WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

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31 Jan 2022 | News

Colombia Begins 2022 with Alarming Violence

The security situation in Colombia deteriorated alarmingly in January 2022. As of January 31, the Institute for Development and Peace Studies (Instituto de estudios para el desarrollo y la paz, INDEPAZ) has recorded a total of 13 social leaders murdered, 13 massacres, 3 ex-combatants killed, 214 selective homicides, 98 death threats, 58 homicide attempts, 25 episodes of harassment, 17 forced disappearances, and 16 mass internal displacements. While violations are occurring in multiple areas, the departments of Arauca, Cauca, Valle del Cauca and Putumayo appear to be flashpoints. In the case of Arauca, the violence and displacement are due to the breaking of the truce that existed between the ELN and FARC. The FARC dissidents and ELN are engaged in armed combat with each other and as a result are taking it out on the civilian population, particularly social movements. WOLA, along with other international organizations working in and on Colombia, issued statements condemning the violence in Arauca and Cauca.

WOLA is also extremely concerned about the rise in internal displacement in Colombia. In early January, the United Nations Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released a report that found that 72,300 persons were internally displaced in 2021. This represents an increase of 62 percent of displacement events and 196 percent increase in the number of persons displaced compared to 2020. 

We strongly urge U.S. policymakers, the diplomatic community, and civil society to raise visibility on the human rights and humanitarian situation in Colombia. Also, we urge them to take actions denouncing the violence, calling for it to cease and for all the actors concerned to support humanitarian minimums and peace efforts.

Below you will find a summary of the incidents reported to WOLA:

Indigenous Leader and Guard Founder Killed (Cauca)
On January 24, the Jaime Martínez Front of the FARC dissidents assassinated the founder and ex-coordinator of the National Indigenous Guard José Albeiro Camayo. The murder occurred in Las Delicias reservation located in Buenos Aires municipality, Cauca department. The armed actors, including alias ‘El Paisan,’ forced community members to gather in a meeting and proceeded to kill the Indigenous leader. According to INDEPAZ in October 2019, Camayo became the target of FARC dissidents who stigmatized and tortured him.Indigenous communities throughout Cauca department are demanding protection and justice for this killing.

Female Leader Dragged From Her Home by Armed Men Found Dead (Cauca)
On January 29, the body of community leader Deisy Sotelo Anacon was found in El Plateado, Cauca department. Six days prior, armed men forcibly removed her and her husband from their home. The husband’s whereabouts remain unknown. An early warning alert was issued in late 2021 by the human rights ombudsman’s office concerning the risk of harm to civilians due to illegal groups’ activities for Argelia and Tambo, Cauca.

Armed Men Massacre Four People (Cauca)
On January 28, four men whose identity is not yet known were massacred in the Afro-Colombian area of Timbiquí, Cauca department. Timbiquí, Lopez de Micay, and Guapi municipalities form part of an early warning alert put out by the human rights Ombudsman’s office.  

Three Members of the Same Family Killed, Ten-Year-Old Girl Injured (Cauca)
On January 27, three members of the same family were massacred and a 10-year-old girl injured by armed men in Buenos Aires, Cauca department. The victims are presumably Afro-Colombians. Buenos Aires municipality forms part of an early warning alert previously put out by the human rights ombudsman’s office.

Social Leader and His Widow Murdered (Arauca)
On January 25, armed men murdered social leader Álvaro Peña in Tame, Arauca department. The next day his widow, Rosalba Tarazona, was grieving her husband when armed men returned and killed her. 

Three Men Murdered in Cucuta (North Santander)
On January 25, three not yet identified men between the ages of 25 and 38 were murdered in Cúcuta, Norte de Santander along the Colombian-Venezuelan border. 

Social Leader Killed (Putumayo)
On January 24, social leader Pedronel Sanchez Gallego from the Comunal Action Board of Las Perlas, Putumayo deparment, was murdered. 

Female Land Rights Leader Murdered (Meta)
On January 17, after she went missing for six days, community members identified the lifeless body of land rights leader Luz Marina Arteaga in Puerto Gaitán, Meta department. The Claretian Norman Pérez Bello Corporation (Corporación Claretiana Norman Pérez Bello) and the Yira Castro Legal Corporation (Corporación Jurídica Yira Castro) reported that Arteaga’s lifeless body was found in La Esmeralda village along the banks of the Meta River. Her murder occurred despite her previous request, to no avail, for protection measures from the National Protection Unit (Unidad Nacional de Protección, UNP). Arteaga’s activism in emblematic land right’s case El Porvenir warranted her protection. The human rights organizations demand that the authorities immediately conduct a transparent investigations into Luz Marina’s murder.  Immediate protection measures are also required for the human rights defendersinvolved in seeking justice for this murder.

Community Activist Assassinated (Antioquia)
On January 17, armed actors assassinated 35-year-old Mario Jonathan Palomino Salcedo, a community activist and agriculture professor at the Monseñor Ramón Arcila Ramírez University. The murder occurred in El Carmen de Viboral municipality, Antioquia department.  Armed actors intercepted Palomino Salcedo when he got off his motorcycle late at night and attacked by open fire. His body was later found by authorities along the highway. 

Four People Massacred (Antioquia)
On January 17, unknown armed actors massacred three men and one woman between Santo Domingo and Barbosa municipalities in Antioquia department. Armed groups that operate in the region include the Gulf Clan, the Pachelly, and the Valle de Aburrá.

Three Family Members Murdered in Magdalena
On January 8, according to INDEPAZ, hitmen massacred three people of the same family in Zona Bananera municipality, Magdalena department. The victims were identified as Jorge Hernández; Patricia Margarita de Armas Gallarda, who was pregnant; and 17-year-old William Hernández. The Ombudsman’s Office had previously published  Early Warning Alert 044/2019, which was followed up with reports from November 2021 that identify threats and attacks against those who denounce the diversion of rivers, the contamination of water resources with chemical products like fertilizers and agroindustrial pesticides, the dredging of swamps to cause water overflows, road damage from machinery in rainy seasons, and the coerced sales of farms or properties. Indepaz notes that the Gulf Clan paramilitary and other criminal factions operate in the region. 

FARC Dissidents Attack Building That Houses Human Rights Organizations (Arauca)
On January 19, the 28th front of the FARC dissidents detonated a car bomb in front of a building that houses six social organizations and two media outlets in Saravena, Arauca department. The organizations affected were Fundación de Derechos Humanos Joel Sierra, Asociación Nacional Campesina José Antonio Galán Zorro ASONALCA, Asociación Amanecer de Mujeres por Arauca AMAR, Asociación Juvenil y Estudiantil Regional ASOJER, Central Unitaria de Trabajadores CUT y la Corporación de Comunicaciones Trochando Sin Fronteras.

The bomb killed a security guard from the building next door, injured 40 (including 5 social leaders) and damaged infrastructure within a four-block radius. At the time, over 40 social leaders from the region were gathered in a self-protection training workshop. Human rights defenders had denounced that FARC dissidents had circulated pamphlets stating that it would strike against any NGO or social group suspected of being aligned with the National Liberation Army (ELN). It was communicated to the police that a grave incident could happen. However, a human rights defender recently informed WOLA that: “the police just went and looked around the building but no other measures were taken to safeguard their safety.”

Illegal Armed Actors Kidnap Six Civilians (Arauca)
On January 22, illegal armed actors kidnapped six community members in Tame municipality, Arauca department . In a disturbing audio message, community members recount witnessing the kidnapping, where the armed men forced the six individuals, who do not belong to any of the armed groups, into a pick-up truck. Despite the state’s heavy militarization in the region, state authorities have failed to address the episode.

Afro-Colombians and Indigenous Displaced (Valle del Cauca)
On January 25, the Ombudsman’s office urged state authorities to attend to the hundreds of internally displaced persons who arrived in Cali from the port city of Buenaventura. Since the beginning of 2022, at least 704 displaced families, including Afro descendants and Wounaan Indigenous, arrived in Cali due to the bellic actions of illegal armed groups which, include the Gulf Clan paramilitaries, dissidents of the FARC, and local criminal factions. In November 2021, the National Afro-Colombian Peace Council (Consejo Nacional de Paz Afrocolombiano, CONPA) and Colombia’s Black Communities Process (Proceso de Comunidades Negras, PCN) had denounced the displacement of at least 500 families from the lower basin of the Calima river, in a rural area of this port, after an incursion by the Gulf Clan paramilitary.

Illegal Armed Groups Kidnap and Displace Civilians (Arauca)
On January 24, the Ombudsman’s office reported the kidnapping of three people in Saravena municipality, Arauca department. This kidnapping occurred in the context of an ongoing burst of violence that began at the beginning of the year in Arauca due to armed confrontations between d FARC dissidents and the ELN. The UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) of the United Nations reported that a total of 1,531 people were internally displaced by the recent crisis in Arauca.

Paramilitaries and Guerillas Kill Several Civilians (Putumayo)
On January 19, the Intereclesial Commission for Justice and Peace (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz, CIJP) alerted that fighting taking place between the Carolina Ramírez Front of the FARC dissidents and the Commanders of the Border paramilitary group in  in Putumayo department. Municipalities most affected are Puerto Guzmán, Puerto Leguízamo, and Puerto Asís. Community members are living in fear. Various lethal incidents are reported by CIJP. On January 18, in Piñuña Negro, the lifeless body of a man with his throat slit was found along the banks of the Putumayo River. On January 17, illegal armed actors murdered three people and burnt down a house in Cerito, Puerto Guzmán municipality. On January 13, five decomposed, lifeless bodies washed up to the shores of Puerto Asís. These have resulted in the internal displacement of 455 locals. The CIJP calls on the Duque administration to move beyond its militaristic approach to resolving conflict. Instead it should implement civil society’s demands to adhere to a humanitarian agreement. 

Mass Displacement and Confinement of Afro-Colombians (Chocó)
On January 17, the General Community Council of San Juan (ACADESAN) warned that the activity of illegal armed groups is leading to increased displacement, confinements, death threats, and murders. Those affected are Afro-Colombians residing in Istmina, Sipí, Medio San Juan, and Litoral del San Juan municipalities in Chocó, department. Since the start of 2022, ACADESAN documented that illegal armed groups were engaged in six instances of violence in Afro-Colombian territories., At least 660 individuals became internally displaced and another 1,400 are confined to their homes. ACADESAN expressed concern  of the dangers posed by landmines and the lack of humanitarian response by the State.

Displaced Indigenous Face Death Threats for Participating in Protests (Cundinamarca)
On January 25, over 450 internally displaced Indigenous families protesting in Bogotá’s national park in, denounced that they received death threats. The Indigenous, who were displaced from Cauca, Nariño, Chocó and Antioquia departments, are engaged in a months-long protest in the park to demand that action is taken to address their situation. Those threatening the Indigenous identify themselves as belonging to a dissident faction of the FARC. However, the indigenous believe that the threats may actually be coming from paramilitary groups.

Illegal Armed Actors Torture and Murder Indigenous Youth (Cauca)
On January 10, the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (Consejo Regional del Cauca, CRIC) reported finding the lifeless body of Indigenous youth Jhon Alexis Collazos. He formed part of the Indigenous guard in Caldono, Cauca department. He was found with signs of torture on his body, his hands tied, and bullet wounds in his head. The CRIC condemned Collazos’ murder and expressed concerned about the escalation of violence against Indigenous communities that has taken place since the signing of the 2016 peace accord.The CRIC notes that the state failed to establish civil institutions in these areas. The CRIC urged the international community to activate all possible protection mechanisms for the Indigenous in Cauca.

Paramilitary Groups Terrorize San Jose de Apartado Peace Community (Antioquia)
On January 14, the San José de Apartadó (SJA) Peace Community detailed the extent to which paramilitary groups have overtaken Apartadó, Antioquia department. The groups are imposing their will on the community and are allegedly aligning themselves with public officials. They are responsible for the murder of Huber Velásquez on December 17, 2021. The construction of a two kilometer road between Apartadó and San José is plagued by corruption. The SJA community alleges that wrongdoing by officials is leading to damaged and unrepaired houses and few employment opportunities for the locals. They hold Mayor Felipe Benicio Canizalez responsible for Velásquez’s death and believe he is a paramilitary sympathizer. The SJA peace community reports that those who defy the paramilitaries must choose between life or death. 

Afro-Colombians Displaced by Paramilitary Roadblock (Valle del Cauca)
On January 11, the CIJP reported that paramilitaries belonging to the Gulf Clan established a river blockade in the Afro-Colombian community of San Isidro located along the Calima River. They then proceeded to stop  boats from crossing the river and transporting persons and goods, deeply affecting the communities. Starting in February 201 paramilitaries entered the area and imposed their will b on the communities of Pichima Playa residing along the San Juan River. This has resulted in the internal displacement of Afro-Colombians and the Wounaan Indigenous located in Santa Rosa de Guayacán, Guadual, and Ceibito. The Indigenous community of Cocalito is also affected. The fighting between the ELN and paramilitaries has generated a humanitarian crisis for these communities who are unable to hunt or fish. According to the CIJP, the national government is complicit because it has denied these communities humanitarian assistance. They point out that President Iván Duque has refused to agree to a humanitarian agreement in the region and done little to respond to the human rights crisis.

INDEPAZ Releases Report on Violence (Arauca)
On January 8, INDEPAZ released a report on the violence in Arauca, underscoring that it persisted in ways beyond the clashes of armed groups. It revealed that in the first week of January, 28 individuals were massacred. The victims included two women, two minors, and four Venezuelan citizens. According to the Ombudsman’s office, as of the first week of January, there are currently 57 internally displaced individuals, 2,000 at risk of displacement, 50 missing persons from the areas of Arauquita, Tame, Fortul, and Saravena. Civil society has called for urgent humanitarian action for the families of victims, attention for the civilians who have been displaced and confined, the presence of international organizations providing humanitarian support, among other propositions. The report also outlines dates and statistics on the areas most affected by the ongoing violence in 2021, providing contextual explanations and facts regarding the current crisis.

Colombian Peace Commission Urges Action on the Humanitarian Crisis in Arauca 
On January 7, the Colombian Senate’s Peace and Post-Conflict Commission conducted a virtual evaluation session on the humanitarian crisis occurring in Arauca department, calling for a ceasefire between the ELN and dissidents of the FARC. Although the Commission had invited the Minister of Defense, the High Commissioner for Peace, the National Army’s Commander, and the Ombudsman to participate , none were in attendance. The Commission gave three recommendations: strengthen civil institutions throughout Arauca, increase public investments to strengthen social responses, and generate spaces where dialogue and participation are encouraged. The Commission also solicited the aid of the international community, diplomatic missionaries, and the Colombian and Venezuelan governments to protect the lives of residents at the border while also promising another virtual session to come that would listen to the input of the local authorities, community members, and civil organizations.