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

Colombia Human Rights Update: Indigenous, Afro-Colombians and Social Leaders Face Grave Security Crisis

Violence and death threats against human rights defenders, trade unionists, journalists, indigenous and Afro-Colombian leaders, and other community activists continues at a furious pace. WOLA is monitoring these cases closely, and has published information on attacks in various monthly updates (see April and March). As implementation of the peace process advances, WOLA will continue to publish information on violence against human rights defenders, as their physical security and holding accountable those responsible for these acts will be fundamental for the long-term success of the peace process.

Below is a second installment of our April update. It contains a list of the incidents reported by our partners in the region.

  • Authorities Must Act to Stop Killings of Social Leaders
    Following the assassination of two indigenous leaders in a period of 36 hours, WOLA called on the Colombian government to take immediate action to implement the sections of the peace agreement with the FARC that pertain to security for human rights defenders, guarantees for the political opposition, and the dismantlement of illegal armed groups. As WOLA explains, the physical security of activists, community leaders, and FARC guerrillas is essential to guarantee that the peace process is sustainable in the long term.
  • Afro-Colombian Community Leader Assassinated (Chocó)
    On March 4, the Inter-Ecclesial Commission for Justice and Peace (Justicia y Paz) condemned the murder of Jeiler Chalá, an Afro-Colombian member of the Domingodó Community Council. According to locals, the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) informed members of the community that they were responsible for his death. The armed group then threatened Bladimir Palacios, the community council’s legal representative stating he would be the next one targeted.
  • Nasa Indigenous Leader Murdered (Cauca)
    The Association of Indigenous Cabildos in Northern Cauca (ACIN) reported that on April 19, Gerson Acosta, governor of the Kite Kiwe indigenous reservation, was assassinated. Mr. Acosta’s murder was followed by death threats against several human rights defenders, including Margarita Hílamo, coordinator of ACIN women’s program.
  • Wayuu Human Rights Defender Assassinated (La Guajira)
    A recent communication by the Wayuu indigenous leadership notes that they reported the murder of their legal representative, Rafael Lubo Aguilar in December 2016. Since then there has been an increase in threats against Wayuu human rights defenders. Protection of these leaders is required.
  • Awa Indigenous Murdered (Nariño)
    On April 20, the Awa indigenous group reported the assassination of three Awa indigenous members. On April 16, unknown armed men in the Tumaco municipality assassinated Pedro Nel Pai Pascal and Jhonny Marcelo Cuajiboy Pascal. An unknown assailant in the Barbacoas municipality also killed Ever Goyes.
  • ACIN Indigenous Community Members Attacked (Cauca)
    On April 6, ACIN reported an assault on Josefina Cuetia Ramos and Ricuarte Cuetia. Two armed men shot the couple in their home in the Jambaló indigenous reservation. Ms. Cuetia was killed and Mr. Cuetia was critically injured.
  • Family Member of Human Rights Defender Assaulted (Cauca)
    On April 7, the People’s Congress reported the kidnapping of a family member of Marylén Serna Dalinas, a human rights defender and spokeswoman for their organization. The woman whose name is not being publicized is a rural worker from Popayán. She was abducted and bound by three armed men who forced her into a vehicle. The assailants pressed her for information on Ms. Serna as they tortured and sexually assaulted her.
  • Human Rights Activist Persecuted (Cauca)
    On Abril 4, Patriotic March reported that Darnelly Rodriguez Ordoñez was followed and threatened by two armed individuals on a motorcycle as she was leaving her university. Ms. Rodriguez is a human rights defender with the Patriotic March. At a stoplight, one of the assailants pointed a gun at Ms. Rodriguez and demanded her cellphone. The second attacker reached into her vehicle and removed a bag that contained all of Ms. Rodriguez’s documents regarding her work as a defender, including reports of human rights violations.
  • Indigenous Leader Threatened by Armed Groups (La Guajira)
    On March 14, the Colombian Indigenous Authorities (AICO) informed of repeated threats and harassment against Aura María Barros Guerrero, legal representative for the Suchovin Wayuu Association. She received multiple death threats to her cellphone and through pamphlets delivered to her home. According to AICO, Ms. Barros experienced a break-in at her home and was also followed and harassed by a man on a motorcycle as she was headed to work.
  • Community Leaders Targeted for Murder (Antioquia)
    On April 4, the Inter-Ecclesial Commission for Justice and Peace (Justicia y Paz) reported that leaders of Communities of Self-Determination, Life and Dignity of Cacarica (CAVIDA) were warned of a plot to assassinate a group of human rights defenders. A close source to the AGC paramilitaries confirmed that approximately seven humanitarian zone leaders were targets because they served as “informants” for Justicia y Paz.
  • Indigenous Community Attacked by Army (Cauca)
    On April 5, the ACIN reported that the Colombian Armed Forces occupied the Guadualito indigenous reservation during a military operation. According to ACIN, members of the indigenous reservation were shot at repeatedly and four unknown individuals were apprehended and taken from the territory.
  • Armed Groups Threaten Human Rights Defenders (Cauca)
    On April 6, the Patriotic March reported threats against Gerardo Barona Avirama, Luis Elmer Fernandez, and María Elena Gómez by the Black Eagles paramilitary group. The threats were sent to their personal cellphones and warned the social leaders that they would be killed, along with their families, for their work as defenders.
  • Wave of Threats against Trade Unionists (La Guajira)
    On April 21, the USTRIAL trade union organization reported a series of threats made by the Capital DC Block neo-paramilitary group. The targets of these threats are unionists leading a 50-day protest in the Manaure municipality. 
  • Human Rights Defender Threatened (Valle del Cauca)
    On March 31, Justicia y Paz reported a series of death threats against Yasmani Grueso, the co-creator of Puente Nayero Humanitarian Space in Buenaventura. On March 25, two armed men from the AGC paramilitaries threatened Mr. Grueso in his home and said they would not allow another humanitarian space in the region. On March 31, Mr. Grueso’s wife received a pamphlet death threat at her home.
  •  Wave of Threats against Nasa Indigenous Leaders (Cauca)
    On April 19, the Indigenous Commission on Human Rights informed of a series of threats against Oscar Eduardo Escue Ciclos, Nelos Pacue, Hector Casamachin, Luis Carlos Cruiz, Ilder Escue, Luz Eida Julicue, Emilce Paz, Arcadio Meztizo, Yovany Yule, and Sibares Escue. Each indigenous leader received threats due to their work as defenders of indigenous rights in Cauca.
  • Social Leaders Threatened by FARC Dissidents (Vaupes)
    On April 5, the Indigenous Commission on Human Rights reported threats by FARC’s First Front dissidents against community leaders Imelda Restrepo Sánchez, Remigio Sánchez, Faustino Martínez, Patricio Suarez, and Mario Yujulo Yukuna. According to the report, the indigenous leaders were accused of collaborating with the military.
  •  Trade Unionists Threatened in La Guajira
    In the Manuare municipality, trade unionists from SINTRABGSALINAS and SINTRASALINAS have held a hunger strike for over 50 days. According to the trade Union for the Food Industry (USTRIAL) these protestors received death threats from the Capital North Bloc- North Zone paramilitary group. USTRIAL finds it unconscionable that Colombia’s Ministry of Defense denies the existence of paramilitaries in the country.
  •  Persecution of Wayuu Indigenous Leader (La Guajira)
    On March 7, Javier Rojas Uriana, legal representative for the Shipia Wayuu Association informed the State Prosecutor’s Office of a social media post by a political leader in the Guajira, which falsely accused Mr. Rojas of being involved in the 2016 death of the Wayuu boy John Jader Uriana. Mr. Rojas has been representing Wayuu communities internationally and raising awareness on the severe malnutrition crisis facing Wayuu children and pregnant women. In March at WOLA’s invitation Mr. Rojas, investigative reporter Gustavo Guillen and Colombian Senators Alexander Lopez Maya and Sofia Gaviria raised awareness of this crisis in a visit to Washington, DC. They stressed the need for action to protect and assist these communities in la Guajira.
  • Wayuu Indigenous Leaders Face Dire Security Situation (La Guajira)
    On April 6, the Indigenous Commission on Human Rights reported increased violence and threats against Wayuu human rights defenders, including Armando Gouriyú Valbuena, Custodio Valbuena Gouriyú and María Tayde Gouriyú. As a result of the threats, Mr.  Gouriyú was forcibly displaced from his community. Despite continued requests for protection, Wayuu leaders expressed concern regarding a lack of government support or response. The report highlighted five additional cases of threats and assassinations against community leaders since December 2016.
  •  Paramilitary Presence Continues in San José de Apartadó Peace Community (Antioquia)
    On March 21 and April 18 the Peace Community San José de Apartadó reported that paramilitary presence is on the rise in their region. The community reported that armed groups are threatening residents and carry a list of five individuals from the region they plan to assassinate. They also report that the paramilitaries have established a permanent base in the Arenas Bajas municipality. The report also informed of cases of extortion by paramilitaries against residents and bribery of local police.
  •  Increase Presence of Armed Groups in Indigenous Reservations (Cauca)
    On April 4, ACIN reported an increase in Popular Liberation Army (EPL) guerilla activity in the Toribio municipality. The indigenous reservation in the Caloto municipality also informed of an increased presence of Colombian Armed Forces, who were removed from the territory by the indigenous guard.
  • Combat Operations between the ELN and AGC Puts Communities at Risk (Bolivar, Antioquia)
    The Association of Agroecological and Mining Networks of Guacomó (Aheramigua) issued an SOS for Montecristo Municipality (Bolivar). According to this group combat along the borders of Bolivar and Antioquia between the AGC and National Liberation Army (ELN) guerillas is jeopardizing the safety of civilians.
  •  Combat between the ELN and Che Guevara Group Displaces Afro-Colombians (Nariño /Cauca)
    Approximately 170 Afro-Colombians from the Vuelta Larga community including boys and girls were displaced on April 20 due to fighting between the ELN guerillas and a group of armed men that calls itself “Che Guevara”. The IDPs are currently situated in the municipality of Iscuande right along the Guapi, Cauca border. According to the regional grouping of Afro-Colombian community councils of Cauca (COCOCAUCA), social leaders in this region are also experiencing a rise in death threats.
  •  Displacement of Indigenous Persons in Bagadó (Chocó)
    The Association of Embera, Wounaan, Katio, Chami and Tule Indigenous Persons in the Department of Chocó (OREWA) issued an alert stating that beginning on April 19 due to flooding of the Andagueda River at least 35 indigenous families have become internally displaced. These families require humanitarian and protection assistance since they have no means of sustaining themselves. The growing group of IDPs includes a large number of children who are becoming sick, as well as, elderly persons.
  • Disregard of Indigenous Group by Government Officials (Putumayo)
    On April 6, the Santa Rose del Guamuez indigenous reservation expressed their disapproval for the arrival of government officials into their territory.  Putumayo officials entered the reservation without previous consultation and demanded to meet with indigenous leaders.
  • CIMARRON Expresses Concern for Mismanagement of Census Funds
    On March 30, CIMARRON, an afro-Colombian human rights movement, reported a misuse of funds by the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE). Last year, Congress allotted COP $10 billion for the 2017 census of Afro-Colombian communities. The funds were not used for the intended consultation and development of census methodologies and protocol with Afro-Colombian representatives and organizations.
  • ENS Report on U.S.-Colombia Labor Action Plan
    On March 17, the National Labor School of Colombia (ENS) reported delays and non-compliance by government officials on the implementation of the U.S.-Colombia Labor Action Plan. Six years after the signing, ENS’s latest report expressed concerns of the proper implementation labor laws and lack of adequate working conditions. The report is available in Spanish here.
  • Violation of Labor Rights by General Motors Company (Bogotá)
    On April 18, the Portland Central America Solidarity Committee (PCASC) reported that General Motors’ Colombian subsidiary violated Colombian labor law and international labor standards. On April 17, the company dismissed 12 injured workers who had once been unlawfully dismissed in July 2016 and reinstated in December by a court order. According to PCASC, GM once again fired the injured workers without receiving proper authorization from the Ministry Labor.
  • Poor Labor Conditions for Empaflex Workers (Cauca Valley)
    On March 16, SINTRAQUIM, a trade union organization, reported a significant worsening of the labor conditions of Empaflex, a packaging company. Since August 2016, workers have not been paid social security benefits despite having the costs discounted from their monthly paychecks. SINTRAQUIM has repeatedly contacted executives for the company, but conditions have not improved.
  • National Commemoration of Trade Unionists Affected by Violence
    On April 19, National Day of Remembrance and Solidarity with Victims, the Agency of Labor Information informed of the importance of recognizing the violence that trade unionists have suffered for over four decades. From January 1973 to March 2017, trade unionists suffered over 14,400 recorded violations of human rights, including homicides, attempted assassinations, forced disappearances, threats, and forced displacement. Waves of violence and threats continue across 2017, making Colombia the world’s most dangerous country for unionists.
  • ACONC Expresses Concern over Safety and Environmental Matters (Cauca)
    On April 17, The Afro-Colombian Association of Northern Cauca Afro-Colombian Community Councils (ACONC) expressed concern over activities by Huevos Kikes, a poultry hatching company, which have caused environmental contamination and pollution that has led to an increase in respiratory illnesses in the area.ACONC also expressed concern over indiscriminate shots fired by the company’s chief of security against three ACONC members who were working in a nearby field.