WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
8 Aug 2017 | Commentary

July Update: Dangerous Trends Continue to Affect Human Rights Defenders and Social Leaders

In this installment of WOLA’s monthly human rights update, WOLA has again recorded a number of dangerous trends that continue to affect human right defenders and social leaders in the territories most affected by the conflict.

As we have reported since the beginning of the year, an alarming wave of attacks on human rights defenders, particularly community activists continues to have a heavy toll on civil society. This report is no different, as two members of civil society were killed since our last human rights update.

This month, we would like to highlight the situation in the Pacific coast, where increase presence of the Gaitanista Self Denfese Forces (AGC) continues to affect communities in Chocó, Valle del Cauca, and Cauca. Their presence has even solidified in areas where the military has an active presence, such as Curvaradó, Chocó.

Below is a list of incidents during July. To see past human rights updates, please click here.

  • Armed Men Murder Afro-Descendant Leader (Cauca)
    On July 14 in Caloto, Cauca, four armed men shot Hector William Mina, an Afro-descendant leader of the Patriotic March social and political movement. According to the Patriotic March’s National Human Rights Commission, Mr. Mina was immediately taken to a local clinic where he died of his wounds.
  • Social Leader Found Dead in El Carmen (Norte de Santander)
    On July 17, Ezequiel Rangel, a leader of the Catatumbo Campesino Association (ASCAMAT) and the Guamalito Village Committee, was found dead with three gunshot wounds in El Carmen, Norte de Santander. Mr. Rangel had been an active promoter of the peace process, regularly organizing local presentations on the accords and the ongoing implementation.
  • Pardoned FARC Member Killed (Antioquia)
    On July 12, Juan Fernando Amaya, a pardoned member of the FARC, was found dead near Ituango, Antioquia. Mr. Amaya is the sixth FARC ex-combatant to be killed since the final peace accord was signed in November. Days before his death, the Human Rights Table of Ituango issued an alert advising that “paramilitaries are trying to re-take Ituango,” near the Santa Lucia Transitional Zone. The mayor of Ituango called Mr. Amaya’s death “an isolated incident.”
  • Through Murder and Collusion, AGC Paramilitaries Expand Control in Afro-Colombian Areas (Chocó and Valle del Cauca)
    Multiple reports from the Inter-Ecclesial Commission for Justice and Peace (Justicia y Paz) indicate that the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces (AGC) are exerting control in the Chocó and Valle del Cauca departments through force and collusion with local authorities. In Cacarica, Chocó, Justicia y Paz confirmed on August 3 that members of the AGC have established a permanent control point between the villages of La Tapa and El Limón. Justicia y Paz asserts that despite the presence of the 16th Marine Infantry Battalion in Cacarica, the AGC are now exercising control in 15 of the 23 communities in the Afro-Colombian collectively titled area.In Curvaradó, Chocó since June the AGC are extorting motorcycle-taxi drivers. They require all drivers to pay a lump sum and daily rate to the paramilitaries or face injury. The army’s 54th Forest Battalion, was alerted about this and has not responded. Also in Curvaradó, the legal representative of the Pedeguita y Mancilla Community Council, Baldoyno Mosquera, has been granting agro-industry giant AGROMAR access to collectively titled lands to cultivate banana without consulting the ancestral owners of the land. Those opposing Mr. Mosquera, who was reelected to his position illegally in 2016, have received death threats from the AGC on his behalf.On July 27, in Belén de Bajirá, Chocó, two members of the AGC assassinated twenty-one-year-old Luis Enor Murillo Chaverra while he was playing soccer with friends. Mr. Murillo was resisting the AGC’s efforts to forcibly recruit him.The day prior in Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca, Justicia y Paz reported that four AGC paramilitaries entered Icaco Point Humanitarian Zone to threaten Eison Valencia Sinisterra. The paramilitaries told Mr. Valencia they would kill him if he continued meeting with international organizations. Mr. Valencia recently met with members of Witness for Peace, the World Organization against Torture, and the International Human Rights Federation.
  • Trade Union Violence Increased 31% in Colombia Last Year
    The National Trade Union School (ENS) released a report that anti-trade union violence in Colombia rose 31% between 2015 and 2016. More than half of the documented cases of violence, continuing into 2017, were committed by paramilitaries. Many of the rest were committed by state authorities. The International Labor Organization (ILO) recently sent a commission to Colombia to evaluate the labor situation. The Commission found that the State has not fulfilled many of its agreements with ILO or carried out the Organization’s recommendations. The government is not investigating violations to the rights to collective negotiation and freedom of association, and the majority of instances of violence against trade unionists go unpunished.
  •  CREDHOS President Threatened by Paramilitaries (Santander)
    On July 30, the president of the Regional Corporation for the Defense of Human Rights (CREDHOS), Ivan Madero, reported that he has received death threats from paramilitaries. These threats follow months of advocacy by Mr. Madero and CREDHOS to denounce paramilitary activity in Barrancabermeja, Santander.
  • Indigenous and Other Leaders Receive Death Threats (Cauca)
    On July 24, the Northern Cauca Indigenous Council Association (ACIN) denounced a series of threats against community members and social leaders in Santander de Quilichao, Cauca. The death threats, which targeted specific community leaders and all proponents of the peace process, were circulated by text message on July 17th to the 24th.
  • Indigenous Leaders and Guard Attacked and Threatened in Villagarzon (Putumayo)
    On August 7, a group of 20 farmers attacked indigenous governors and guards of the Association of Indigenous Cabildos of the Municipality of Villagarzon (ACIMVIP). The ACIMVIP and national land agency were carrying out a topographic land survey in the area. The aggressors threw stones and sticks at them and aggravated them verbally. Five persons were wounded as a result. The indigenous leaders are carrying out a task in line with Constitutional Court Order 004 on displaced indigenous persons that calls upon authorities to act to safeguard the lives of indigenous groupings at risk of becoming physically extinct. On August 4, other incidents took place of concern. The Attorney General should investigate this attack and prosecute the aggressors responsible.
  • Indigenous Woman Disappears in Carlosama (Nariño)
    Indigenous authorities are asking the Colombian authorities to take all necessary actions to locate Sixta Amparo Baccca who was seen in Carlosama on July 28, 2017. They urge the Ministry of the Interior, Human Rights Ombudsman and others to increase their efforts to find her.
  • Large Group of Armed Men Assumes Control of Village (Cauca)
    On July 2, the Southwestern Colombia Human Rights Network “Francisco Isaias Cifuentes” reported that a large group of approximately forty armed men arrived in the village of La Playa Valle, Buenos Aires, Cauca. The men, claiming to represent the “United Guerrillas of the Pacific (GUP)” forced community members to take part in an introductory meeting where the paramilitaries claimed they have taken control over the town. It is not clear whether this group is aligned with the right, left or whom they report to.
  •  Victims of Mapiripán Massacre Threatened during Commemoration (Meta)
    On July 19, survivors of the 1997 Mapiripán massacre were threatened by an armed man while taking part in a commemorative ceremony. According to Justicia y Paz, the man circled the group on a motorcycle while brandishing a weapon, and then fled when approached by a bodyguard from the National Protection Unit.
  • Paramilitary-Backed Development Threatens Collective Afro Territory (Valle del Cauca)
    On July 18, members of international organizations Witness for Peace and Justicia y Paz found evidence of illegal environmental development in the collectively titled afro descendant territory of La Esperanza, Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca. While the international NGOs met with local leaders, the latter received verbal and physical threats from paramilitaries to stop meddling in the prospective development projects.
  • State Council Orders Reparation of Soldiers Involved in Murder of Nydia Erika Bautista
    On July 24, the State Council ordered the Government of Colombia to provide reparations to three soldiers involved in the 1989 kidnapping and murder of M-19 member Nydia Erika Bautista. Between 1996 and 2004 the soldiers were detained by the Prosecutor’s Office before their release in 2004, when the Office concluded its investigation for a lack of sufficient evidence. Nevertheless, in 2009 the State Council upheld the firing of the three soldiers for their clear connection to the murder. Now, despite its 2009 decision, the Council is ordering the government to repair the soldiers for the time they spent detained between 1996 and 2004,
  •  Quimbo Hydroelectric Project Illegally Displaces Communities (Huila)
    The Association of those Affected by the Quimbo Hydroelectric Project (ASOQUIMBO) has petitioned multiple government agencies to respond to the illegal displacement of residents from Montea-Gigante, Santiago-Palacio-Garzon, and Galda-Agrado. The Alto Magdalena Autonomous Regional Corporation (CAM) declared the displacements by Energy Company Emgesa illegal in 2016 and sanctioned the company accordingly. On July 12, ASOQUIMBO publicly petitioned the Prosecutor’s Office, the Office of the Inspector Attorney General, the National Controller’s Office, and the mayoral offices of affected communities to take action against Emgesa to remedy the illegal displacements.
  • Thousands of Miners Protest Govt. to Demand Labor Formalization (Antioquia)
    On July 22, five thousand miners from Segovia y Remedios, Antioquia mobilized in protest against the government and multinational company Gran Colombia Gold. In Segovia y Remedios, where approximately 90 percent of the population relies on income from local mining, Gran Colombia Gold has resisted efforts to formalize contracts with laborers who mine and transport minerals for the company under exploitative conditions, often for less than subsistence income.
  • Union Denounces Plastic Factory for Illegal Labor Practices (Bolivar)
    The BIOFILM Workers’ Union (SINTRABIOFILM) has denounced major plastic manufacturer BIOFILM for illegally tampering with laborers’ contracts and subverting health officials. BIOFILM’s legal representative Jorge Villalobos Bru and HR Chief Gloria Puello Espinoza have been working around the Health Promotion Entity (EPS) and the Labor Risk Administrator (ARL) in BIOFILM’s factory in Cartagena, Bolivar to illegally relocate workers and rewrite their contracts without laborers’ consent.
  • Claro Employees Protest Pay Cut and Increased Hours (Cundinamarca, Santander)
    On July 27, employees of Mexican company Claro protested outside their workplaces in Bogota, Cundinamarca and Bucaramanga, Santander. Claro recently instituted a new policy requiring employees from one of the company’s divisions, Claro Hogares, to work overtime for another, Claro Movil, and vice versa. The new policy cuts many workers’ bonuses while requiring them to work more hours and holidays.
  • Santos Fails to Fulfill Campaign Promise to Pensioners
    On July 18, President Santos rejected a bill passed by Congress that would reduce mandatory monthly health contributions for pensioners from twelve to four percent, citing the “fiscal impact” the bill would have if signed. The law would have reduced pensioners’ monthly contribution rate to be equal to that of working adults. In 2013, Santos signed an agreement with then-Labor Minister Rafael Pardo promising to cut mandatory health payments for pensioners entirely. While on the campaign trail in 2014, President Santos told pensioners, “I know [you all] want to see [your] health contribution reduced. There’s a bill being written in Congress, and I’m going to sign it.”
  • Afro-Colombian Women Leaders Recommend Improvements for Political Participation
    On July 9, the Ethnic Commission for Peace and the Defense of Territorial Rights released a statement calling on the Colombian government, as well as members of the Commission, to promote the representation of ethnic women on ethnic decision-making bodies. On July 30, the National Conference of Afro-Colombian Organizations (CNOA) released further recommendations to improve political participation for Afro-Colombian women in the post-peace accord era. They recommend policies that require diverse political representation for ethnic groups and ethnic women, better statistical tracking of Afro-Colombian political participation, the elimination of racial/gender stereotypes, and funding for the promotion of Afro-descendant women to participate in political parties. Currently, 0.1 percent of officials in Congress and 7.9 percent of those at the departmental and mayoral levels are Afro-descendant women.

On the more positive side we inform you of the following:

  • President of General Motors Colombia Temporarily Arrested for Violating Labor Laws (Cundinamarca)
    A judge ordered three days of temporary detainment for Pavlou Paris, president and manager of General Motors Colombia (Colmotores), on August 1. The order came as a result of Mr. Paris’ failure to comply with a previous order to reintegrate 12 factory workers he had fired for being sick or injured on the job. The 12 workers he was ordered to reincorporate were only a small group of the 40 sick or injured laborers Mr. Paris fired on July 26.
  • Prosecutor Who Targeted Social Leaders Arrested on Corruption Charges (Bolivar)
    The National Prosecutor’s Office arrested Prosecutor Puentes Lopez on July 31 in Cartagena, Bolivar. Puentes Lopez and three other public servants are accused of accepting bribes in exchange for negotiated releases and targeted arrests. Since March, social and human rights organizations in Bolivar and Cesar had denounced Puentes Lopez’s office for detaining social leaders under spurious pretenses. Now these same organizations are calling for authorities to release those wrongly detained.