WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

Indigenous woman from the Embera Katio Community Protests Displacement (Photo by Fredy Builes/Getty Images)

14 Mar 2023 | News

Protection for Social Leaders and Ethnic Communities Remains Dire

Dear all,  

Below you will find the security incidents and human rights abuses WOLA received since December 2022. We are deeply concerned about the on-going violence, insecurity and attacks faced by human rights defenders and entire Indigenous and Afrodescendant communities. Despite the change in rhetoric and announced efforts to improve security for social leaders and conflict affected communities, we do not see increased of protection for these on the ground.  

We urge U.S. policymakers to jointly advance policies that address these situations during the U.S.-Colombia High Level Dialogue taking place later this month. In particular, we urge the U.S. and Colombian governments to put together a joint strategy for monitoring and advancing the implementation of the Ethnic Chapter of the 2016 peace accord.  

Colombia-US-Europe Coalition Condemn Death Threats (Santander and Magdalena) 

On January 30, the Colombia-Europe-United States Coordination (La Coordinación Colombia- Europa- Estados Unidos, CCEEU) condemning threats issued by the Gaintanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia, AGC) against civil society in Santander and Magdalena. In a pamphlet signed by the Luis Alfonso Peralta structure and the Arisides Meza bloc of the AGC, they declare eight civil society organizations as military targets. Members of these organizations also received threats via WhatsApp. CCEEU urges the national government and the Attorney General’s Office to address these threats. The National Protection Unit (Unidad Nacional de Protección, UNP) is asked to provide the security measures necessary so that these leaders can continue to do their work. CCEEU considers these threats to be a violation of the ceasefire agreement the High Commissioner for Peace brokered with various illegal groups including the AGC. As such, they ask that the High Commissioner for Peace hold the AGC accountable for these actions.  

Paramilitary Group Expands Presence (Magdalena) 

On January 30, the Regional Corporation for the Defense of Human Rights (Corporación Regional para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos, CREDHOS) raised the alarm over the risks human rights defenders are facing in Magdalena Medio. CREDHOS states that the AGC is the main armed actor committing abuses in this region. They are concerned with the AGC’s territorial expansion in Magdalena. Since this began they record an increased number of murders, threats, and internal displacements.  

CREDHOS asks the Colombian State to comply with point 3.4 that guarantees the security for social leaders, human rights defenders, and civilians of the 2016 peace agreement. They call on the Attorney General to investigate crimes committed against human rights defenders. Also, that the AG track down the illegal armed group’ sources of financing, and determine their relationship with third parties, as a way to dismantle them.   

In a second statement issued on January 30, CREDHOS laments the homicides taking place in Barrancabermeja, Santander. They note that the AGC is intimidating the population by installing their public squares and in neighborhoods, and painting graffiti on houses. Shortly after CREDHOS issued an SOS in October of 2022, illegal armed actors murdered their colleague Filadelfo Anzola.  

In a third statement issued that day, January 30th, CREDHOS points out protests are taking place in the region against the National Agency for Environmental Licenses (Agencia Nacional de Licencias Ambientales, ANLA) and the Santander Regional Autonomous Corporation (Corporación Autónoma Regional de Santander,) for issuing multinational licenses for coal mining exploitation in the Carmen del Chucuri municipality. CREDHOS is worried about the irreversible environmental damage this mining activity will cause. The note that the mining projects will exacerbate the death threats that already exist against social leaders and environmental defenders in the southern part of Bolivar.  

Landmine Kills Indigenous Awá Guard (Nariño) 

On January 29, the Global Network of Peace and People (Pueblos Paz Red Global) condemned the passing of Berna Nastacuas Pai. Pai, a member of the Indigenous Guard of the Awá El Gran Sabalo, was killed by a landmine in Tumaco, Nariño. Landmines in this region have restricted indigenous peoples’ possibility to hunting and collect their plants necessary for their traditional medicine.  

Caribbean Region Facing Security Challenges (Multiple) 

CCEEU and the Solidarity Committee Foundation with Political Prisoners (Fundación Comité de Solidaridad con Presos Políticos, FCSPP) find illegal armed group activity taking in place throughout the Caribbean region to be alarming. The AGC placed banners and graffiti in multiple areas causing an escalation of anxiety for civilians. The groups say the actions committed by the AGC are a violation of the ceasefire that exists between AGC and the Colombian government within the Total Peace effort. While AGC presence is declining overall in the country, it appears to be increasing in the Caribbean. The security situation is decreasing leading to increased femicides and homicides. 

Death Threats to Social Leader and Family (North Santander) 

On January 22, the Mothers for Peace in Catatumbo (Madres de Catatumbo por la Paz, MCP) condemned attacks against their organization’s President. MCP President Carmen Garcia and her family received two death threats . MCP works to advance peace and the defend the rights for women, children and adolescents. They worry that this will be an obstacle for them to continue to do the work.  

Two Indigenous Wayuu Children Die (La Guajira) 

On January 20, the Wayuu Shipping Association (Asociacion Shipia Wayuu, ASW) reported that two, two-year-old Indigenous girls  died due to hunger and thirst. They formed part of the Chupuipana authority. ASW states that the increasing death toll of Wayuu children dying is unacceptable. They demand that the State guarantee their right to life and social protest.  

Child Deaths from Malnutrition Increasing (Multiple) 

On January 17, El Tiempo reported on the increase in death of minors due to malnutrition. From 2018-2022, over 18,000 cases of acute, moderate, and serve malnutrition in children under 5 took place. The majority of the severe malnutrition cases of children are Indigenous (55%) and 5% are Afro-Colombian (5%). Most were recorded in la Guajira. These deaths show that governmental action to reduce mortality of ethnic children is ineffective. The country’s Comptroller calls upon the State to prioritize the lives of children,-especially Indigenous, in the country.  

Security and Humanitarian Crisis Imposed by Armed Groups (Valle de Cauca) 

On December 21, the Yurumanguí River Community Council (Consejo Comunitario del Río Yurumanguí) reported an increased mobilization of armed actors in the region. The upper area of the River is experiencing an alarming security and humanitarian crisis. There armed actors are attacking boats carrying humanitarian aid in the river. While civilians were caught in the crossfire between groups, no one was hurt. The Community Council is urging the State to guarantee their right to remain in their territories by implementing the collective reparations they’ve proposed. They urge local and national authorities to actions that guarantee that tragic events do not occur.  

Defenders of Victims of Police Violence Threatened (Valle De Cauca)  

On December 25, Berenice Celeita Ayalon, Director and Lina Yajaira Pelaez Celada, Socio-Legal Team of (Asociación para la Investigacion y Accion Social, NOMADESC) received a death threat message. Before receiving this threat, an unknown man who used the guise of selling items was seen in front of NOMADESC’s office in Cali. There exists reason to believe that what he was truly doing was gathering intel on NOMADESC’s staff. Days after this incident, a suitcase was found outside the office. No owner of the suitcase could be identified producing a lot of anxiety and stress on NOMADESC staff. Eight days later, a bullet was placed at the entrance of the NOMADESC office. NOMADESC made multiple inquiries and found no record of injury or robbery reports made by neighbors. They were unable to find any evidence of who could have left the bullet after reviewing the footage on their security cameras. 

The persecution and threats against NOMADESC stem from the fact that the organization is engaged in human rights cases relation to the 2021 National Strike in Cali. Such cases involve extrajudicial executions, personal injuries, torture, and death threats. 

Critical Situation Facing Awá Indigenous Communities and Leaders (Nariño) 

On December 21, the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) raised concerns about the armed confrontations taking place in Awá territory. In particular, indigenous civilians are caught between the crossfire taking place between illegal armed groups in Hojal la Turbia and El Gran Sábalo reserve (Tumaco and Barbacoas municipalities) and Quejuambí communities of Feliciana and Santa Rosita (Tumaco). On December 24, one thousand indigenous Awá families find themselves confined due to these groups in the Sangulpí Palmar and Piedra Sellada reservations (Tumaco). The armed actors are not allowing civilians to exit the area. Even if they are in need of basic necessities and access to health services. They are blocking pregnant women, children and adolescents from leaving.  

The Organization Indigenous Unity of the Awá People (UNIPA) states that illegal armed actors intimidated indigenous leaders during the community assembly. This occured in the Pialapi Pueblo Viejo de Ricaurte reservation (Nariño) on December 19. These actions are placing the indigenous self-government and the community at risk. On December 12, Jairo Mauricio Guanga Ortiz, 22-year old from the Piedra Grande community of the Gran Rosario Awá Indigenous Resguardo (Tumaco) was killed. 

Ethnic Organizations Want Participation in ELN Dialogues (Multiple)  

On December 15, the Interethnic Truth Commission of the Pacific Region (Comisión InterÉtnica de la verdad del región Pacifico, CIVP) published a statement on the preliminary  peace negotiations between the government and the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, ELN). CIVP see the first round of negotiations in Caracas as positive. They value the fact that the UN Observation and the Catholic Church are accompanying the process. The negotiations are needed to de-escalate the armed conflict in the Pacific region. However, they stress that civil society participation is necessary. They recommend that local, ethnic, and territorial organizations should not merely be consulted. They should form part of the agreements related to peace implementation. CIVP calls on all armed actors in the Pacific to agree to a unilateral ceasefire.  

Armed Groups Internally Displaces Afro-Descendant Community (La Guajira) 

On December 14, the General Community Council of San Juan (Consejo Comunitario General de San Juan, ACADESAN) reported that  illegal armed groups are attacking their territory. An armed group attacked two people which resulted in the death of Santiago Felipe Cáceres. During the attack, the armed men aggressively searched peoples’ homes causing damage and stealing goods. As a result, 40 families were internally displaced to the community of San Miguel, and another 10 families to the urban areas of Istmina. ACADESAN states their communities have suffered four massive internal displacements in 2022 and multiple confinements. They have not received timely or adequate humanitarian assistance.  

Social Leader Killed (Tolima) 

According to the Institute of Studies for Development and Peace (Instituto de Estudios para el Desarrollo y la Paz, INDEPAZ) on December 13th, well recognized social leader Jesus Maria Mora was killed in Dolores, Tolima. Mora was involved in his community, and frequently participated in sports activities. INDEPAZ notes that several armed groups operate in this area including the Transit of the Dagoberto Ramos Mobil Column (Transito de la Columna Movil Dagoberto Ramos). 

Malnutrition Worsens in Indigenous Wayuu Communities (La Guajira) 

On December 13, ASW reported that two more Indigenous children, aged 5 and 8, passed away from causes related to malnutrition. They urge President Petro, local authorities, and the Constitutional Court to address the continuous calls the organization has made to improve the human rights conditions and lives of Wayuu children. 

Massacre Kills Three Youth (Meta)  

INDEPAZ reported that the 94th massacre of 2022 took place in Colombia on December 12. Three young men were assassinated in Puerto Gaitan, Meta. INDEPAZ states the three persons were killed by armed men who acted as aggressors in the zone. Armed groups operating in this area include the dissident Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias, FARC), the South Eastern Bloc of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (Bloque Surroriental de la Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), AGC and ELN.  

Rural Community Leader Assassinated (Guaviare)  

On December 8, Viso Mutop reported that Pedro Alirio Guerrero, a social leader from San Jose, Guaviare was killed. Viso Mutop rejects this homicide and points out that several social leaders were killed recently in this area.  

Trade Unionist Killed (Antioquia) 

On December 6, INDEPAZ reported that the body of trade unionist Ricardo Osorio was found. Mr. Osorio was reported missing on December 3. In this area various illegal armed groups operate with the AGC having a dominant presence.  

Forced Eradication of Coca Plants Continues (Putumayo) 

On December 6, the Intereclesial Commission for Justice and Peace (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz, CIJP) reported that four anti-narcotic police helicopters were carrying out forced eradications of coca crops in Putumayo. This resulted in the destruction of seven families’ properties and legitimate crops. have Community members are volunteering to help these families with their crops. CIJP states that the police continuously ignore and attack the civilian population. CIJP calls for forced eradications to end, and urges for real changes in anti-drug policy.  

Indigenous Child Kidnapped (North Santander) 

In a December 3 statement the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (La Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia, ONIC) denounced the kidnapping of a seven month old Indigenous Yukpa girl. The family of the child requests that the Office of the Attorney General and the National Police find the girl’s location, and immediately return her safely to her home. ONIC reiterates that they’ve raised the alarm on the poor living conditions experienced by the Yukpa communities. The Yukpa are suffering systemic violations to their rights to education, health and food. ONIC asks that Colombian institutions elaborate a plan so that Yukpa children can be in constant contact with their family. 

National Human Rights Defenders Prize Threatened (Cundinamarca)  

On November 22, the National Human Rights Defenders Prize received a death threat via social media. We urge the Colombian authorities to investigate this threat and bring its perpetrator to justice. The authorities must also guarantee the safety and security of the Diakonia personnel and all the winners of the National Human Rights Defenders Prize.  

Grave Humanitarian Crisis (Chocó) 

According to a report from CIJP on November 18, the Indigenous Emberá Communities are experiencing a grave humanitarian crisis in Chocó.  Civilians are caught in the crossfire of the armed groups fighting in indigenous territories. CIJP’s is concerned that if this continues the Indigenous Emberá Dóbida “Miácora” community is likely confront the ELN and AGC who are encroaching on their autonomous territories. The Miácora community strongly objects to armed groups having a presence in their territories. They say this infringes upon international humanitarian law because it places civilians at risk of death and is causing a humanitarian crisis.  

We greatly appreciate your efforts to strengthen human rights in Colombia. If further information is needed, please contact me at (202) 487-7567 or gsanchez@wola.org 


Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli  

Director for the Andes  

March 13, 2023