Prior to the National Strike that began in Colombia on April 28, 2021, we received the following reports of concern. Our next urgent action will include the human rights violations committed within the context of the protests.
Indigenous Governor Murdered (Cauca)
On April 20, unknown armed actors murdered Sandra Liliana Peña Choqué, the Governor of the Laguna Siberia Indigenous Reserve. Avelino Ull, a member of the Reserve’s Indigenous Guard, was also injured in the attack. Governor Peña Choqué was an active leader and advocated for the autonomy and protection of the ancestral culture of the Nasa people. She recognized and defended the role of women in Indigenous resistance and struggle. She was known for her conviction and opposition to pressures by illegal armed actors that promote illicit crop expansion in Nasa territory, illegal mining, and practices that affect the collective and territorial rights and culture of the Nasa people.
Amazon Frontlines, including WOLA, published a April 21 statement heavily denouncing the murder of Governor Choqué and called on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations on the situation of human rights defenders for immediate intervention in compliance with their mandates. The attack and assassination are not isolated acts. Relevant state institutions had sufficient information about the risks faced by Governor Choqué, which were presented repeatedly during the National Minga and in other reiterated requests, complaints, and demands. As of the date of the joint statement, armed actors have killed 52 leaders and human rights defenders (18 of them Indigenous and more than 1,166 since the peace accord was signed). Despite these explicit risks, the Iván Duque administration failed to implement minimum measures for her protection. The organizations demand that the Attorney General’s office, the Prosecutor’s office, the Ombudsman’s office, and other internal organisms diligently determine the material and intellectual authors of the crimes, and charge them to ensure Governor Choqué’s murder is not added to the list of hundreds of murders of Indigenous leaders in Cauca department, which remain in impunity. It is imperative that urgent and culturally appropriate measures are adopted to avoid similar crimes.
The Cauca Regional Indigenous Council (Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca, CRIC) released a statement strongly condemning the murder and implemented a state of maximum alert. The CRIC also called for the Colombian government, as well as international actors such as the UN and international human rights organizations, to pay attention to the widespread atrocities enacted against Indigenous communities and help account for the truth.
International civil society organizations Diakonia, Forum Civ, Act Swedish Church, We Effect, and SweFOR also unambiguously denounced the assassination of Governor Peña Choqué and attack against Indigenous Guard Ull. These organizations lead the implementation of the “Aremos Paz” project, which is financed by the European Union’s European Peace Fund, the European Union, the Swedish International Development Agency, and the International Office for Human Rights Action on Colombia. Governor Choqué previously participated in several activities under the Aremos Paz project. These ongoing attacks against peaceful Indigenous communities in Cauca department constitute grave humanitarian crises.
On April 20, the High-Level Special Instance with Ethnic Groups (Instancia Especial de Alto Nivel con Pueblos Étnicos, IEANPE) decried the murder of Governor Choqué and more broadly the hundreds of murders of Indigenous Colombians in recent years. The IEANPE called for more attention from the international community as well as an urgent meeting with President Duque to address the systemic violence against social and community leaders in Colombia.
Three Boys Massacred (Chocó)
On April 25, Colombia’s Black Communities Process (Proceso de Comunidades Negras, PCN) issued a statement condemning the April 21 massacre of three young boys in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Quibdó, Chocó department. Unidentified armed actors attacked the boys with machetes and guns, leaving two dead at the scene and the third at a local hospital. The PCN called on the Duque government to speak out against this violence and pursue justice for the victims, while also advocating for implementation of strategies that respect human rights and dignity.
Environmental Defenders Threatened, Internally Displaced, and Assassinated (Santander)
On April 9, Peace Brigades International (PBI) Colombia published an alert about the death threats, assassination attempts, and internal displacements against environmental organizations and social leaders in the Magdalena Medio region. Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world and the Magdalena Medio region in particular is known for its wealth in water sources. As a result, communities in the region have historically faced risks of attacks, internal displacements, and assassinations because of their activism against forceful petroleum and fracking projects. In 2020 alone, armed actors killed a registered 64 environmental social leaders, which made Colombia the most dangerous country to defend environmental rights. This horrific situation is further aggravated by the lack of advances in fully implementing the 2016 peace accord.
On March 24, through a phone call, CREDHOS received death threats against all of its organization’s members. Similarly, the organization’s president received death threats against him and his family through text messages. These threats are a continuation of those received in 2020. Despite several complaints filed with the Prosecutor General’s Office, authorities have not made advances in investigations. CREDHOS and other organizations in the region have requested precautionary measures from the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz, JEP) to guarantee their safety, but this request has not been met.
CREDHOS also provides legal representation for environmental organizations and grassroots collectives who have also faced threats. Among these are the Committee for the Defense of Water, Life, and the Territory of Puerto Wilches (AGUAWIL) and the Federation of Santander Fishers for Tourism and Environment (FEDESPAN). Members of both organizations, including the president of FEDESPAN, have equally endured serious threats and assassination attempts. These social leaders and environmental defenders have not been supported by local law enforcement and instead are told they cannot be protected because they are “stirring up trouble.”
PBI Colombia calls attention to the lack of action and investigation on the legal protections and complaints that environmental defenders have made. Authorities have provided insufficient protection measures, which has led to the internal displacement of many environmental defenders. PBI Colombia requests that the international community strongly urge the national government and all corresponding agencies to take responsibility and action on the situation in the Magdalena Medio region. The national government needs to investigate and enact proper precautionary measures to ensure the safety of the social leaders and defenders. Mechanisms must be established to monitor threats and attacks. International organizations need to strongly oppose violence and aggression in these regions. All must call on a comprehensive implementation of the peace accord.
National Police Publicly Stigmatize Indigenous Miners as Paramilitary Members (Córdoba)
On March 14, at least 15 squads of the Colombian National Police, accompanied by the anti-riot unit (Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios, ESMAD), arrived at the Indigenous Zenú community of El Alacrán mine in Puerto Libertador, Córdoba department to combat alleged illicit mining. According to the Cordoberxia Foundation—a human rights organization—these security forces arrived, with a supposed order issued by a judge in Bucaramanga, to carry out an operation against “illegal exploitation of mining deposits.” During the operation, police destroyed and burned the tools of members of El Alacrán Association of Artisanal Miners. The police publicly stigmatized these traditional miners as members of the Gulf Clan paramilitary group. Cordoberxia clarified that the community has been in the territory for over 50 years, legally recognized and dedicated during all that time to artisanal mining, so much so that the vast majority of the community are part of the El Alacrán Association of Artisanal Miners. The community has been seeking recognition as a traditional mining population for more than 40 years, yet a Canadian mining company currently holds an extractive license. Cordoberxia denounced the stigmatizing claims, which forced more than 20 families to be internally displaced for their safety. Cordoberxia also clarified that three illegal armed structures are active in the territory: Caparros, the New 18th Front, and the Gulf Clan paramilitaries, and because the National Police publicly mischaracterized El Alacrán community as “instrumentalized by the Gulf Clan”, they placed the entire population at risk. The Puerto Libertador Ombudsman condemned the wrongdoing of the Police for stigmatizing the entire community as belonging to or serving the Gulf Clan paramilitary.
Campesino Communities Fight Against the Forced Eradication of Illicit Crops (North Santander)
On March 25, the Catatumbo Campesino Association (Asociación Campesina del Catatumbo, ASCAMAT) and the Route of Prevention, Protection, and Security for Human Rights Defenders of Northeastern Colombia (Ruta de Prevención, Protección y Seguridad a Defensores de Derechos Humanos del Nororiente Colombiano) alerted about alleged threats and possible human rights violations by members of the National Army. The National Army has eradicated illicit crops in Las Mercedes, Sardinata municipality, North Santander department. Local community members are making use of their fundamental right to social and peaceful protest, and are demanding the national government fully implement the 2016 peace accord to terminate the conflict and implement a stable and lasting peace. Implementing the accord by its full terms would help obtain a legal and sustainable economy in the territories. Since December 2020, campesinos have alleged that the National Army has threatened community members when they attempt to prevent forced illicit crop eradication. ASCAMAT urges departmental and national authorities to engage in open discussions to fully implement the accord “to guarantee crop substitution as requested by the communities and not forced eradication.” They ask the Ombudsman’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office to protect the rights of the campesino communities and urge multilateral organizations to monitor and accompany the communities whose rights are threatened.
Social Leader and Active Community Member Murdered (Antioquia)
On April 5, unknown men murdered social leader Albeiro Hoyos “Cadillo” after stabbing him in the back. He was an active community member, founder of the Northern and Northeastern Association of Antioquian Farmers (Asociación Campesina del Norte y Nordeste de Antioquia, Ascna), member of the Social Process of Guarantees (Proceso Social de Garantías), and a member of the Patriotic March (Marcha Patriótica) political party. As of April 5, with Hoyos’ death, the number of party members since the signing of the peace accord reached 129 people. From the political party’s social media, they denounce the homicide of the social leader.
Recognized Social Leader Murdered (Magdalena)
On April 17, armed men assassinated Francisco Giacometto Gómez, a 64-year-old social leader, in Santa Marta, Magdalena department. A recognized student leader in the Magdalena department, the Communist Party, and one of the surviving founders of the Patriotic Union (Union Patriotica, UP), Gómez was carrying out political organizing activities before the armed actors killed him. As of April 17, 50 leaders and human rights defenders have been murdered in 2021 and 1,164 since signing the peace accord.
Indigenous Social Leader and Security Professional Assassinated (Cauca)
On April 4, armed men assassinated Fernando Lozada Franco. His lifeless body was found in the town El Nilo, Caloto, Cauca department. Lozada was an Indigenous community member of the Nasa de Tacueyo reservation, a member of the National Union of Security Professionals, and was also part of the National Protection Unit’s (Unidad Nacional de Protección, UNP) differential scheme. Human rights organizations condemned Lozada’s assassination and declared that these actions are aimed at the community and affect the political and social work in different territories. Indigenous organizations and human rights defenders call on the national government to guarantee the life and integrity of Indigenous communities and leaders. Furthermore, the communities and their leaders demand the government make a comprehensive presence in all territories, which would guarantee the life and integrity of all people’s rights to achieve territorial and comprehensive peace.
Indigenous Man Murdered (Chocó)
On April 18, armed men gunned down Pedro Nei Valencia—an Indigenous Colombian—and an unnamed Afro-Colombian friend 200 meters away from a police station in the Certegui municipality, Chocó department. Despite police proximity to the scene of the crime, the killers got away and are still unidentified. The Federation of Indigenous Council Associations of Chocó (Federación de Asociaciones de Cabildos Indígenas del Chocó, Fedeorewa) released a statement exhorting local authorities to protect Indigenous lives and respond to this act of violence. Fedeorewa also called on the Attorney General to prosecute those involved, and on international human rights organizations to bring wider awareness to the issues facing Indigenous Colombians.
Paramilitary Incursion and Stigmatization Place Civilian Population at High Risk (Bolívar)
On April 19, the Colombia-Europe-United States Coordination (Coordinación Colombia-Europa-Estados Unidos, CCEEUU) and the Committee of Solidarity for Political Prisoners (Fundación Comité de Solidaridad con los Presos Políticos) alerted of a high-risk paramilitary incursion in Montecristo municipality, Bolívar department. The affected towns and villages include Culebras, El Dorado, Cerro de los Muñecos, El Paraíso, La Garita, among others. According to the alert, for over two months and with recent intensification, Gulf Clan paramilitaries have stoked fear among community members by setting up illegal checkpoints, targeting social leaders and their work, indiscriminately firing weapons into civilian areas, baselessly accusing community members as guerrillas or sympathizers, and arbitrarily detaining and torturing community members. The organizations also reported the paramilitaries killed two young men, leaving one’s lifeless body on display in Las Culebras village. Due to the presence of the ELN guerrilla in the region, there is also great concern of ongoing stigmatization against miners, campesinos, and fishermen by the Gulf Clan paramilitary, the Attorney General’s specialized 124 DECOT unit, and the Colombian military.
The alert strongly condemned these human rights violations and called on the Colombian state and other entities for the following actions:
Human Rights Defender Surveilled by Unidentified Men (Atlantic)
On April 2, unidentified men snapped cell phone pictures of human rights defender Juan Martínez García as he drove home, according to Communities Building Peace in Colombia (Comunidades Construyendo Paz en Colombia, CONPAZCOL). Martínez García is currently fighting to stop city businessmen from displacing dozens of families from their land for an agricultural project. He has experienced several threats before for this sort of work. In May 2020, his father received a phone call telling him his son was a dead man, and on March 25 and 29, García observed the same vehicle on his property multiple times. CONPAZCOL is calling on the Attorney General to investigate as well as asking for support from the Colombian government and the international community.
ELN Harasses Indigenous Communities (North Santander)
On April 9, ELN members detained the vehicle of a traditional Indigenous community leader on his way to Cúcuta and held it overnight. The ELN has also reportedly been keeping tabs on an Indigenous leader in the Convención municipality. On April 26, the Bari Association of Traditional Authorities (Asociación de Autoridades Tradicionales del Pueblo Bari, Ñaturbaiyibari) released a statement condemning ELN intervention in their affairs and calling for an investigation into these events as well as accompaniment from international organizations.
Environmental Activist Threatened (Putumayo)
On April 25, the Inter-Ecclesial Commission for Justice and Peace (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz, CIJP) reported that an unidentified Commanders of the Border paramilitary (Comando de la Frontera, CDF) threatened environmental activist Jani Silva. This unidentified member warned that both Silva and her organization could be eliminated to protect corporate and narco interests in the region. The CDF is a paramilitary group that allegedly claims ties to oil companies and security forces and continues to steal or buy land in Putumayo as well as recruit young people into the organization. CIJP condemned this harassment, and noted that the Duque government has done nothing to assure Silva’s protection.
Community Denounces Persistent Military Harassment (North Santander)
On April 22, exactly two years after the extrajudicial killing of ex-guerrilla combatant Dimar Torres, the Catatumbo Farmer’s Association (Asociación Campesina del Catatumbo, Ascamcat) published a letter denouncing the Colombian military’s efforts to threaten and undermine campesinos in the community. Ascamcat reported that the military has threatened anyone denouncing Torres´ murder and even intentionally contaminated springs that provide water for the community. Ascamcat called for an inter-institutional meeting with Colombian government entities and local groups, as well as encouraged Colombian institutions to ensure security forces respect the human rights of all Colombians.
Social Leader Threatened (Chocó)
On April 25, Quibdó social leader Domingo Ramos announced that he received several threats as a result of denouncing armed groups operating in Quibdó, Chocó department. On April 21, Ramos gave an interview on the killing of three boys by a gang in Quibdó and several days later was approached by a man who warned him against speaking out. Ramos has received threats before and applied for protection last year, but he has yet to receive anything from the Colombian government and says that he fears for his life.
Afro-Colombian Community Councils Begin Humanitarian Caravan (Cauca)
On April 23, the Coordination of Community Councils and Organizations for the Black Community of Cauca’s Pacific Coast (Coordinación de Consejos Comunitarios y Organizaciones de Base del Pueblo Negro de la Costa Pacífica del Cauca, Cococauca) published the manifesto of the Humanitarian Caravan for Life and Peace, established to respond to the lack of implementation of the peace accord and the killings of social leaders, among other urgent matters. The manifesto calls for establishing humanitarian accords with armed groups, rebuilding confidence between society and the state, taking steps to combat ingrained structural racism, and engaging international actors.
FARC Dissidents Threaten Human Rights Group (Santander)
On March 25, the Regional Corporation for the Defense of Human Rights (Corporación Regional para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos, CREDHOS) received threatening phone messages from anonymous FARC dissident members warning them to stop issuing publications and leave Barranca. A call went to the CREDHOS office, and another message was sent to the CREDHOS president Iván Antonio Madero Vergel’s personal cell phone, threatening him with death and warning that the group had his location as well as that of his family members. These death threats have continued to occur since September 2020. CREDHOS strongly condemned these actions, and called on the Colombian government to guarantee political protection and security to social leaders.
On April 9, Amnesty International sent a letter to Ramón Rodriguez, Director of the Unit for Attention and Integral Reparation of Victims, urging the Unit to fully implement the Integral Collective Reparation Plan (Plan Integral de Reparación Colectiva, PRIC). They also urge the authorities to fully guarantee the protection of CREDHOS and its members, as agreed to in the 2016 peace accord.
Violence by Armed Groups Internally Displaces Thousands (Nariño)
On March 23, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Issues (OCHA) published an alert detailing internal displacements in El Charco municipality, Nariño department. According to the alert, armed conflict among groups vying for control of the territory and narcotrafficking routes has internally displaced over 4,000 people. Local governments are making an effort to distribute supplies and resources to affected communities, but armed confrontations make it difficult. Municipal governments are calling for the national government’s aid.
Indigenous Communities Internally Displaced due to Ongoing Armed Conflict (Nariño)
On March 24, the communities of Alto Tapaje in El Charco municipality, Nariño department, were victimized yet again by different armed groups. An unidentified armed group entered the community and opened fire, killing two younger and two older adults. The open crossfire forced the internal displacement of approximately 1,000 community members and has put at risk the lives of children, young adults, and the elderly. Since the armed groups invaded the community, it is estimated that over 3,000 people have been internally displaced and seek shelter, food, and safety in the municipality’s capital, as well as in towns between the municipal capital and El Charco.
According to reports, municipal authorities require those internally displaced to be present in the capital until March 30 to officially register as displaced and thus access humanitarian aid. However, many cannot formally register people as they are confined to their homes.
The National Ethnic Coordination for Peace (Coordinación Étnica Nacional de Paz, CENPAZ) denounces the violence causing these internal displacements and calls on President Duque and the Presidential Council for Human Rights to act to protect the rights to life, liberty, and property of the Tapaje River residents. They also call on the government to respect the rights to physical and psychological integrity, family and community privacy, honor, reputation, work, and food security of the inhabitants of the Tapaje River.
Armed Confrontation between FARC Dissidents and Military Causing Internal Displacements (Cauca)
On March 24, the Afro-Colombian Community Councils of Cauca (Coordinación de Consejos Comunitarios y Organizaciones de Base del Pueblo Negro de la Costa Pacífica del Cauca, COCOCAUCA) strongly condemned the armed confrontations occuring in the civilian regions of the Saija River, in Timbiquí, Cauca, between dissidents of the former FARC and the Colombian military. The armed confrontations began on March 20 and have already forced 40 families, made up of 126 people, to be internally displaced from their territories. The situation requires humanitarian intervention and risk mitigation actions by the government and different national and international agencies. COCOCAUCA is concerned about the potential risk for the massive displacement of more than 6,000 people.
Colombia’s Black Communities Process Rejects Stigmatizing News Article (Bolívar)
On March 29, Colombia’s Black Communities Process (Proceso de Comunidades Negras, PCN) rejected the Somos Cartagena news article written by Jaqueline Perea, which designated the Pedro Romero Social Emergency Plan (Plan de Emergencia Social Pedro Romero, PES)—an institution run by Kairen Gutiérrez—as a “Palenquero colony.” The PCN claimed the article is inappropriate, untruthful, and biased. They believe the article attacks Gutiérrez for her role as a public official and Afro-Palenquera woman, and the Palenquera and Afro-Colombian community as a whole. According to the PCN, the article is a stigmatizing investigation that claims nepotism runs the PES, but fails to recognize the historical reality of the Palenque families. Out of the 172 individuals working at the PES, only 22 are of Palenque origin. The PCN asserted it will continue to fight against all racist, classist, sexist and exclusionary policies against the people of Cartagena, and will categorically support the management of the PES under Gutiérrez.
Indigenous Wayuu Woman Social Leader Assassinated (La Guajira)
On March 31, social leader and elder of the Cardón community Wayuu Aura Esther García was assassinated in the municipality of Uribia, La Guajira department. She was ambushed and killed while on a motorcycle as she entered her residential community with her husband. According to the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia, ONIC), since March 15, she received threats via phone calls and text messages. As a result of these threats, Aura requested protection; however, authorities did not comply with her request. Indigenous leaders and social organizations call on authorities to investigate the assassination. Her death has generated consternation within the community since the Wayuu woman symbolizes harmony and the voice to resolve an armed conflict. Her assassination puts at risk the life and integrity of the Wayuu women in the Arronshy community. At the date of the statement, 41 social leaders have been assassinated in 2021, and the ONIC reports a total of 1,115 since the signing of the 2016 peace accord.
Social Sciences Teacher Attacked Online (Valle del Cauca)
On April 14, the Colombian Association of Educators in the Social Sciences (Asociación Colombiana de Educadores en Ciencias Sociales, ACECS) stood in defense of Sandra Ximena Caicedo, a 9th grade teacher in Cali who gave her students a reflection assignment about extrajudicial killings and was subsequently vilified by mainstream media and major political parties, specifically the Democratic Center (Centro Democrático). According to ACECS, this vilification forms part of a broader campaign against social science educators in Colombia. It is especially concerning given the moral imperative of objectively teaching Colombia’s recent history. ACECS called on educators across the country to keep teaching the truth and proposed a yearlong calendar highlighting important aspects of Colombian history and culture.
Military Operations in Collective Territories Unnerve Community Members (Chocó)
On April 12, three military helicopters flew between the Nueva Esperanza Humanitarian Zone in Díos and the Nueva Vida Humanitarian Zone, in the Cacarica collective territory, Bajo Atrato, Chocó department. After landing, most of the military personnel who disembarked entered house to house in El Limón hamlet without presenting a search warrant, according to initial reports corroborated by the CIJP. The military reportedly threatened young people amid a mission allegedly undertaken to confront the Gulf Clan paramilitary group, which has operated in the region since the signing of the 2016 peace accord. Despite the military’s previous presence in the region, illegal armed groups continue to thrive. In early March, many communities of the Cacarica collective territory were internally displaced due to the Gulf Clan’s operations. The CIJP demands respect for human rights and international humanitarian standards amid these state operations.
Human Rights Defender Appeals to United Nations (Valle del Cauca)
On March 15, the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (Movimiento Nacional de Reconciliación, IFOR) delivered an oral statement calling on the member states of the UN Human Rights Council as well as the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to give attention to the human rights situation in Buenaventura. María Eugenia Mosquera Riascos, speaking for IFOR, stated that she had received multiple threats in recent months due to her human rights work. IFOR condemned the Colombian government’s unwillingness to fully implement the peace accord as well as their failure to prioritize social investment over militarization. IFOR called on the High Commissioner and member states to support the dismantling of paramilitary groups causing violence in the region and to back the full implementation of the peace accord.
Rural Indigenous Communities Protest the Abandonment of the National and State Governments (Chocó and Antioquia)
On March 15, Communities Building Peace in Colombia (Comunidades Construyendo Paz En Colombia) announced ongoing protests by the Carmen del Darién and Riosucio communities in the Chocó department and the Mutatá community in Antioquia department. The communities protested in response to the Colombian government’s abandonment and its failure to comply with agreements. The protests were concentrated on the Urabá, Medellin’s national road. The Ombudsman’s Office and the United Nations Human Rights Office in Colombia demand that the national and departmental governments focus on implementing resources to fix and maintain infrastructure, clean the rivers and streams, substitute the use of illicit crops, and develop a housing project to serve the communities. They also urge the local and departmental governments to follow through with proper land restitution.
Quarterly Human Rights Report Alerts of Dire Situation for Indigenous (Cauca)
On March 17, the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca, CRIC) published its quarterly report on the human rights situation in the Cauca department. The organization closely monitors human rights violations throughout the department by means of verified primary and secondary sources. In 2020, Cauca’s Indigenous communities found themselves caught between two threats: on the one hand, the pandemic and, on the other, the escalation of ongoing armed conflict and incursions by armed groups into their territories. Moreover, these two issues have been mutually reinforcing. In mid-2020, the CRIC’s Human Rights Program denounced an increase in attacks and threats against Indigenous communities and their political-organizational structures. Unfortunately, this intensification was not momentary from the first months of the pandemic, but became the new normal, with increases between 20% and 100% in homicides, individual and collective threats, as well as armed actions and combat in Indigenous territories (detailed statistical data can be found in the report on page 12). The CRIC concluded that this leaves clear evidence of the ineffectiveness of the state’s response, which has so far focused on even greater militarization of the territories.
Disappeared Indigenous People Found Dead (Nariño)
On March 18, local authorities in Tumaco municipality, Nariño department found the bodies of two members of the Awá Indigenous community, who had been missing for months after leaving their land to seek work opportunities. According to the Development and Peace Foundation (Fundación Desarrollo y Paz, Fundepaz) the bodies were found with clear signs of torture. This situation is part of a broader pattern of widespread violence against the Awá peoples, with 35 murders and 8 disappearances since the beginning of the pandemic. Indigenous authorities are calling on armed actors to respect the Awá, as it is not their armed conflict and they simply want the opportunity to live on their land in peace.
Environmental Social Leader Threatened by Council Representative and Paramilitary Group (Chocó)
On March 13, at the Pedeguita and Mancilla collective territory in Riosucio municipality, Chocó department, local residents threatened environmental leader Eliodoro Polo. The residents claim they will continue to build a parallel road downstream of Caño Bijao, a local river stream. The road crosses the Polo family’s property, which protects areas of forest and water resources from being used in plantain agriculture that is allegedly financed by the National Land Agency (Agencia Nacional de Tierras). The project is endorsed by the legal representative of the town council, Baldoyno Mosquera, who is allegedly backed by the Gulf Clan paramilitary group. Together, they have used psychological attacks to disregard complaints about the seizures and re-settlements of land and continue to subject locals to abuse and arbitrary actions. Mosquera boasts of being backed by military forces and businessmen against the rights of communities, including the right to land and environmental sustainability.
Police Threaten to Evict Indigenous Community from Ancestral Territory (Meta)
On March 12, the Norman Pérez Bello Claretian Corporation (Corporación Claretiana Norman Pérez Bello) denounced the police in Puerto Gaitán, Meta department for threatening to violently evict the San Rafael Warrojo Indigenous settlement from its ancestral territory. On the morning of March 11, Colonel Muñoz of the Puerto Gaitán police arrived, with the consent of the municipal government, and threatened the Indigenous community that they would be evicted by the ESMAD if they refused to leave their ancestral territory. Unidentified persons from the Mayor’s Office accompanied Colonel Muñoz and immediately dispersed when they realized community members were video recording the police’s actions. Under Decree 2333 of 2014 by the National Land Agency (Agencia Nacional de Tierras, ANT), the San Rafael Warojjo community’s ancestral territory is protected. The ANT confirmed it had previously met with the Mayor’s Office, who committed to comply with the Decree. However, Colonel Muñoz continues to ignore these legal measures. The Norman Pérez Bello Claretian Corporation’s statement calls on the National Police, the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of the Interior, the ANT and its Sub Directorate of Ethnic Affairs, the Attorney General’s Office, the Ombudsman’s Office, the Local Mayor’s Office of Puerto Gaitán, the regional UN Human Rights Office, and the National Protection Unit to condemn the police and take the necessary steps for the collective protection of the communities threatened by this situation.
Ethnic and Rural Communities Subject to Ongoing Armed Conflict (Cauca)
On March 6, the Interethnic and Intercultural Council of Northern Cauca (Consejo interétnico e intercultural del norte del Cauca) detailed the grave human rights situation and exponential increase in armed conflict in the northern region of Cauca department. The physical, territorial, socio-cultural integrity of civilians are affected by ongoing armed conflict, which continues to surge as a result of the faltering implementation of the 2016 peace accord. The coalition denounced over 213 homicides, 826 threats, 68 attacks, 16 massacres, and 125 instances of harassment. The Council also condemned the delay in implementing the peace accord and the Colombian government’s disregard for the structural causes of conflict in Colombia. Similarly, they demand the development of participatory opportunities for communities and social organizations to implement the accord. Finally, they request that the Public Prosecutor’s Office and national and international human rights organizations raise the organizational processes’ visibility and accompany them in their claims of rights violations against all Colombians who suffer from violence.
Indigenous Communities amid Continued Humanitarian Crises (Antioquia)
Between March 20 and 22, the Indigenous authorities of Murindó gathered in a communal assembly to brief the communities about the major humanitarian crises in the Murindó and Chageradó river Indigenous reservations. The crises are a result of continued armed confrontations by the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, ELN) and the Gulf Clan (Clan del Golfo). The 11 Indigenous communities in the region, who do not take part in the armed conflict, are caught amid the confrontations of these illegal armed groups with minimal state protection. In the Murindó River reserve, the armed groups internally displaced the Bachidubi, Chimiadó, Coredó, and Isla communities. In the Chageradó River reserve, armed groups completely displaced the Turriquitadó Alto community. The institutions in charge of attending to armed victims took five weeks to deliver basic humanitarian aid. Initially, the National Army promised to deliver the aid, however due to government delays, the Norweigian Refugee Council ultimately carried out distribution.
Since 2019, illegal armed groups have planted landmines throughout the Indigenous ancestral territories. Indigenous authorities described how these landmines, “prevent children from going to school, in fear that they will set off an explosive device and their lives will be cut short. There would be no prosthetic limbs to replace their limbs.” At the beginning of February 2021, the ELN disseminated audio messages threatening community members to remain confined to their homes or face the consequences of the landmines.
At the assembly, the Indigenous authorities laid out clear demands, which include: ensuring the security of the Indigenous population, implementing a demining process initiated by the National Army, a safe return for those internally displaced, a health brigade for the Indigenous population, and the enforcement of collective protection measures and a transitional justice committee through the Attorney General’s Office. The assembly also urged the United Nations, particularly its Human Rights Office, to guide, guarantee and accompany a restitution process.
Attorney General’s Office Drops Case of Assassination Attempt Against Environmental Social Leader (Santander)
On March 26, the Attorney General’s Office in Barrancabermeja, Santander department notified environmental social leader Yuli Andrea Velasquez Briceño that her request for an investigation into the assassination attempt and threats against her were archived. Velázquez is well known in her region for reporting on alleged corruption involving resources from Ecopetrol and the Santander Regional Autonomous Corporation (Corporación Autónoma Regional de Santander) in connection with swamp clean-up and environmental recovery projects. Her last public complaint was on January 9 regarding the contamination of mud and floating materials in the San Silvestre swamp. She is also a member of the Federation of Fisherwomen of Barrancabermeja (Federación de Pescadoras de Barrancabermeja). On January 20, armed men attacked Velázquez and her family at the entrance of her home. While she immediately reported the incident to authorities, they have now archived the formal complaint because they considered it “atypical”. In Colombia, social leaders lack the right to denounce a well-founded death threat that was almost executed.
Quality of Life Survey Reflects Dire Citizen Security Situation
On March 28, Crown Foundation (Fundación Corona) and Network of Cities “As We Go” (Red de Ciudades Cómo Vamos) published the results of a survey conducted between February 9 and 25 that measured overall quality of life throughout the pandemic. It asked questions about security, economic situations, and citizen confidence in the government. More than 30,000 Colombian citizens across 38 cities and municipalities participated in the survey. The results in the citizen security area are particularly concerning, with less than 20% of citizens in five municipalities—Quibdó, Yumbo, Bogotá, Buenaventura, and Cúcuta—reporting that they typically feel safe. Also significant are the percentages of citizens satisfied with their local leadership, with only one municipality—Cartagena—surpassing a 50% satisfaction rate. Particularly concerning, 82% of the persons in Quibdó feel unsafe and 51% reported suffering mental health issues.
Massacre in Santander de Quilichao (Cauca)
On April 7, unidentified armed men, thought to be members of a FARC dissident group, arrived at a rural farm in the municipality of Santander de Quilichao and opened fire, killing three people instantly. A fourth died after being transported to a nearby hospital. As of April 7, this is the third massacre in the last 5 days in Cauca and the fifth of the year so far.
Former Combatants Committed to the Peace Accord Internally Displaced (Antioquia)
On April 9, Communities Building Peace (Comunidades Construyendo Paz, Conpazcol) reissued a statement from June 2020 condemning violence and intimidation against former combatants—also known as signers of the peace accord. The statement underscores the assassinations of Camilo Sucerquía Durango and Carlos Barrera, two children related to former FARC members. This statement was reissued in response to the internal displacement of the families of 15 former combatants from the town of Santa Lucía. Conpazcol condemned the Colombian government, called on the United Nations to protect former combatants in areas of reintegration and to urge Iván Duque to fulfill the peace accord and restart talks with the ELN guerrilla.
Ethnic Organization Calls for Implementation of the Peace Accord (Valle del Cauca)
On April 23, the National Ethnic Coordination for Peace (Coordinación Étnica Nacional de Paz, Cenpaz) published a report on the implementation of the peace accord and its Ethnic Chapter in which the organization reiterated that the peace process has not been fully implemented, and that the assassination and harassment of social leaders as well as activists cannot be allowed to continue. Cenpaz also outlined the need for real land redistribution, a rethinking of drug policy, and justice for extrajudicial killings. In order to build peace in Colombia, Cenpaz also called on the Duque administration as well as the United Nations to seek solutions to the pattern of human rights violations in Colombia.
Indigenous and Ethnic Communities Demand the Right to Prior Consultation (Cundinamarca)
On April 12, Members of Congress of the Special Indigenous Caucus and ethnic organizations of Colombia, including the Permanent Roundtable of Indigenous Consultation (Mesa Permanente de Concertación Indígena, MPC), publicly rejected the 2020 statutory draft law no. 442, which attempts to regulate the fundamental right to prior consultation and establish other provisions. The draft law does not respect or guarantee the autonomy of Indigenous and ethnic communities. This attempt is the third time the same draft is presented without providing an opportunity for community members to dialogue, propose, and dispute the legislative measures. Indigenous and ethnic communities count on organizations and supportive platforms to have constructive communication among national and departmental governments to effectively consent and confirm legislative or administrative efforts that affect their territories, customs, and traditions. The Special Indigenous Caucus echoes the demands of the ethnic communities to see the suspension of the legislative draft and subsequently guarantee and respect the right of prior consultation in future legislative actions.
Indigenous in Colombia Face Grave Human Rights Situation
On April 9, the National Day of Remembrance and Solidarity with the Victims of the Armed Conflict, the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia, ONIC) warned of the grave situation of Indigenous communities throughout the country. According to the statement, since the beginning of the Iván Duque administration, the documented count of human rights violations against Indigenous Peoples has reached outrageous figures: 60,061 human rights violations against Indigenous communities, 298 homicides, 16,915 victims of internal displacement, 60 kidnappings, 39 cases of forced recruitment, 2,000 threats and intimidations. These violations continue to increase. As of April 8, Colombians, there have been 26 massacres with 95 victims.
Truth Commission Publishes Book about Territory for Series about Peace
In February 2021, Colombia’s Truth Commission published Territory (Territorio), one of 13 books written by 39 Colombian authors, that reflect on the relationship Colombian society has had with armed conflict and encourages Colombians to understand different perspectives about peace. This collection of books entitled Future in Transit (Futuro en Tránsito), led by the Truth Commission with support from the European Union in Colombia and directed by Alonso Sanchéz, centers on the themes of respect, resilience, agreement, trust, diversity, territory, fanaticism, uncertainty, dignity, solidarity, communication, forgiveness and responsibility. Throughout 2021, the Commission plans to continue publishing the books, which include renowned journalists, academics, social leaders, and victims of the armed conflict.
In ‘Territory,’ Francia Márquez, Tatiana Acevedo, and Álvaro Restrepo give profound assessments on what territory means to them in the context of conflict and peace. Márquez considers how the legacies of colonialism and racism continue to perpetuate inequities and hegemonic development in ethnic communities. Acevedo focuses her essay on territory from an urban perspective. Restrepo ends the book reflecting on the territory as a body that must be respected.