WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
21 Jul 2017 | Commentary

Human Rights Update: Pattern of Violence against Human Rights Defenders Continues

The human rights community in Colombia is still recovering from the loss of Afro-Colombian leader Bernardo Cuero Bravo, who was murdered in his home in Malambo, Atlántico. Sadly, this the pattern of violence against human rights defenders continues as more leaders and activist face death threats.

WOLA received the dreadful news of another murder of an Afro-Colombian social leader in Chocó, as well as the murder of a union leader. 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 June update and information received on incidents that occurred in the first weeks of July.

  • Afro-Colombian Leader Murdered (Chocó)
    On June 30, the Civic Committee for the Salvation of Chocó announced that one of their leaders, Eugenio Rentería Martínez, was beaten to death. Mr. Martínez was one of the principal organizers of the May 2017 Chocó Civic Strike, which ended in a peaceful, negotiated agreement between the Colombian government and civil population.
  • Union Leader Assassinated (Valle del Cauca)
    On July 1, trade unionist Alberto Román Acosta was shot dead by two assassins. Mr. Acosta was the president of SINTRAINAGRO’s Guacarí Chapter. Another person accompanying Mr. Acosta at the time was also wounded in this incident. Press reports indicate that one of the shooters remains at large.
  • Riot Police Injure and Detain Human Rights Defenders (Cesar)
    According to Lawyers without Borders-Canada four human rights defenders monitoring a civic strike in Ayacucho, Cesar were beaten and arrested by Colombian riot police (ESMAD) on July 1. María Montiel, Rommel Duran Castellanos, Eliecer Alfonso Vergel, and Jorge Alonso are currently in detention in the Aguachica police station. Reports indicate that while in custody they’ve been further mistreated by authorities.
  • Afro-Colombian Community Council of La Toma Faces Serious Threats (Cauca)
    Members of the La Toma Community Council in Cauca continue to face death threats from numerous illegal armed actors. Armed men stationed themselves in areas where the Community Council congregates. Death threats were sent to these Afro-Colombian leaders’ cellphones. It is an open secret that illegal groups conducting illegal mining have ordered that all members of the community council be killed. The National Protection Unit (UNP)’s threat assessment for these leaders found that their current measures are not sufficient should they be attacked. These leaders have faced a high risk for the past nine years.
  • Human Rights Defenders Threatened (Cauca)
    On June 30, the Southwest Human Rights Network of the Patriotic March (REDDHFIC) reported that a series of death threats we made by a group calling itself the “Defenders of Democracy-Southeast War Front against Communists.” These threats that were sent via email demand that the Regional Commission for Peace cease its activities. It rejects the Security Commission’s “Cauca Plan for Security.” In the threat, seven social leaders and one member of the Organization of American State (OAS)’s peace mission are labeled as “military objectives.”
  • Land Rights Leader Threatened (Chocó)
    On July 1, land rights leader Enrique Cabezas of Curvaradó was forced to flee due to multiple death threats from the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces (AGC) paramilitaries. The Inter-Ecclesial Commission of Justice and Peace (Justicia y Paz), reported that on June 25 and 30, Mr.  Cabezas received verbal and written threats against his life for advocating for the land rights of internally displaced persons in this territory.
  • Patriotic March Condemns Protection Unit for Failing to Protect Leader (Cauca)
    On June 25, the Social and Political Movement of the Patriotic March (MAPA) publicly denounced the National Protection Unit (UNP) for its consistent failure to follow proper protocol to protect MAPA leader, Humber de Jesús Ballesteros Gómez. Since April, Mr. Ballesteros Gómez was threatened on seven occasions by the United Self-Defense Forces (AUC). In January, the UNP’s risk assessment for Mr. Ballesteros determined his security status to be an emergency. Yet the UNP has neglected to finish the process required for him to be able to receive comprehensive protection measures.
  • Paramilitaries Assume Control of El Bagre (Antioquia)
    On July 1, the Guamocó Association of Agroecologists and Miners (AHERAMIGUA) issued an S.O.S stating that fifty paramilitaries from the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces (AGC) have taken control of El Bagre municipality. These men issued death threats against AHERAMIGUA members causing two of their leaders, Jairo Rodríguez and Gloria Granados, to flee the area. Earlier in March, AGC pamphlets distributed in this area warned that paramilitaries were planning to conduct a “social cleansing.”
  • Two Killed by Alleged Paramilitaries (Nariño)
    On July 9, four heavily armed individuals killed a hospital accountant and a fisherman (names withheld) in Sanquianga National Park in El Bajito. The Cauca Pacific Coast Community Council Coordinator (COCOCAUCA) reports that locals who witnessed these murders believe the assassins to be paramilitaries or drug traffickers.
  • Paramilitaries Attack Two Boys in Buenaventura Humanitarian Zone (Valle del Cauca)
    Paramilitaries shot and beat two youth during an alleged robbery in the Icaco Point Humanitarian Zone of Buenaventura on July 11. Justicia y Paz reports that Jefferson Angulo and Arnulfo Sinisterra Angulo (originally from Naya River area) survived and are receiving medical attention. This incident follows many in the past year, whereby, paramilitaries are extorting and robbing Afro-Colombian residents without any intervention from local authorities in Icaco Point.
  • Municipality at Threat of Take Over by Paramilitaries (Nariño)
    On July 5, twenty heavily armed paramilitaries self-identifying as AGC gathered in the Rosario municipality. Four days later, they distributed pamphlets declaring that the AGC has taken control of the area and is exerting its power using force.
  • AGC Paramilitaries Expand Presence in San José de Apartadó (Antioquia)
    On July 11, the Popular Training Institute (IPC) reported that the AGC tagged over twenty homes in San José de Apartadó with graffiti. The messages include “we’re here and we’re here to stay.” Since 2015, and increasingly since the departure of FARC’s 5th Front, the AGC expanded their control over this area.
  • Illegal Agricultural Development Backed by Paramilitaries (Chocó)
    On June 9, residents in Curvaradó reported that the agribusiness AGROMAR S.A. had illegally cleared protected forest for mono-culture plantain cultivation. The AGC are allegedly protecting AGROMAR’s illegal actions and the authorities are not acting to prevent this.
  • 27th Jungle Brigade Violates Peace Accords with Coca Eradication (Putumayo)
    On June 22, Justicia y Paz reported that the 27th Jungle Brigade is manually eradicating coca cultivations in the Amazon Pearl Rural Reserve Zone (ZRCPA). By circumventing the National Program for Illicit Crop Substitution (PNIS), the brigade’s actions are in violation of Point Four of the final peace accord with the FARC, as well as the Regional Pre-Accord signed between social organizations in the region, the government, and the FARC. Officers in the 27th Brigade claim they are unaware of these agreements and will only follow orders from their commanders.
  • Guerrilla Group Establishes Presence in Tumaco (Nariño)
    On July 1, pamphlets signed by the United Guerrillas of the Pacific (GUP) were distributed in the villages of Guayacana and Llorente in Tumaco. The pamphlets state that the GUP has established a presence in the area. According to these, the GUP is doing so “in order to reestablish and maintain order due to national government’s abandonment of the region.”
  • Detained FARC Members Commence Prison Hunger Strike
    On June 26, Jesús Santrich, a member of the FARC Secretariat, announced that detained FARC members had launched a nation-wide hunger strike. The strike will allegedly continue until the Amnesty Law, outlined in the final peace agreement between the national government and the FARC and signed into legislation in December 2016, is fully implemented. Once the law is enacted, FARC members who have not committed war crimes or crimes against humanity, as well as certain members of the state currently detained, will be released.
  • Families of the Disappeared Urge Constitutional Court to Uphold Peace Accords
    On June 23, various organizations of families of disappeared persons called on the Constitutional Court to uphold the peace agreement with the FARC as it considers the constitutionality of the new Search Unit for the Disappeared. The organizations are concerned that the court may not grant full operational capacity or autonomy to the Unit. They underscore that the law creating the unit (Law 589/2017) grants it full investigative and quasi-judicial reign over cases of forced disappearances.
  • Indigenous Communities Stage Protest at Health Superintendent Offices (Bogotá)
    On June 27, Zenú and Embera indigenous leaders launched a peaceful strike outside of the National Health Superintendent office in Bogotá. The strikers state that they will not lift the protest until National Health Superintendent Norman Julio Muñoz complies with constitutional standards of prior consultation with indigenous communities. The protestors also want Mr. Munoz to upholds a June 14 decision by Córdoba’s Administrative Court that states that the indigenous health provider Manexka EPS should not be liquidated.
  • Pensioners Call on President Santos to Reduce Mandatory Health Contributions
    On July 1, the National Alliance of Pensioners petitioned President Santos to enforce Law 170/2016. This law reduces mandatory monthly health contributions for pensioners from twelve to four percent and makes the rate equal to that of working adults. A 2013 agreement signed between President Santos and then Labor Minister Rafael Pardo promised to cut mandatory health payments for pensioners entirely. The pensioners have since agreed to a smaller reduction, but the Executive Office of the President now claims there are not sufficient funds to implement the law.

On the positive side we are happy to report that:

  • Supreme Court Frees Indigenous Leader Feliciano Valencia
    On June 28, the Supreme Court annulled a previous ruling by Popayan’s superior court, which sentenced Mr. Valencia for allegedly kidnapping an army soldier in 2008 in Cauca. Mr. Valencia’s defense explained that the soldier dressed as a civilian had entered indigenous territory and violated indigenous laws. For this reason he was detained and penalized by the indigenous authorities. The court’s decision allows Mr. Valencia to return to his role as a leading indigenous voice during the implementation of the peace accords, while also ratifying the legitimacy of the indigenous justice system, protected under the Colombian constitution.