WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
12 Apr 2017 | Commentary

April Update: Colombian Human Rights Defenders Under Attack

Colombia’s alarming wave of attacks on human rights defenders, particularly community activists in rural areas, is continuing apace. WOLA has been monitoring these cases closely, and is working with our partners to ensure that the Colombian government protects these activists from further threats, and that officials carry out investigations and prosecute those responsible. Below is a list of the incidents that have occurred since our last monthly update (see March’s update).

We would also like to specifically highlight the dire security situation in the Pacific region, as detailed in two statements issued by the Catholic Church Inter-Ethnic Forum of Choco (FISCH) and indigenous authorities, as well as, the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES).

Together, we stand with our partners in Colombia in calling for justice.

  • Indigenous Leader Murdered (Cauca)
    On March 22, the Indigenous Council of the Paez of Corinto Reservation reported the assassination of social leader Javier Oteca. The council attributed his murder to the private security detail of INCAUCA, a sugar refinery company. Mr. Oteca was shot a few meters from a military and police post in the Corinto municipality.
  • Rural Community Leader Assassinated (Cauca)
    On February 27, Patriotic March condemned the assassination of rural worker Éder Cuetia Conda. Two unknown armed men shot him repeatedly in the public establishment of El Tablazo in La Paz municipality.
  • Assassination of Community Leader by Armed Groups (Cauca)
    On April 1, Contagio Radio reported the murder of Jairo Arturo Chilito Muñoz, member of the Cauca Teachers Association (ASOINCA). He was shot multiple times by armed men believed to be paramilitaries.
  • Indigenous Minor Assassinated (Nariño)
    On March 30, the Indigenous Commission on Human Rights condemned the murder of 16-year-old Jhonatan Ferney Rodríguez Guana. Unknown armed men repeatedly shot him at his home. He was a member of the Awá Indigenous Reservation.
  • Indigenous Minor Killed by Antipersonnel Mine (Nariño)
    On February 21, the indigenous community of Awá reported the murder of Armando Guanga Pai, 15-year-old member of the Awá Indigenous Reservation. He was killed by a landmine while working at his farm near the Tumaco municipality.
  • Land Claimants Targeted for Murder (Chocó)
    On March 26, the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission reported that land claimants Manuelita Santana and Richard Guaraona were repeatedly shot by armed men from the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces (AGC).
  • Rural Worker Attacked (Cauca)
    Patriotic March reported that on March 14, two armed men ambushed Víctor Manuel Córdoba Muñoz while he was traveling in a Contraoccidental company vehicle. Mr. Córdoba was shot in the arm while attempting to flee but received medical attention nearby.
  • Police Inspector Kidnapped (Cauca)
    The Indigenous Commission on Human Rights reported that on March 8, an armed group claiming to be guerillas from the FARC-EP kidnapped Maximiliano Sánchez Ortiz, police inspector and indigenous community member.
  • Human Rights Activist Assaulted (Cauca)
    On March 5, Patriotic March reported that Evelio Samboni Calvache, member of the Argelia University Students Committee, was held hostage by two armed men. He was bound and held inside a van, but released with the warning to stop his campaign for peace.
  • Rural Community Leader Attacked (Cauca)
    Patriotic March reported that on March 11, Jorge Eliecer Castaño from the Cajibio Campesino Workers Association was ambushed at his home by a group of six armed men who identified themselves as members of the ELN guerilla group. The assailants bound Mr. Castaño and robbed him of approximately $20 million COP.
  • Ethnic Communities Report Attacks by State Actors (Nariño)
    The Awá Indigenous Community Board (MCAWA) reported that on March 28, various members of the police force and national army entered the Awá of Inda Guacaray Indigenous Reservation. During this disturbance, these armed groups injured eight indigenous residents as a result of excessive force.
  • Indigenous Community Member Injured by Antipersonnel Mine (Chocó)
    The Association of Indigenous Councils of Chocó (OREWA) reported that on March 19, Dairito Rubiano Mecheche, member of the indigenous community of Pichindé, lost his leg to a landmine near his home. This incident caused panic across the region, and community members are now confined to their homes out of fear.
  • Community Leader Targeted for Murder (Antioquia)
    Tierra y Paz, a land claimants association, and the Instituto Popular de Capacitación reported that on March 21, Wilson David Quiroz, a land claimant and social activist, traveled to his family farm in the Turbo municipality with his family and two protective escorts. Residents of the region warned Mr. Quiroz that employees of Bernardo Gómez, current land holder, had plans to assassinate him and his wife. He was targeted because of his work as a land claimant.
  • Armed Groups Threaten Human Rights Defenders (Cauca)
    On March 15, a heavily armed man arrived at the home of Alejandra Parra Guzmán, as reported by Patriotic March. He attacked Ms. Parra and demanded she call Jonathan Enrique Centeno Muñoz, a fellow human rights defender. She was instructed to tell him Mr. Muñoz to end his activism and leave the region. The assailant eventually left Ms. Parra’s home, but later sent threats to her personal cellphone.
  • Harassment by Police of University Students (Cauca)
    On February 28, Patriotic March informed that during a peaceful protest, National Police captain Ronaldo Munera sprayed student protestors with tear gas. Other police officers launched a stun grenade at student Eyver Geovany Pizo Mompotes, who was injured in the exchange.
  • Threats against Community Leaders (Cauca)
    On March 28, Corporacion Justicia y Dignidad reported that Jhonatan Pino Daza, a man claiming to be from the National Protection Commission entered an indigenous community asking for various human rights defenders. He presented false documents to indigenous authorities for the purpose of gathering information against human rights defenders Rafael Ulcué, Sofía López, and Alexander Montaña.
  • Black Eagles Threaten to Eliminate Human Rights Leaders (Cauca)
    On March 24, the Black Eagles paramilitary group distributed pamphlet death threats alerting social leaders and their families that they will be killed. The pamphlets targeted the indigenous governor of the Huellas Caloto reservation, the adviser to the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC), a CRIC regional peace defender, indigenous guards, and community members of the Huella Caloto indigenous reservation. This is the sixth pamphlet death threat received this year.
  • Threats against Human Rights Defender (Putumayo)
    On March 6, the Indigenous Commission on Human Rights condemned threats made against Robinson López Descanse, human rights defender and indigenous leader. Two armed men entered the home of the indigenous community’s spiritual leader, whom Mr. Robinson frequently visited. They questioned the leader about Mr. Robinson’s whereabouts but were unable to find him. Mr. Robinson has been victim of sustained threats from illegal armed groups because of his role as a defender.
  • Community Leaders Threatened by Criminal Band (Northern Santander)
    On March 29, Juventud Rebelde condemned threats against human rights defenders Guillermo Quintero and Junior Alexander Maldonado. Juan Carlos Quintero, leader of Patriotic March in Northern Santander also received threats to his personal cellphone from the Northern Santander Urabeños criminal group.
  • Paramilitaries Threaten Indigenous Leader (Arauca)
    On April 3, the Joel Sierra Foundation reported multiple death threats against human rights defender José Viente Murillo Tobo. He received a call on his cellphone from an individual who identified himself as the commander of the Black Eagles paramilitary group declaring he was a “military target.”
  • Insufficient Measures for Threatened Afro-Colombian Journalist (Valle del Cauca)
    We are concerned about the safety and security of Jefferson Montaño Palacio, journalist in Cali for various media including labor unions. Mr. Palacio has altered the National Protection Unit (UNP) of the necessity to improve the measures he receives given his level of risk but has not received a favorable response. We ask that U.S. and Colombian authorities address this situation.
  • Extortion of Rural Leader (Cauca)
    On March 8, Patriotic March expressed concern for the safety of Elías Mosquera, President of the ASPROGES rural workers association. Mr. Mosquera received a call to his personal cell phone from an individual who identified himself as a member of the ELN guerilla group. The caller demanded $5 million COP to buy military equipment or he would retaliate against Mr. Mosquera’s family. He also warned that antipersonnel mines were planted around Mr. Mosquera’s estate and that he should leave the municipality.
  • Stigmatization against Trade Unionists (Nariño)
    The Awá Indigenous Community Board reported instances of stigmatization against trade unionists by ASTORGA, an oil palm company. On March 17, ASTORGA released a newspaper bulletin stating that the names and locations of eight trade unionist leaders had been identified. With the help of police troops, they sought to criminalize these individuals.
  • Ethnic Communities Caught in Crossfire of the Armed Forces (Chocó)
    The Chocó Mayor’s Office reported that on March 24, a shootout occurred between the ELN guerilla group and the AGC paramilitaries. As a result, residents from several communities in the area were forcibly displaced, while the Nueva Afro-Colombian community remains caught in the crossfire. Three displaced members from the Blanca indigenous community left the area to seek help from the government, but are now reported missing.
  • Indigenous Leaders Expressed Concern about the Declining Security Situation (Chocó)
    On March 3, the Indigenous Councils of Chocó reported that in their region paramilitary presence is on the rise. These armed groups are filling the vacuum left behind by the FARC guerrillas and are exerting territorial control within ethnic communities.