WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
5 Dec 2016 | Commentary

Worsening Security Situation for Defenders and Activists in Colombia

WOLA (The Washington Office on Latin America) has gathered a list of emergency cases that currently affect defenders in Colombia. The list includes murders, assassination attempts and threats.

Today we write to ask that you intervene in the following human rights situations:

Indigenous Leader Murdered (Tolima)

On November 30, indigenous leader Diomedes Perdomo was murdered, according to the Traditional Indigenous Authorities of Colombia (indigenous grouping that forms part of the Ethnic Commission). Mr. Perdomo was found by another member of the Nasa Wes’x community, but the perpetrator is still unidentified. The Traditional Indigenous Authorities condemn the attack and call for other social organizations to be vigilant about their safety.

 Two Indigenous Women Killed (Cauca)

On November 29, the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) reported the murder of two women in the Puracé Indigenous Community. The ONIC report that Marly Yuliet Gómez and Shirley Dayana Lozada Ramirez were murdered by unidentified armed actors and their bodies later found in the sacred Andulbio Lake.

Community Leader is Murdered (Huila)

The Peace Program of the Center for Investigation and Popular Education (CINEP) reports that Marcelina Canacue was assassinated on November 25. She was a Patriotic March leader and member of the Joint Communal Action Committee in Palermo municipality (Huila). On December 2, CINEP issued a statement denouncing her death and expressing their deep concern for the recent wave of attacks against social leaders. According to their estimates, the third semester of this year their rights violations database has registered 18 homicides and 37 death threats against social leaders.

 Assassination Attempt against Human Rights Defender (Santander)

A report from the Ombudsman’s office confirms that on October 30, human rights defender Olga Lucia Rodriguez suffered an assassination attempt at the hands of alleged paramilitaries in Bucaramanga. Ms. Rodriguez works with displaced communities in Santander. Her husband, Carlos Andres Ortiz, was impacted by a bullet when trying to shield Ms. Rodriguez from getting hurt. He is now in the Santander University Hospital.

 Attempt to Kill Land Restitution Leader (Sucre)

On November 17, Argemiro Lara, a land restitution leader and peace activist in Sucre survived an assassination attempt. According to sources, Mr. Lara saw a man aim a gun at him from a motorcycle upon leaving a meeting in Sincelejo. His security escort reacted and shot first, killing the man who was targeting to kill Mr. Lara. Mr. Lara works as a land rights activist for the La Europa case, and, a member of the Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CPDH) and the Movement of Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE). Mr. Lara has received several death threats in the past.

Attempted Murder of Trade Unionist (Valle del Cauca)

On November 29, Jose Roosvelt Lugo, president of the EMCALI trade union, suffered an assassination attempt. Mr. Lugo was on his way home in Cali, when his vehicle was surrounded by armed men on a motorcycle who attempted to shoot him. Fortunately, Mr. Roosvelt’s security body reacted and was able to save his life. The men abandoned the motorcycle on the road as they escaped.

Victims Rights’ Activist Suffers Murder Attempt (Atlantico)

On November 26, Martha Elena Diaz from MOVICE suffered a murder attempt. Several shots were fired at the armored car that was assigned to her by the National Protection Unit (UNP) outside of her home. Ms. Diaz luckily escaped unharmed. This incident appears to be linked to the fact that arrest warrants were issued against 17 soldiers involved in the extrajudicial killing case involving Ms. Diaz’s son. The orders came out just a few days prior to this incident.

Disappearance of Taita Lucho, Kofan Indigenous Authority (Putumayo)

Since November 24, the Curaca known as “Tiata Lucho” (Luis Antonio Criollo Queta), Kofan Traditional Authority of the Kofan Indigenous Reservation of Santa Rosa del Guamuéz (Putumayo) has gone missing. On that day, he arrived in the town of Samaniego, Department of Nariño and called one of his daughters, first at 4:00 in the afternoon and then at 6:00 in the afternoon. The Curaca always communicates with his wife or daughters when he is traveling, which is frequent because his services as a traditional indigenous doctor are known and appreciated. When he spoke to his daughter on Thursday the 24th, the Curaca informed her that the following day, he would go to the farm where he had been called to attend to a sick person. He said he would call her that day, Friday, November 25, but he did not call back.

Since 6:00pm Thursday November 24, there has been no communication from the Curaca to his family, which is highly unusual. According to the wife of the Curaca, the Curaca would take a car from Samaniego, Nariño, for two hours to a settlement (perhaps with the name of La Punta) and from there they would take the trail for two or three hours until arriving at the farm. The person who would take him was an acquaintance of the Curaca with the name of Segundo. At the moment, there is no further information about this person or his whereabouts.

Paramilitary Aggression in Indigenous Community (Valle del Cauca)

On November 19, the Regional Indigenous Organization of Valle del Cauca (ORIVAC) reported an attack against the Wounaan indigenous people in the Agua Clara Reservation. Indigenous leader Rolan Ismares was arriving by boat at the Reservation when shots were fired from a motorboat that had been following him. Mr. Ismares threw himself to the river for safety, which allowed the men to steal his boat. They later realized that a member of the indigenous community had been kidnapped and forced to show the delinquents the way to the Reservation, in exchange for his life. This is not the first time the Reservation is targeted, and facing the lack of protective response from the government they demand immediate respect to their territories, protection, and the guarantee of their human and territorial rights.

Displacement of Indigenous Community (Guajira)

On November 16, the Human Rights Commission of Indigenous Peoples (CDDHHPI) reported the arrival of public forces to the Jarin-jiamana Wayuu indigenous community. According to the CDDHHPI, members of Colombia’s anti-riot police (ESMAD), a police inspector, a municipal official, and a representative of the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF), displaced the community, claiming the territory is not an indigenous reservation. ESMAD reportedly beat, threatened, and tear-gassed indigenous persons, destroyed their homes, killed livestock, and desecrated their ancestral cemetery. According to CDDHHPI, 74 people, 50 children, and 7 pregnant women were severely affected.

Forced Recruitment of Youths by Paramilitaries (Chocó)

On November 15, the Inter-Ecclesial Justice and Peace Commission (Justicia y Paz) reported that an 18 year-old (who wishes to remain anonymous) was approached by armed paramilitaries, who allegedly offered him 226 USD to join their ranks. The Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) paramilitary group is increasing their recruitment of youth in the Chocó. Justicia y Paz reports that the AGC is harassing youth in the park and parking lots, and at times even following them to their homes. Some of the youth have had to flee the area due to fear and to avoid recruitment.

Paramilitaries Threaten and Harass Peace Community (Antioquia)

On December 1, the San Jose de Apartadó Peace Community reported that heavily armed men on a motorcycle who self-identified themselves as paramilitaries approached two of their members. They proceeded to harass these persons by calling them guerrillas, searched them, and stealing their money (they were carrying funds intended to pay farmers in their community). The paramilitaries said they weren’t going to let the “guerrilla” Community continue, and warned people would “face consequences” if they denounced any of this. After this, Edwin Arteaga went to the police station to denounce the theft of his car keys by the paramilitaries, but the police allegedly detained him and threatened him with six years of prison.

 Paramilitaries Issue Widespread Threat (Caquetá)

On December 1, the paramilitary group United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) issued a widespread death threat. On a pamphlet they warned that “figureheads” of the FARC guerrilla would be targeted. Also they announced that they had come to the area in order to carry out “social cleansing” operations in San Vicente, Puerto Lozada, and the department of Meta.

Paramilitary Presence in Indigenous Community (Cauca)

On December 1, the Indigenous Authorities of the Lopez Adentro Reservation reported the presence of ten paramilitaries carrying long-range weapons in their territory. The paramilitaries were going door to door in search of a number of community members. They proceeded to allegedly shoot at a minor.

Aggressions against Indigenous Authorities (Cauca)

On November 22, the Association of Indigenous Chapters of Northern Cauca (ACIN) reported aggressions against its members by the National Police. Three men in casual clothing entered the indigenous reservation of Huellas, Caloto, in a tinted car. The car was stopped and the men initially refused to identify themselves, but then revealed they were members of the police. ACIN noted they were heavily armed and carried radios. ACIN is worried about the safety threats this event poses, and concerned at the fact that the vehicle used by the supposed police officers could have been present in nearby areas where murders and attacks have occurred.

 ELN Guerrillas Continue Intimidating Indigenous Community (Nariño)

On November 29, the Awá People Indigenous Unit (UNIPA) issued a statement in which they describe that despite the signing of the peace accord with the FARC, they are still facing the effects of war at the hands of the ELN guerrillas. According to UNIPA, ELN presence has increased in the Pipalta Palví Yaguapí Reservation, where it has planted its flag and forcibly recruited minors to their ranks. A few weeks ago, the ELN allegedly threatened the Awá people in Barbacoas. On November 20, approximately 50 armed men entered the Reservation, according to UNIPA. People allegedly heard gunshots. Before the armed men left, they told the community they would return and left an explosive device on a Reservation road. There were no casualties.

 Senatorial Advisor and Trade Unionists Receive Death Threats (Cundinamarca)

On November 18, death threats were issued against Juan David Gómez Martínez, special advisor to Senator Alexander López Maya; Daniel Marín, Sintracihobi lawyer; and Andrés León, Sintracihobi judicial advisor. Sintracihobi is the child-care workers union in Colombia. Representatives of this union and Senator Lopez Maya visited the Washington, DC in August 2016. The three persons listed on the threat are all working for the protection and recognition of the human and labor rights of 120,000 Community Mothers (child-care workers) in Colombia. Mr. Gómez received a text message at 5:30pm, saying if he continued working with the Community Mothers he would be “chopped”. Mr. Marín received a different text to his own cellphone. Mr. León received an intimidating phone call saying the same thing. A screenshot from Mr. Gómez’s phone shows the following text: “we are not going to let you steal the women with your union, you SOB rat. If we have to disappear you and chop you, you and your friends are warned. No more, we warn you that you are under surveillance, stop working.”

Stigmatization and Paramilitaries’ Presence Places Rural Farmers’ Lives at Risk (Caquetá)

On December 1, the human rights ombudsman’s office issued a release that confirmed that delinquent groups dressed in black were operating in San Vicente del Caguan. While this is not new information, local residents who had previously raised the alarm of these groups’ presence were deemed as auxiliaries to the guerillas. The Departmental Coordination of Social, Environmental and Campesino Organizations of Caquetá (COORDOSAC) and the Negotiating Working Table of Illicit Crops in the Municipality of Fragua call upon international verification mechanisms to act in order to guarantee effective implementation of accord number 4 on illicit crops. Currently, social leaders are being murdered, threatened, intimidated and stigmatized and falsely accused of being part of the guerilla organizations. Public authorities who engage in such stigmatization should be reprimanded by the national government.

Afro-Colombian Organization Issues Report on Violence against Women

On November 25, the National Conference of Afro-Colombian Organizations (CNOA) issued a statement in response to the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Afro-Colombian women are more prone to all types of violence, instigated by their sex, race, social class, territory, disability, and sexual orientation. CNOA reports 588 violent deaths of women occurred between July and October 2016, 46 of which were against Afro-Colombian women (32%). CNOA demands the implementation of concrete action against these attacks, and overall respect for the life of Afro-Colombian women. CNOA forms part of the Afro-Colombian Peace Council (CONPA).

Departmental Organizations Issue Declaration on Violence against Women (Chocó)

On October 18, the women’s organizations that form part of the Inter-Ethnic Forum Solidaridad Chocó (FISCH) raised the alarm over continued violence against women in their department. While violence and discrimination against women persists, they note that the authorities do not act to sanction the perpetrators. The women worst affected by gender violence and obstacles to employment in their department are rural women. They are extremely worried about the fact that other illegal armed groups and criminals are entering the territories that the FARC guerillas have left in order to move to the points where they will lay down their arms. Concurrently, they are concerned that the State institutions in the area are too weak to confront the threats that these groups pose against women. At the same time, the increased conflict and violence between armed groups in Quibdó city is leading to murders and generalized fear of the civilian population. The organizations value the fact that the final peace accord includes a gender focus. They urge that the Colombian government and the FARC guarantee that women’s’ organizations are participant in the implementation of the accords and that the gender focus remains a priority. FISCH forms part of the Afro-Colombian Peace Council (CONPA).

Indigenous People Denounce Human Rights Violations and Threats (La Guajira)

On December 1, the ONIC issued a statement on behalf of the Wayúu people of Manaure (La Guajira). 80 indigenous travelled to Bogotá to denounce alleged human rights violations by the private company Big Group Salinas, and threats by paramilitaries. The statement quoted a member of the community saying Big Group Salinas is violating human rights and abusing their power in Manaure. The “Black Eagles” paramilitary group has also issued threats against the community. ONIC (organization that forms part of the Ethnic Commission) demands that Colombian authorities immediately address this situation.

Indigenous Community Denounces Human Rights Violations (Putumayo)

On November 21, the Indigenous Authorities of the Siona People in Buenavista traveled to Bogotá to denounce human rights violations and threats created by the onset of seismic activities by the Amerisur Exploration Company, and the lack of response by the government. In several meetings with different state actors, they demanded concrete action and protection measures to defend the rights of Siona indigenous, and protect their sacred territory. The Ombudsman promised to complete a detailed investigation of human rights violations, the Ministry of Interior agreed to implement safeguard measures in the Buenavista Reservation, the Presidential Council for Human Rights agreed to create a detailed report, and the National Protection Unit started risk evaluations for the collective Siona People to provide protection.

Human Rights Organization Requests Protection Measures (Norte de Santander)

On December 1, the human rights NGO “Progress Foundation” issued a request for protection measures to be granted to the organization. The request is based on the human rights defense work the Foundation does alongside other organizations, and the threats they have suffered recently. They have specifically been intimidated for organizing a Citizens for Peace Roundtable in 12 territories of the Norte de Santander department. The foundation claims its members and leaders are often well-known and could be easily targeted. They ask the Colombian government to guarantee their freedom of expression and assembly, and to protect their human rights.

New Report Outlines Violence Trends against Trade Unions in Colombia

On November 28, the National Labor School (ENS) published a report called “Voices that don’t stay quiet” (“Voces que no callan”), which outlines the human rights violations against trade unionists in Colombia between 2010 and 2015. Overall violence rates have decreased, but there is still concern for unionists’ safety. According to the report, there have been 186 homicides, 101 assassination attempts, 22 forced disappearances, 2,093 threats, 293 aggressions, 191 forced displacement, and 89 arbitrary detentions. Impunity rates have barely decreased, from 98% impunity in 2010 to 95% impunity in 2015. 78% of attacks were against unions in four sectors of the economy: education, agriculture, hunting and fishing, mining, and personal and communal services. The Colombian departments with most attacks were Antioquia, Valle, and Santander. 712 attacks were against women unionists. Based on the perpetrators that have been identified, paramilitaries continue to be the primary victimizers, followed by state bodies.

Aggression against Union Leader (Bolívar)

On November 27, SINTRABIOFILM (the trade union for Biofilm S.A. company workers) reported an aggression against their president, Walberto Villareal. The bus where Mr. Villareal and other workers were traveling was attacked by unidentified subjects throwing rocks. SINTRABIOFILM denounces this event as it is not the first time its members have been attacked or threatened. SINTRABIOFILM demands adjusted protection for this bus route, given that it transports workers late at night, and some workers have reportedly been attacked right after being dropped off.

Threatened Unionist’s Safety Compromised by Company (Bolivar)

On November 21, SINTRABIOFILM, the union for Biofilm S.A. workers, denounced the company’s switching of Daniel Tercero Polo Lidueñas work hours. Mr. Polo has been threatened by the Rastrojo paramilitaries because of his work as a union leader, and was put on a normal 8-5 schedule for safety reasons. The National Protection Unit, WOLA, and the national police have been effective in providing protective measures. The shift has been switched back, meaning he would have to roam about the city past midnight in dangerous conditions. SINTRABIOFILM denounces Biofilm’s violation of Mr. Polo’s rights and safety, and is concerned at the rate of violence against human rights defenders and union leaders and how it could affect Mr. Polo’s life.

Sick Workers’ Rights Violated (Bolívar)

On November 14, SINTRABIOFILM denounced Biofilm S.A. for violating the rights of two workers who are sick and require special working conditions. Hernando Rodgers and Jose Weimer Lopez have both been identified as having lost working capacity and require relocation. However, Mr. Rodgers has been assigned a position that could limit or worsen his physical condition. Mr. Weimar has been relegated to the cafeteria, despite a ruling in favor of his relocation. SINTARBIOFILM underscores that the company-assigned medic, Dr. Guillermo Vasquez, who has made no effort to comply with the workers’ needs.

Labor Conflict Has Continued for Over 7 Years (Valle del Cauca)

On November 15, SINTRALLOREDA (union representing workers of the Lloreda Company) released a statement in which they reiterate that their grievances against Lloreda have not been attended despite 7 years of ongoing petitions. The company has allegedly made individual pacts with workers for benefits and raises, but has excluded unionists altogether. The company has done its best to delay any action in response to SINTRALLOREDA’s petitions, and to forbid the freedom of assembly of its workers.

Afro-Colombian Women Issue Public Declaration (Cauca)

The First National and International Encounter of Black Women Carers of Life and Ancestral Territories met on November 20 in the rural settlement of Quinamayó. They issued a declaration reaffirming their commitment to defending ethnic rights to identity, territory, autonomy, participation, and free assembly. They further reject illegal and unconstitutional mining, and the invasion of multinational companies in ethnic territories, which they claim have brought violence, delinquency, and sexual abuse.

Communities Demand Resettlement from Companies (Cesar)

On November 28, CoMundo and the Thought and Social Action (PAS) accompaniment organizations issued a statement outlining the situation of the El Hatillo community. 190 families located in La Loma settlement in Cesar have not been granted resettlement by the mining companies Prodeco-Glencore, Drummond, and Colombian National Resources (CNR) despite a court order issued in 2010. The statement says that despite four and a half years of negotiations and discussions between the community and the companies, the process has still not advanced, and the community is facing grave risk and uncertainty. On November 11 the community submitted a claim against the mining companies, citing the rights to health, dignified life, and dignified shelter, territory, and food supplies. They demand immediate attention for senior citizens, the conclusion of the Resettlement Action Plan (PAR) within a month, and the suspension of mining activities until resettlement is effectuated.

Displaced Communities Demand Change (Valle del Cauca)

On November 21, the Association for Investigation and Social Action (Nomadesc) reported a meeting took place regarding the Plan Jarillón. In the meeting, communities in the city of Cali who were displaced by orders by Maurice Armitage (the Mayor of Cali) demanded the creation of a technical dialogue table to heed the communities’ grievances. According to Nomadesc, government representatives at the meeting avoided answering to the claims of the community members of systemic human rights violations during the forced displacements. They allegedly further refused to carry investigations of irregularities committed by the Plan Jarillón management, the city council, and the public force.

Avianca Unionists Continue to Experience Labor Violations

The Association of Civilian Aviators of Colombia (ACDAC) and Association of Flight Auxiliaries of Colombia (ACAV) report that Avianca Company continues to repress the formation of trade unions and to weaken the right to collective bargaining. The proliferation of the model known as “collective pacts” (a misnomer that stands for individual worker agreements with the company and not collective agreements negotiated with unions) on the part of the company is leading to the disappearance of collective bargaining agreements made with the unions. Workers who leave the unions and agree to these “collective pacts” receive benefits for doing so and are favored by the company. The weakening of the collective bargaining agreements in turn is leading to a worsening of labor conditions and protection of workers’ rights. Despite the fact that that the unions won the legal suits T-069 of 2015 and T-489 of 2014 that order Avianca to rectify this situation and uphold collective bargaining agreements, the company continues to avoid doing so. This is, in spite of the International Labour Organization, issuing subsequent recommendations that Colombia rectify the use of “collective pacts” to substitute collective bargaining agreements.

This climate, in addition to weakening labor rights for workers, poses a security risk for all who board these planes. According to these unions, pilots are not given autonomy in determining how much fuel is needed for their planes and they are under pressure to cut fuel use. Furthermore, pilots and others are forced to operate the planes while ill or insufficiently rested or they risk losing their jobs As such, this could lead to more accidents like the one that recently occurred when a plane carrying a Brazilian soccer team crashed near Medellin, Colombia leading to 76 deaths.

Unionists Reject Taxation Proposals (Cundinamarca)

On November 23, Sintraseguridadsocial (union representing workers in the social services sector) expressed their concerns over the impact the proposed tax and fiscal reforms would have on pensions. According to a report done by this union, this reform would violate constitutional norms, severely affect the right to “living wage” pension, and reduce retired workers’ access to health.

Colombian Government Outlines Prior Consultation Law

On November 11, La Silla Vacía, a Colombian news outlet, published an article outlining the main points of the law. The law is important because it entails consulting Indigenous, Afro-Colombians, palenqueros, raizales, and rom communities, if they agree with the realization of large projects in their territories. According to La Silla Vacía, the government is suggesting the creation of an agency specifically for prior consultation, imposing time limits and stricter attendance rules for the consultations to take place, increasing indigenous representation, having a single consultation with all the ethnic groups in the same territory instead of individual ones, and creating a centralized registry of ethnicities.

Some of the more contentious points, according to the article, are the idea that some government mechanisms whereby they could avoid prior consultations will remain protected, and that ethnic communities are not allowed to veto projects, even when the Constitution allows it. It is highly important that U.S. authorities solicit the opinion of the indigenous and afrocolombian members of the Ethnic Commission concerning this law and guarantee that their recommendations are taken into account by the Colombian government.

New Evidence in Wrongfully Convicted Afro-Colombian Asylee from DC Case Proves No Wrongdoing

In April 2012, Humberto Garces Lenis, returned to Colombia to visit family in Cali. Upon arrival in Bogota, he was wrongfully imprisoned and convicted of a crime. Mr. Garces fled to the U.S. after surviving an assassination attempt that lead to his father, a trade unionist in Buenaventura’s death in 2000. While living in DC from 2001 until 2012, Mr. Garces was a community activist with the Manuel Zapata Olivella Center at Wesley United Methodist Church. He spent one year in a hospital recovering from the impact of five bullets. He fled because as a witness to the murder his life was in danger. The crime of fraud that Mr. Garces was charged with took place while Mr. Garces was living in the U.S. On November 18, crime experts proved that the fingerprints and signatures that resulted in the fraud charges are not Mr. Garces. As such, Mr. Garces should be cleared from any wrong doing and travel papers issued for his return to the U.S. Currently, Mr. Garces is separated from his 3 and a half year old son that lives in the U.S.

Trade Union Ends Nationwide Hunger Strike

On November 25, SINALTRAINAL, (union representing workers in the production of beverages), ended their nationwide hunger strike. The strike had begun on November 21 in several Coca Cola factories throughout the country as a means to protest violation of workers’ rights. SINALTRAINAL reached an agreement with the Coca Cola Company and revoked the recent fires of Alvaro Navarro, Alexander Rincon, Juan Manuel Concha, and Javier Correa. Coca Cola also agreed to pay outstanding salaries and made a commitment to not undertake reprisals against SINALTRAINAL members. Finally, they agreed to hold a series of meetings with SINALTRAINAL to address and resolve issues of contention. SINALTRAINAL reiterates the importance of staying informed and aware, as similar agreements have often been disregarded.

Trade Union Reaches Agreement with Company (Valle del Cauca)

On November 29, SINTRAEMSDES (trade union representing workers of the telecommunications company TIGO-UNE) reported an end to a 22-day long hunger strike after a meeting with TIGO, the Ministry of Labor, and the national president of TIGO. The agreements include non-retaliation, ending employer substitution, and implementing a consultation table starting on December 6 to discuss further grievances.

We ask that you please take action in the above cases. For further information, please contact us at [email protected] or (202) 797-2171.

December 2, 2016