WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
21 Nov 2016 | Commentary

Intervention Required in Human Rights Cases

WOLA (The Washington Office on Latin America) has gathered a list of emergency cases that currently affect defenders in Colombia. The list demonstrates a sharp increase in harassment and threats against human rights defenders in Colombia.

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

 70 Murders, 279 Threats, and 28 Murder Attempts Against Defenders in 2016

On November 20, El Espectador cited a report that found that in 2016 defenders and social leaders suffered 70 murders, received 279 death threats, and 28 were the target of assassination murder attempts. Alarmingly 30 of the murders occurred after the bilateral ceasefire was signed between the Government and the FARC guerrillas. Also concerning is the growing presence throughout the country of the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces, Urabeños, Rastrojos, Black Eagles paramilitary groups and anti-restitution armies. According to this article the later are exerting control over roads, circulating death threat pamphlets, imposing curfews, displacing and restricting the freedom of movement of civilians. Worst affected are Meta, Guaviare, Santander, Cesar, Córdoba, Antioquia, Tolima, Caquetá, Chocó, Cauca, Nariño, Valle del Cauca, and Putumayo departments.

Four Attacks against Activists in 48 Hours Leaves Two Dead and One Wounded (Meta, Caqueta)

El Espectador also reported that in 48 hours two activists were murdered and another two injured. On November 18, Erley Monroy, of the Losada-Guayabero Farmers Association, was murdered in San Vicente del Caguán (Caquetá). Mr. Monroy, an environmental advocate, was found alive with severe wounds and died while being transferred to a hospital. That same day, Didier Losada, president of the Community Action Board of el Platanillo in La Macarena (Meta) was shot in front of his family by a hooded man who entered his home during the night. The next day, Hugo Cuéllar, also with the Losada-Guayabero Farmers Association, was shot five times by two hitmen as he headed home from attending Mr. Monroy’s funeral in Caquetá. Currently in the hospital, he appears to have survived the attack. Also on November 19, Danilo Bolaños Díaz, a youth leader, suffered an assassination attempt in Nariño. He and his wife were reportedly riding on a motorcycle when two men on another motorcycle approached them and fired six shots. Fortunately neither Mr. Diaz nor his wives were hit.

Marcha Patriotica Leader Shot Dead (Cauca)

On October 19, human rights defender Jhon Jairo Rodríguez Torres of the Marcha Patriotica was murdered in Cauca. Contagio Radio reports that Mr. Torres was shot three times while riding his motorcycle from Del Palo to Caloto. While the Marcha Patriotica, as an organization has received multiple threats, Mr. Torres had not been individually signaled out.

Afro-Colombian Displaced Community Council Member Murdered (Cundinamarca)

The Inter-Ecclesial Justice and Peace Commission (Justicia y Paz) condemned the murder of Jhoan Genaro Mondragón Delgado of the Naya River Community Council on October 17. A victim of forced displacement, Mr. Mondragón was murdered in a knife attack in Bogotá.

Attempted Assassination of Human Rights Defender (Cauca)

On October 17, the Red Cifuentes Human Rights Organization (REDHFIC) reported that Esneider Gonzalez survived an assassination attempt in Cauca. Apparently a man and a woman on a motorcycle shot at Mr. Gonzalez and a friend outside of his home. Eight shots were fired, two of which hit Mr. Gonzalez’s head and one his back. Mr. Gonzalez is forms part of REDHFIC and the Farmer Worker’s Association of the Corinto Municipality Rural Reservation Zone (ASTRAZONAC), Reportedly Mr. Gonzalez and his family had seen suspicious motorcycles driving around his home several times in the past month.

Indigenous Leader Receives Death Threat (Amazonas)

On October 26, the Association of Indigenous Authorities of Pedrera Amazonas (AIPEA) informed that Omar Cubeo Carvajal and his family received death threats Mr. Carvajal, an indigenous land rights activist is seeking protection measures. 5 armed men reportedly arrived at Mr. Carvajal’s home and proceeded to intimidate him. They warned that if he does not leave the area immediately that they will return to kill him. Mr. Carvajal was previously threatened June which prompted him and his family into displacement.

Paramilitary Groups Threaten Afro-Colombian Leaders in Northern Cauca (Cauca)

On November 3, the Association of Community Councils in Northern Cauca (ACONC) received a death threat signed by the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) paramilitaries. Three days later, on November 6, they received another letter from the AGC stating that the November 3 letter was sent by a different group. In the second letter, the perpetrators stated that they are the only structure that can use the AGC name. They then proceed to state that whoever sent the initial letter, and anyone who uses their name is a military objective. Death threats against ACONC have not been investigated, which places these leaders at further risk.

Paramilitary Aggression in Indigenous Community (Valle del Cauca)

On November 19, the Regional Indigenous Organization of Valle del Cauca (ORIVAC), reported an attack on the Wounaan indigenous people at the Agua Clara Reservation. Indigenous leader Rolan Ismares was arriving to the Reservation by boat when shots were fired from a boat that had followed 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 perpetrators the way to the Reservation. This is not the first time the Reservation is targeted, and facing the lack of protective response from the government ORIVAC demands protection from the authorities and asks that their human and territorial rights are guaranteed.

Military Units Detain Indigenous Leader (Chocó)

According to Justicia y Paz, the military detained four leaders of the organization Communities Building Peace in their Territories (CONPAZ) on October 16 without cause. The leaders included Frigeria Quiró, Governor of the Wounaan Community of Agua Clara; Carlos Quiró of the Humanitarian and Biodiverse Reservation of Puerto Pizario, and Guimer Quiró of the Humanitarian and Biodiverse Reservation of Santa Rosa of Guayacán. These leaders were heading back from Quibdó (Chocó) after participating in activities related to the peace process and post-accord implementation.

Paramilitaries Threaten Community (Antioquia)

On October 30, Justicia y Paz reported that three members of the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) entered the Humanitarian Zone of “La Balsita” Life and Work Community, in Dabeiba municipality. One of the men reportedly stated they would give “weed-smokers” a second chance, but that “rapists, thieves, and snitches” would not even get a warning. Apparently the paramilitaries warned people not to be afraid of the AGC even if they are armed. The men then took photographs of the people in the community using their mobile phones. A week earlier, on October 22, the AGC murdered and decapitated Jhon Faber Espinal Holguín in San José de Urama, an hour away from Dabeiba. He was killed in front of his classmates and professors.

Human Rights Defenders Threatened and Followed by Paramilitaries (Cauca)

On November 5, Justicia y Paz denounced that the “Paisas,” a faction of the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) paramilitaries, are following human rights defenders in Santander de Quilichao, Miranda, and Corinto municipalities (Cauca). On October 26, two defenders were threatened by two armed men on a motorcycle. A few days before, AGC members distributed pamphlets with death threats against six members of the Municipal Victims Table. Fearing for their lives, and given the inaction of the government, those threatened were forced to leave region.

Death Threats Issued by Paramilitaries (Valle del Cauca)

The United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitary group circulated death threat pamphlets in Buenaventura, Cauca (Valle del Cauca). In this notice, they threaten 10 community members by name, and extend the threat to anyone who helps them. The AUC claims these actions form part of a social cleansing operation intended to benefit the community “by ridding it of “thieves, marihuana smokers, drunks, and degenerates.” The threat says if the persons on the list do not leave the area within a week, they will be killed. The paramilitaries are also imposing a 10pm curfew so that others do not get caught in the crossfire.

Paramilitary Presence Reported in Cauca

On October 24, the REDHFIC reported that paramilitaries asserted their presence in Miranda Municipality (Cauca) by painting graffiti on 13 homes, electrical posts, water tanks, and street signs. These tags used the acronym “AUC”, referring to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia paramilitary group. A REDHFIC member reported seeing armed men dressed in camouflage arriving in the area since October 22.

Armed Men and State Actors Present in Antioquia

On October 24, the Agro-Mining Association of Guamocó (AHERAMIGUA) condemned the violent entering of homes without warrants by members of the public forces in El Bagre (Antioquia). Those breaking into homes claimed to be members of the police and army searching for ELN insurgents. One victim reported that her doors and furniture were destroyed. AHERAMIGUA also reported the arrival of 10 armed men to the same municipality on October 20, asking people for money for supposed “raffles”, as a means of extortion.

Forced Recruitment of Indigenous Youth (Meta)

On October 27, Justicia y Paz reported that the Sikuani community, an endangered indigenous group, is facing threats and forced recruitment of their youth by paramilitary groups in Meta. The paramilitaries, dressed in civilian clothing but carrying weapons, are offering young people money in exchange for joining their ranks.

Workers Embark on Nationwide Hunger Strike

On October 31, SINALTRAINAL, Colombia’s union representing workers in the production of foodstuffs, reported that workers belonging to Coca-Cola, Saceites, the Metropolitan Aqueduct have gone on a hunger strike outside the offices of the Mayor of Bucaramanga and Coca-Cola in Medellin. SINALTRAINAL explains that workers are protesting actions taken by Rodolfo Hernández, Bucaramanga’s Mayor that impedes giving goods and services to his constituents. They are protesting Coca Cola Company for violating their labor rights. In their communique they state that workers are experiencing death threats, persecution and obstruction of trade union activities.  On October 25, SINALTRAINAL sent a letter to U.S. Ambassador to Colombia, Kevin Whitaker asking for his intervention with Coca Cola. SINALTRAINAL states that this U.S. Company is violating the U.S.-Colombia Labor Action Plan and they demand is the creation of a Social and Labor Round Table to resolve these issues.

Trade Unions Denounce Mass Firings (Valle del Cauca)

The Solidarity Committee of the Central Unit of Workers (COSOL CUT) reported that workers in Valle del Cauca are being threatened by corporate interests and state policies that harm workers. Through exploration, exploitation and mining of natural resources, companies are harming the rights of the people and workers. According to COSOL CUT, the University Hospital of Valle Del Cauca is also suffering mass firings and closing attention centers under Law 550. Other companies, such as Millicom and Exito, are also pressuring workers to “retire voluntarily.”

National Labor School Denounces Violation of Worker’s Rights (Antioquia)

On November 3, the National Labor School (ENS) released a statement denouncing the new alliance in which the Colombian telecommunications company “Tigo” gave the Chinese company “Huawei” full control over the entire maintenance operation of the telecommunications network. The ENS claims the alliance was used as the pretense for mass firings and “voluntary” retirement. 601 workers from Tigo in Medellin, Bogotá, Cali, Manizales, and Barranquilla, were transferred to Huawei under employer substitution. According to the ENS, in the past two years Tigo has fired over 1,200 workers, 500 under “voluntary” retirement.

Nine Union Leaders Arrested for Protesting (Cesar)

On October 26, Moisés Varón, leader of the Oil Industry Workers Trade Union (USO), was arrested in San Martín (Cesar) while participating in an anti-fracking protest. He was released from custody two days later. The protests focused on the negative effects fracking has on water sources and locals ‘public health. The Mobile Anti-Disturbance police (ESMAD) repressed protesters by using physical violence and tear gas. As a result, several protestors were injured and 9 union leaders arrested.

Trade Unions Denounce Companies for Violation of Rights (Valle del Cauca)

On November 18, the unions SINTRALLOREDA (Lloreda workers’ union) and SINTRAIMAGRA (foodstuffs, grease, oil, and margarine workers’ union) issued a public denunciation of a number of companies, for allegedly intimidating workers and their families, threatening workers with the closing of the company, and violating workers’ rights specified in the Colombian constitution and the International Labour Organization including the right to free assembly, and living wage. The letter is issued against the Industrial Flour Group of el Valle, Investment Consultants S.A., and their partner companies, and contains claims of events starting in 2008, when the Industrial Flour Group purchased Lloreda S.A.

Condemnation of False Charges against Leaders in Retaliation for Protesting (Huila)

On November 11, the Association for Those Affected by the El Quimbo Hydroelectric Project (Asoquimbo) reported that two of its leaders, Elsa Ardila and Miller Dussán, have been subpoenaed for a hearing on December 2, 2016, under charges of public disruption through obstructing roads. Asoquimbo rejects this because they had a permit to protest, and the road they obstructed had been allegedly closed for 6 months. The company Emgesa had already “obstructed roads” by destroying the bridge “Paso El Colegio” 6 months ago, which left southwest Huila uncommunicated and with economic and social consequences. They demand the protection of social and environmental movements, the protection of leaders, and the immediate cease to criminalize social protests.

Quibdó Diocesis Condemns Situation of Violence and Insecurity in the Region (Chocó)

On November 1, the Quibdó Diocesis condemned the on-going violence, murders, thefts, threats, and extortions that plague their community. Despite some increases in state presence, there doesn’t seem to be an improvement in the situation. Organized crime, paramilitaries, and drug-trafficking are rampant. They Diocesis asks that the state and international community do more to address this situation and to protect children. They demand that state authorities uphold the rights of locals and act quickly to address this situation.

Suspicious Activity in front of Human Rights Defender’s Home (Cundinamarca)

On October 26, Justicia y Paz reported that Danilo Rueda’s bodyguards spotted a suspicious man in sunglasses looking at the security cameras around Mr. Rueda’s home. When they began to approach him, the man signaled a van to approach him and promptly left. The van’s license plates were purposefully blurred. The bodyguards reported this incident to the police. This is the third time this year that there is evidence that Mr. Rueda’s home is under surveillance. Justicia y Paz is the recipient of the 2015 WOLA human rights prize, as such, WOLA urges the U.S. and Colombia to investigate these activities and guarantee Mr. Rueda’s protection.

Mothers of Murdered “False Positives” Demand Uribe Retract Statement (Cundinamarca)

On November 17, El Espectador reported that a judge convicted 21 military personnel belonging to the Ocaña Mobile Brigade, for the extrajudicial execution of four young men from Soacha. These young men were killed by soldiers and then presented as guerrilla killed in combat. The process took 8 years. The mothers of these men celebrated the conviction, but recall the words of former President Alvaro Uribe saying “the young men disappeared in Soacha were killed in combat. They were not going to pick up coffee, they were going with delinquent purposes.” The U.S. should condemn this statement and force former President Uribe to apologize.

We ask that you please take action in the above cases. For further information, please contact us at [email protected] or (202) 797-2172.

November 21, 2016