Colombia, CONPAZCOL). He received the threatening phone call after participating in a seven-year commemoration with an international delegation calling for an end to the violence in Buenaventura.
Paramilitary groups have forcibly displaced Córdoba community members, and these victims reckon on the national government—through its Agency for Territorial Renewal (Agencia de Renovación del Territorio, ART) to guarantee the land for their definitive relocation. CONPAZCOL requests the Ombudsman’s Office’s accompaniment in this case to guarantee protection for González Chirimia and his community. It urges the National Protection Unit to activate a collective protection response and implement preventive measures, the ART to guarantee the definitive relocation of the Indigenous community, and the national and international human rights community to monitor this case and demand the Colombian state to guarantee effective protection for social leaders.
Human Rights Group Denounces Persecution Against Victims’ Leaders (Sucre)
On March 9, the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes (Movimiento Nacional de Víctimas de Crímenes del Estado, Movice) denounced the constant situation of threats and persecution faced by leaders of its organization throughout Colombia, and in particular in Sucre department. On February 26, regional leaders of Movice became aware of a pamphlet circulating on WhatsApp that marked leaders of the movement as targets, part of a wider pattern of threats and intimidation being waged against Movice members. The organization calls on the national government and the national prosecutor’s office to condemn the threats, strongly commit to the peace process, and investigate those responsible for circulating the pamphlet.
Human Rights Organization Threatened for Campesino Rights Work (Antioquia)
On March 8, the Regional Corporation for the Defense of Human Rights (Corporación Regional para la Defensa de Los Derechos Humanos, CREDHOS) denounced recent threats that put human rights defenders at risk in the Magdalena Medio region, Antioquia department. Since the October 22, 2020 publication of the report “Armed Silence: Pacts and Disputes in the Middle Magdalena” (El Silencio armado: Pactos y Disputas en el Magdalena Medio“), CREDHOS has faced threats from FARC dissident groups present in the Magdalena Medio. On January 3, the Magdalena Medio bloc of the FARC’s dissidents requested CREDHOS retract the report’s findings. The South Bolívar and Northeast Antioqueño subregions face high threats from an illegal armed group under the command of alias Lenin. During the first week of February, in the Carrizal hamlet, Remedios municipality, Alias Lenin publicly stated that he had “declared a military operation” on the members of CREDHOS in retaliation for the report’s publication. CREDHOS demands armed groups to respect human rights and social organizations defending those rights and demands strict compliance with the protocols regulating international humanitarian law. Similarly, they demand that the Colombian state protect human rights defense work and implement the 2016 peace accord.
Paramilitaries Threaten Environmental Social Leader (Casanare)
On February 25, the Social Corporation for Advisory and Community Capacity (Corporación Social para la Asesoría y Capacitación Comunitaria, COSPACC) reported that pamphlets signed by the Gulf Clan paramilitary group appeared in Aguazul municipality. The pamphlets advertised that a “social cleansing” operation would take place in the Sacama, Tamara, and Aguazul municipalities. These also signal out the Cupiagua and Plan Brisas communities as targets, accusing them of being guerilla collaborators. A day later, more pamphlets appeared calling for the arrest and prosecution of Miguel Yesid Daza Galindo, a rural leader and human rights defender. These pamphlets are concerning given that the area is highly militarized and oil companies have a strong presence there. COSPACC calls on the Colombian government to respond by providing protection to residents of the targeted municipalities and to investigate who is behind this effort.
Army Shoots at Forced Coca Crop Eradication Protestors (Chocó)
On February 28, the Colombian army, accompanying a coca crop eradication unit, shot at community members protesting a forced eradication operation in the Salaquí and Balsa river basins in Chocó department. According to the Jesús María Valle Jaramillo Human Rights Committee (Corporación Comité Jesús María Valle Jaramillo), the protestors formed a peaceful human chain to prevent the operation. The state’s disproportionate use of force injured several individuals and some community members went missing. The protestors had demanded that the government comply with what it had agreed to in the municipal capital in early February. On March 1, the Mayor of Riosucio Conrad Valoyes condemned the violent use of force against civilians. Reports by Chocó7Días documented four cases of the National Army wounding Campesinos with gunshots; two were taken to the hospital. The state must respect international humanitarian law and the lives of civilians who live in the Chocó.
FARC Dissidents Illegally Detain Two Indigenous Men (Cauca)
On February 26, members of the Dagoberto Ramos FARC dissident group detained Jaider Estiben Yume and Javier García Giraldo. Jaider and Estiben form part of the López Andentro Indigenous Reserve Guabito community that is located in Caloto municipality, Cauca department. On February 27, the Páez de Corinto Indigenous Town Council issued a public statement to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights alerting them that several armed men on motorcycles and a van from the FARC dissident group kidnapped Yume and García Giraldo. These abuses persist in an overall context whereby illegal groups are forcibly recruiting youth and threatening communities. The town council, a part of the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (Asociación de Cabildos Indígenas del Norte del Cauca, ACIN), urges the international entities to support investigations into the kidnapping and similar incidents, and demand the illegal armed group to safely return the Indigenous men.
Landmine Kills Indigenous Child (Antioquia)
On February 28, Plinio Dogarí Majoré, a 13-year-old Indigenous child from the Embera Eyábida peoples, died after stepping on a landmine installed by the ELN guerrilla near the Murindó River and Chageradó River Reserves in the Antioquia department. Dogarí initially lost his right leg and was immediately transported, with a teacher from the Isla community who was also injured, to the Murindó municipality hospital. However, Dogarí’s injuries were so severe he had to be transferred to a better-equipped medical center where he later died. In January, the ELN guerrilla threatened the Indigenous communities, via circulated pamphlets and voice notes on WhatsApp, of the dangers they would encounter if they did not remain confined in their homes.
The Indigenous Organization of Antioquia (Organización Indígena de Antioquia, OIA) categorically condemned the tragic incident and the broader pattern of illegal armed actors operating in Indigenous territories. Since 2019, OIA has denounced the indiscriminate planting of landmines and ongoing confrontations of armed actors who disregard civilian lives. These armed actors gravely endanger the way of life of Indigenous communities and persistently violate international humanitarian law. OIA calls on the Colombian government to provide real guarantees of stability and to establish a dialogue with the ELN guerrilla.
Indigenous Face Internal Displacement and Re-Victimization (Chocó)
On March 4, civilians in the Cacarica collective territory in Chocó department expressed deep fear amid active hostilities between the armed forces and the Gulf Clan paramilitary group. Over 24 years ago, these same communities suffered from the effects of Operation Genesis—a military operation that displaced approximately 15,000 people, gave way for a subsequent militarization of the area, and murdered and disappeared more than 70 people. Now, in efforts to avoid current armed confrontations and a potential internal displacement, civilians from the 23 local councils in the territory are confined. Since 2016, the community has denounced paramilitary presence and their social control, which allegedly operates with the support of members of the armed forces. The state has long disregarded IACHR protection guarantees and investigation processes, ultimately re-victimizing these communities.
Indigenous Communities Suffer Human Rights Violations (Chocó)
On March 4, the Commission for Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Comisión de Derechos Humanos de los Pueblos Indígenas, CDDHHPI) condemned the alarming human rights violations by illegal armed groups against Indigenous communities in Chocó department. Amid the pandemic, systemic violence continues with persistent threats, assassinations, and the use of landmines that victimize Indigenous leaders and their communities. Similarly, communities are suffering episodes of internal displacement and confinement due to the presence and confrontations of armed groups. The CDDHHPI notes that this violence occurs with no attention from or action by the national government and poses a risk of extermination for Chocó department’s Indigenous population. The CDDHHPI prioritizes three issues: an emergency response plan for these human rights violations, the development of a human rights public policy, and a decree for protecting Indigenous peoples. The CDDHHPI demands the national government follow through with addressing reported human rights violations and fulfill human rights agreements in Indigenous communities. They call for sanctions on those in leadership who fail to comply with their responsibilities and urge that these agreements assure the necessary guarantees for Indigenous communities.
ELN Guerrilla Internally Displaces Indigenous from Ancestral Lands (Antioquia)
On March 2, the ELN guerrilla internally displaced 48 Embera Eyábida families from their ancestral lands. The families, made up of 168 people, are from the Turriquitadadó Alto Indigenous community in Murindó municipality, Antioquia department. According to the OIA, the ELN explicitly threatened the community members, which forced them to seek refuge in attempts to safeguard their lives. The families did not internally displace to the urban center of the municipality, as an Indigenous resistance mechanism is to not abandon their ancestral lands. Currently, the 48 displaced families, as well as the families of the host community, lack food and drinking water. Indigenous authorities report there are pregnant women, newborns, and minors. The OIA urges state institutions to speed up food delivery and requests a medical mission to reach the displaced families.
Since 2019, the Río Murindó and Río Chageradó reserves—made up of 11 Indigenous communities—have documented a deteriorating humanitarian crisis due to ongoing armed conflict among illegal armed groups. These armed actors continue to dispute territorial control over areas historically occupied by the former FARC. The OIA’s Early Warning System has identified serious internal displacement risks for the Gorrojo (105 people), Bachidubi (193 people), and Coredó (172 people) Indigenous communities. Additionally, civilian movement is extremely dangerous, as the ELN installed landmines throughout the region in January. The OIA urgently requests an inter-institutional human rights verification commission to verify the risks and the massive displacement taking place, and calls on the Government of Antioquia for a greater and more agile institutional response. It also demands the immediate departure of armed actors from its reserves, as well as an immediate start to the National Demining Plan in the Indigenous territories of Antioquia, Atrato Medio, Occidente and Bajo Cauca Antioqueño.
Illegal Armed Groups Provoke Humanitarian Crises in Afro-Colombian Territories (Cauca)
On February 26, the Coordination of Community Councils and Grassroots Organizations of the Black People of Cauca’s Pacific Coast (Coordinación de Consejos Comunitarios y Organizaciones de Base del Pueblo Negro de la Costa Pacífica del Cauca, COCOCAUCA) expressed deep concern about the ongoing humanitarian crises occurring in the Guapi, Timbiquí, and López de Micay municipalities in the Cauca department. Armed operations by the ELN guerrillas, FARC dissidents, and other illegal armed groups continue to repress, confine, disappear, kidnap, threaten, intimidate, and kill the civilian population. In January, authorities discovered the corpses of 36-year-old Edwin Hoyos Dávila, 21-year-old Brayan Alexis Izquierdo, 11-year-old Maira Alejandra Orobio Solís, 29-year-old Willinton Sánchez Arboleda, and 38-year-old Miguel Ángel Moreno Cuenú. In February, authorities discovered the corpses of adolescents Jimmy Jairo Triviño, Jairo Rentería Riascos, Javier Castro, Luis Eduardo Valencia and James Rosendo. Community members also alerted of the assassinations of Helda Sofía Villa Caicedo and Wilber Caicedo Olave.
COCOCAUCA reiterated it is not in any way affiliated to any armed groups and does not engage in the ongoing armed conflict. It advocates for peace with social justice, as a substantial foundation for its continued existence as an ethnic group. COCOCAUCA urges the ELN, FARC dissidents, and other operating armed groups to cease hostilities; the state forces to respect international humanitarian law and the civilian population in its operations; the Victims’ Unit to take actions to protect affected communities; the Governor of Cauca Elías Larrahondo, the Mayor of Guapi Plutarco Marino Grueso Obregón, the Mayor of Timbiquí Neyla Yadira Amú Venté, and the Mayor of López de Micay Wanner Darío Suárez Mantilla to protect the communities of Cauca’s Pacific Coast; and state agencies and national and international organizations to address these humanitarian crises and accompany the communities.
Colombian Police Allegedly Killed at Least 86 People in 2020
On February 24, Temblores ONG, a local human rights organization, revealed that the Colombian National Police were allegedly responsible for at least 86 homicides in 2020. In their recent report, the organization compiled data from three sources—the Forensics Office (Medicina Legal), the Network of Missing Persons and Corpses Information System (Sistema de Información Red de Desaparecidos y Cadáveres), and the National Reference Center on Violence (Centro de Referencia Nacional sobre Violencia)—and found that Colombian National Police officers were involved in the killings of 82 men and four women, of which most occured with firearms. The report also outlined systematic and structural abuses by the police force including 7,992 documented cases of assault and 30 cases of sexual violence, with migrant communities and Afro-Colombians often the victims. Alejandro Lanz, the director of the organization’s police violence observatory, expressed concern with the disparities between the state’s data indicating lower rates of police violence and the higher rates of incidents actually occurring throughout the country.
Catholic Bishops Denounce Atrocities Against Ethnic Communities (Chocó)
On February 23, during a humanitarian mission to Alto Baudó municipality, Chocó department, Catholic bishops denounced ongoing atrocities committed by illegal armed groups against Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. They called for a stop to the ongoing confrontations between the ELN guerrillas and paramilitary groups that only continue to draw out the history of violence in the territories. They asked the national, municipal, and local governments to take effective actions so communities can begin to emerge out of the violent context they are exposed to.
Illegal Armed Groups Provoke Humanitarian Crisis in Indigenous Territories (Chocó)
On February 23, the Federation of Indigenous Council Associations of Chocó (Federación de Asociaciones de Cabildos Indígenas del Chocó, FEDEROREWA) alerted of the current humanitarian crisis brought about by the ELN guerrillas and the Gulf Clan paramilitaries in the Bojayá, Nuqui, Lloró, and Alto Baudó municipalities in Chocó department. These illegal armed groups continue to displace, confine, torture, and threaten civilians in these municipalities. The armed groups have set up illegal checkpoints to monitor civilian movement, installed landmines, imposed restrictions to crop harvesting, and violently occupied communities to use them as human shields during armed confrontations. This violence has triggered a humanitarian crisis in these Indigenous territories. The alert outlined recent cases in each municipality and noted that communities are unable to denounce these violent acts since the armed actors often retaliate; Indigenous authorities who have resisted are singled out and threatened. FEDEROREWA called on the national government and the international community to guarantee the protection and survival of Indigenous peoples in the Chocó department.
Hundreds of Indigenous and Rural Peoples Displaced amid Violent Threats (Antioquia)
On February 19, RCN Radio reported that threats by illegal armed groups triggered the internal displacement of 300 Indigenous persons from their community in Ituango, Antioquia department Another 500 Campesinos in Alto del Limón, El Quindío, and Quebrada del Medio demand security guarantees and note that insecurity endures despite the national military’s presence in the region. Mayor Edwin Mira Sepúlveda affirmed that fear persists because threats from armed groups are relentless. According to the Ombudsman’s Office—and as indicated by on-the-ground reports and organizations like the Committee on Transitional Justice (Comité de Justicia Transicional)—humanitarian aid, effective action by security forces, and health care for the elderly and those suffering from mental illness are urgently needed.
Indigenous Guard Legally Detains Armed Men Later Identified as National Army Soldiers (Chocó)
On March 8, Indigenous Guard members in El Doce Quebrada Borbollón reserve legally detained nine armed men, later identified as members of the Colombian National Army not bearing the insignia of the armed forces. The Indigenous Guard legally detained these unidentified armed men, following all Indigenous jurisdiction protocols, to protect the Embera Katío civilian population. The detention was in response to local alerts about suspicious armed group presence in the Carmen de Atrato municipality, Chocó department—an area lacking state presence and where ongoing combat among illegal armed groups persists. Community members notified Indigenous Governor Alfonso Queragama that these armed men shot at them, forcing them to abandon their homes and seek refuge in the mountains. Indigenous authorities requested help from the National Army in response to the incident, but were told state forces could not respond. After the Indigenous Guard detained the armed men, the National Army admitted before Indigenous authorities that these men form part of the state forces. Once properly identified, the men were released.
The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (Organización Indígena de Colombia, ONIC) denounced the National Army for violating Indigenous autonomy and putting civilians at harm’s way. State authorities failed to notify and request permission for military operations as established under Colombian law. The armed men failed to bear the insignia of the armed forces or identify themselves as such, which is a serious violation of international humanitarian law and generated confusion and anxiety among community members, especially in a region with complex armed conflict dynamics.
The ONIC also denounced the stigmatizing claims made by government officials about the incident. General Juvenal Diaz, Commander of the Seventh Division of the Army, erroneously claimed Indigenous authorities kidnapped the soldiers. Government officials vowed to pursue kidnapping charges through the Attorney General’s Office against members of the local Indigenous Guard. Rafael Guarín, Presidential Advisor for National Security tweeted: “Indigenous kidnappers of soldiers are part of a network of drug trafficking. Criminals who are protected under Indigenous jurisdiction, turned into a guarantee of impunity, and who hide in some reserves transformed into sanctuaries of crime. Constitutional reform is urgently needed”. These statements by government officials stigmatize entire civilian populations—dangerously blurring the lines between civilians and combatants further—and places ethnic communities in grave danger. The ONIC called on full respect for Indigenous autonomy, as enshrined in Colombia’s Constitution and international humanitarian law. It called for conducive dialogue with the government, full retraction of the stigmatizing claims, and full compliance with agreements made with Indigenous communities including the 2016 peace accord’s Ethnic Chapter.
The Permanent Roundtable for Dialogue and Consultation of the Indigenous Peoples of Chocó (Mesa Permanente de Diálogo y Concertación de los Pueblos Indígenas del Chocó) called on local and national news media to remain impartial when emitting news about the incident so as not to stigmatize further a community that fights for their human rights. It also demanded that the Attorney General’s office investigate the events that took place and place responsibility on the government for the systemic and permanent violence. It also requested the support of national and international organizations in making visible human rights violations.
Port Union Denounces Violations to U.S.-Colombia Labor Action Plan and ILO Convention 87 (Santander)
On March 9, the Port Union (Unión Portuario) of Colombia denounced the Colombian government and multinational Trafigura for violating the U.S.-Colombia Labor Action Plan and ILO Convention 87. After Swiss multinational Trafigura allegedly announced salary and benefit cuts for workers at Impala Terminals—a subsidiary of the company in Barrancabermeja, Santander department—unionized workers opened formal dialogues with the multinational in December 2020. On January 21, 111 workers convened to decide whether to move forward with a formal strike after weeks of negotiations or bring the situation before an arbitration court. 91 people voted for the strike, 11 for arbitration, and 1 abstained. Colombian labor laws establish that within 10 days following a strike vote, workers may declare the start of the strike. Several days in advance, the Port Union publicly informed the company of the decision to initiate the strike on February 1. The multinational allegedly disregarded the formal start of the strike and illegitimately convened non-unionized workers to call off the strike. On February 11, following requests by the company, the Ministry of Labor allowed operations to resume, thereby violating Article 56 of the Colombian Constitution and ILO Convention 87. The Port Union filed a constitutional writ (tutela) and called on the Colombian government and multinational Trafigura to reinitiate dialogues, abide by all legal protocols, and respect port workers’ rights.
Problematic Comments by Colombian Defense Minister about Bombing Recruited Minors (Guaviare)
On March 10, the Colombian Defense Minister Diego Molano tried to justify executing minors recruited by illegal armed groups by referring to them as “war machines planning terrorist attacks,” among other comments attacking the children themselves. Minister Molano’s comments attempting to justify the possibility of having bombed minors ignited national and international backlash. On March 2, the Colombian armed forces killed 13 alleged members of the Gentil DuarteFARC dissident group by bombing a site in Calamar, Guaviare department. In the days following, the Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Foundation of Eastern and Central Colombia (Fundación por la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos y el Derecho Internacional Humanitario del Oriente y Centro de Colombia, DHOC) compiled testimonies from several families in the affected community suggesting the March 2 bombing killed at least six minors. Two other children arrived wounded at the hospital in nearby San José del Guaviare municipality.
Minister Molano placed blame on the dissident groups recruiting children, insisting that the armed forces carried out the March 2 operation in accordance with international humanitarian law. In response to Minister Molano’s claims, INDEPAZ clarified the domestic and international laws and obligations the Colombian state must follow to safeguard the lives of recruited minors. A March 27 front-page New York Times story detailed how five years after the 2016 peace accord in Colombia, children are still trapped by ongoing armed conflict.
Increasing Humanitarian Crisis in Indigenous Communities (Antioquia)
On March 12, the OIA declared a humanitarian crisis in the Antioquia department’s Indigenous communities. Armed groups expose the communities to fatal violence with illicit drug trafficking and illegal mining. Many community members are forced to follow armed groups’ instructions and carry out their tasks. Failure to submit to armed groups has resulted in the killings of many Indigenous leaders. The armed groups’ have also installed landmines throughout the region and increased forced recruitment of minors. This violence brought on by armed groups obstructs Indigenous peoples from living in peace and obtaining their constitutional rights in their territories. The OIA demands the Government of Antioquia to stop the violence occurring in these territories. Similarly, they call on international and local human rights organizations to help defend and protect the children and youth of the Indigenous communities. They call for urgent humanitarian response and aid from the Red Cross, the Catholic Church, and the international community to relieve the humanitarian crisis. The OIA also urges for protection measures for communities most affected by armed conflict.
Indigenous Families Forcibly Evicted Exacerbating Internal Displacement (Amazonas)
On March 12, the ONIC alerted the public about an eviction threat enforced by Jorge Luis Mendoza Muñoz, the Mayor of Leticia municipality in Amazonas department. He plans to proceed with the eviction even if families do not vacate the land where they settled in September 2020. Attempts have been made to identify a path for the restitution of these families’ fundamental rights since October 2020. However, the Mayor has not offered any solution to the displacement of these families made up of expecting mothers, children, and elderly members of the community. Instead, he has focused on constructing new business and real estate sites.
The ONIC demands the local mayor’s office to generate spaces for dialogue to define short-, medium-, and long-term solutions for these families. Dialogue is important for the local and regional governments to address their responsibilities and ensure respect for these families’ fundamental rights. It also demands the local government to desist from sending eviction threats and guarantee adequate housing for these families. Finally, it also calls on all organizations to defend human rights to accompany the families in their current situation.
Civilians Stricken by Violence and Instability (Putumayo)
On March 10, INDEPAZ published data about the instability and violence affecting Putumayo department. Since the signing of the peace accords, armed actors have assassinated 67 leaders and human rights defenders, including 9 women and 23 former combatants. In 2020, Putumayo suffered four massacres that killed 15 people. Putumayo has a population of 369,332, around 20 percent are Indigenous, and 80 percent are affected by armed conflict as a result of the presence of at least four armed groups operating in the region. An estimated 239, 890 are victims of internal displacement. Since 2018, various regions of the department have been under temporary alerts seven times.
Riot Police Injure Journalist (Cundinamarca)
On March 8, the Mobile Anti-Disturbances Squadron (Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios, ESMAD) cracked down on protestors in Bogotá and in the process injured Karen Tapias, a journalist working with the Contagio Radio outlet. She sustained injuries to her left hand and was taken to a clinic. Tapias is the third Contagio Radio journalist injured by security forces during their coverage of protests in Bogotá.
Ethnic Communities Make Recommendations to the Transitional Justice System (Antioquia)
Between March 3 and 6, ethnic communities in Antioquia department convened to begin a process of building conclusions, recommendations, and proposals for the Truth Commission (Comisión de la Verdad, CEV) and the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz, JEP), both mechanisms of the current transitional justice system. The convention gathered to remember, 24 years later, the devastating effects of Operation Genesis, which internally displaced more than 3,850 Afro-Colombians from Cacarica, Salaquí and Truandó. The communities were forced to hold the March convention outside their territories due to ongoing threats and intimidation by armed actors. The CIJP notes that the communities are committed to consistent and open dialogue with entrepreneurs, state agents, politicians, former paramilitaries, former guerrillas, churches, and others to ensure non-repetition of the atrocities that occurred and urge the JEP to expedite processes to allow these testimonies. The transitional justice system should give former paramilitaries the space to testify, as many have much to say and clarify about their responsibilities as alleged agents of the state or allegedly created by the state.