WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
22 Feb 2017 | Commentary

February Update: Colombian Human Rights Defenders Increasingly Under Fire

Now that 52 years of fighting between the Colombian government and armed rebels has come to a close, Colombia’s vibrant civil society is the key to building a lasting peace and inclusive democracy in Colombia. Sadly, the human rights defenders, trade unionists, Afro-Colombian, indigenous and other community leaders carrying out this vital effort are under threat. Since the peace accord between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was signed last November, there has been alarming spike in attacks on civil society activists in the country, particularly in rural areas. WOLA has been monitoring these cases closely, and is working with our partners to ensure that the Colombian government protect these community activists from further threats, as well as to investigate and prosecute those responsible for these attacks. Below is a list of incidents that have occurred since our last update in January, and we stand with our partners in Colombia in calling for justice.

  •  Churches Report Declining Security Situation in Córdoba and Urabá
    On February 2, the Pilgrim Church in Córdoba and Urabá reported that in their region murders of human rights defenders, social leaders, and land claimants are on the rise. They find the paramilitary presence to be more evident and that these men are filling the vacuum left behind by the FARC guerillas. Ituango municipality is coping with an increase in extortion racquets and displacement as a result.
  • Community Leaders Targeted in Antioquia
    On February 10, the Briceño Campesino Association (ASCABRI) reported that one of their members, Dierman Mazo Olguín, was attacked while in a soccer field in the Chiri community. Three armed men fired at and hit Mr. Olguín with two bullets before he could seek cover. Afterwards, these men inquired with locals about the whereabouts of social leaders. The Rural Farmers Association of Toledo-Northern Antioquia (ASCAT-NA) reports that these men then went to Briceño with a death list in tow that included Milton Mazo, Camilo Aguiar, and Nelson Holguin. These events follow the murder of Herminia Olarte Piedrahita on January 28 in Yarumal municipality. Briceño is currently participating in a government pilot program for voluntary crop substitution that forms part of the FARC peace process.
  • Community Leader Targeted for Murder (Cauca)
    The Afro-Colombian Association of Northern Cauca Community Councils (ACONC) reported that on February 4 Andrés Felipe Possu, a defender and community leader, became the target of armed men. He shot at multiple times as he was nearing his home. Several ACONC organizers, including Mr. Possu, have received repeated death threats from the Black Eagles paramilitary group.
  • SINALTRAINAL Trade Unionists Attacked (Cesar)
    On February 9, SINALTRAINAL reported that their Cesar chapter president, Alfonso Emilio Barón Sánchez, was ambushed by four armed men in motorcycles. During this incident which took place at his residence, one of these men fired a gun at Mr. Sánchez. Luckily, he was able to seek cover and evade the bullets.
  • Black Eagles Threaten to Eliminate Groups Who Support Peace (Cauca)
    On February 12, the Black Eagles paramilitary group distributed pamphlet death threats alerting social leaders and their families that they will be killed. The pamphlets target the most vocal civil society organizations in Cauca. The list includes the Association of Indigenous Cabildos in Northern Cauca (ACIN), the Afro-Colombian Community Councils of Cauca (COCOCAUCA), the Ruta Pacífica de las Mujeres, the Patriotic March and University of Cauca professors, among others. The paramilitaries are threatening to eliminate all the Caucan human rights defenders and social leaders who support the peace process.
  • Threats against Land Rights Claimants (Magdalena)
    On February 9, the Security and Protection Bureau for Land Claimants in Magdalena stated that community leaders, victims’ representatives, and land claimants were experiencing systematic attacks and harassment. In January, the Magdalena ombudsman received a series of threats against victims’ advocates. These threats warned these leaders that if they participate in the next elections they will be killed. This group is particularly concerned about the “Gulf Clan” paramilitaries who appear to be rearming.  They note that paramilitary leader José Gregorio Mangones Lugo is soon to be released from prison.
  • Intimidation of Human Rights Defenders (Cundinamarca)
    The Standing Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CPDH) expressed concern for the safety of their Executive Secretary, Erika Gómez, and Danilo Rueda, co-director of the Inter-Ecclesial Commission for Justice and Peace (Justicia y Paz). An unknown woman was spotted actively listening to these two defenders’ conversation about a victim’s rights case. This woman then tried to follow the defenders into their meeting but was stopped by Mr. Rueda’s bodyguards. Immediately after the meeting, Ms. Gómez was followed by a suspicious individual while she drove home.
  • Problematic Security Situation in the San José de Apartadó Peace Community (Antioquia)
    On February 2, the Peace Community San José de Apartadó stated that paramilitaries entered the home of community member Diana Guisao Hernández in Mulatos municipality. They detained Ms. Hernandez in her home for two days and threatened to kill her if she reported the incident. The army entered Ms. Hernández’s home on February 4 and apprehended one of these men. Despite this action, paramilitaries have not ceased their operations in this area.  On February 5,  the military detained and threatened to arrest German Graciano Posso, the community’s legal representative.
  • Paramilitary Threaten Locals in Gabarra District (Northern Santander)
    On February 10, fifteen armed men in camouflage known to form part of a paramilitary group threatened and intimidated rural farmers in Gabarra District. This is concerning because prior threats from this group have led to prior displacements in this area.
  • Land Rights Claimant Receives Death Threats (Chocó)
    On February 7, Yomaira Mendoza of the Curvaradó community received menacing phone calls and text death threats. This was after she participated in an activity related to the peace accord between the government and the FARC in the Cano Manso Humanitarian Zone. The perpetrators were questioning her as to why she had returned to the area. Ms. Mendoza received multiple death threats that forced her out of the area. This is highly problematic because it follows the December incident reported by Justicia y Paz, whereby, some 600 paramilitaries stated to locals in Curvaradó that they plan to secure land for their “bosses” and that to do so they would remove Justicia y Paz and the Patriotic March.” By “bosses” these men are supposedly referring to paramilitaries who are in jail that will be released in the near future.
  • Labor Activist Receives Death Threat (Magdalena)
    On February 10, Anibal Perez Parra, President of the Association of Drummond Port Sick Workers received a death threat. The threat which consisted of a collage of cut out letters pasted on a sheet of paper, repeated states “SOB” and we are going to kill you for informing on us.
  • NGO Denounces Paramilitary Activity in Indigenous Reserves (Cauca and Valle del Cauca)
    On February 14, the Justice and Dignity Corporation publicly urged President Juan Manuel Santos to guarantee the safety and security of Wounaan indigenous communities residing along the Calima and San Juan rivers. The group documented over eight security incidents involving the AGC paramilitaries and members of these communities in the past two months. These incidents have confined and displaced members of these indigenous communities. On February 5, paramilitaries detained Jose Cley Chamapuro of the Santa Rosa de Guayagan reserve for seven hours. During this detention he was beaten and threatened to death. This paramilitary activity is taking place despite the presence of various units of the armed forces operate in the area.
  • Rural Farmers Caught in Crossfire (Antioquia)
    On January 10, the Agro-ecological Mining Association of Guamoco (AHERAMIGUA) reported that two armed men posing as coca customers entered the home of Tony Agudelo Rodríguez (Bagre municipality). Six army soldiers proceeded to fire indiscriminately at this residence. In return one of the alleged buyers fired back. One of his bullets hit Manuel Calderón Pacheco, a rural farmer from the area.
  • Rural Workers Report Forced Eradication by Armed Forces (Antioquia)
    On February 6, the United Campesino Rio Nechí Association denounced violations related to forced coca eradication efforts in Cáceres and Tarazá municipalities. Members of the forcibly eradicate coca in the area despite the fact that rural farmers had stated they were willing to substitute their crops. By doing so, the local organizations are stating that these actions are leading to displacement. Upon hearing the complaints of the community, the army stated that they would not halt eradications until the FARC had were fully demobilized.
  • Paramilitaries Intimidating Civilians (Chocó)
    On February 7, Justicia y Paz alerted that the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces (AGC) paramilitaries were utilizing child soldiers in the Bijao community of Cacarica. The armed group explicitly forbade residents from taking their photographs and complaining to the authorities. On February 13, the AGC held a birthday celebration for one of their commanders where they invited the entire community. However, most declined the invitation. Prior to this the AGC entered the Nueva Esperanza Humanitarian Zone where they harassed the locals and attempted to identify eight community leaders. The men stated they were looking for these persons in order to kill them. Justicia y Paz notes that the increased military activity in the Chocó ordered by the government is not addressing the protection crisis faced by these communities. In turn, the security situation is turning into a humanitarian crisis for civilians in the area who are living in fear.
  • Wounaan Indigenous Families Displaced (Buenaventura)
    On February 12, ninety-three indigenous persons (including 65 children) were displaced from the Woaunaan Nonam Humanitarian Space. This community had initially fled to Buenaventura where they endured horrendous living conditions without access to food, potable water, or sufficient ventilation. As reported by WOLA, the Wounaan have faced the possibility of displacement due to increased presence of paramilitary groups in the lower Calima River.
  • Ecopetrol Stigmatizes Trade Unionists
    According to the Oil Workers Union (USO) Ecopetrol recently made problematic public allegations against their unions. On February 10, the company called for the resignation of Wilmer Hernández Cedrón, the Secretary of Education for the USO board, from his position at Ecopetrol. Edwin Palma, Vice-President, states that such actions form part of the systematic effort by the company to discredit the union.