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

Killings of Colombian Activists Continue: Authorities Must Act to Stop Crisis

This week, two civil society leaders were murdered within the span of 36 hours in Colombia: Rubiela Sánchez Vanegas (a community leader from San Vicente Ferrer, Antioquia) and Gerson Acosta (an indigenous Nasa governor of the Kite Kiwe Reservation in Cauca). Furthermore, pardoned FARC guerrilla Luis Alberto Ortiz Cabezas was murdered under circumstances painfully reminiscent of the genocide against the Patriotic Union 25 years ago. He is the first FARC guerrilla to be murdered since the signing of the Peace Accord in August 2016.

Earlier this month, another three Awá indigenous people were murdered in separate incidents in Nariño on April 16, 2017, according to the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC). These acts of violence fit within a broader pattern of threats, attacks, and murders against community leaders and activists throughout Colombia.

Javier Oteca’s funeral in Corinto, Cauca

Nearly 50 social movement activists have been murdered in the Department of Cauca alone since the signing of the Peace Accords eight months ago. Governor Gerson Acosta, a recipient of a protection scheme from the National Protection Unit (UNP), was shot to death in his home in Timbío at 4:40 p.m. on April 19. His bodyguards were waiting for his call to accompany him in a nearby city at the time of the murder. Less than one month prior to Governor Acosta’s murder, another member of the Association of Indigenous Cabildo of Northern Cauca (ACIN) Javier Oteca was murdered in Corinto, Cauca on March 22. According to ACIN, the INCAUCA sugar refinery must be held responsible for Mr. Oteca’s murder. Mr. Oteca participated in the “Liberation of Mother Earth,” an indigenous-led effort to uphold their rights and recover stolen land. The day prior to Mr. Oteca’s murder, thousands of Nasa indigenous people assembled in Corinto, with the expectation of meeting with high-level Colombian government officials to discuss the implementation of the Peace Accords, but no government authorities arrived.

Empty seats designated for government officials during the indigenous assembly in Corinto on March 21

The Colombian government needs to immediately take effective 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. The physical security of activists, community leaders, and FARC guerrillas is essential to guarantee that the peace process is sustainable in the long term. The United States, the United Nations, and other allies of Colombia’s peace process must reinforce the importance of upholding agreed-upon measures to ensure security, and urge the judicial authorities to investigate, prosecute and sanction those responsible for this violence.