WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
17 Mar 2017 | Commentary

March Update: Deadly Pattern of Threats Against Colombian Human Rights Defenders Continues

As the implementation of Colombia’s peace process slowly moves forward, one thing has become clear: the wave of attacks on human rights defenders in the country has shown no sign of stopping. Sadly, however, the Colombian government has shown little willingness to recognize the deadly scope of the problem. This week, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights produced a report noting that 127 activists were killed in 2016. Todd Howland, the UN office’s representative to Colombia, described the killings as a “pattern,” and urged the Colombian government to consolidate the implementation of the peace accords. However, Colombian authorities have downplayed the extent of the issue. Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas, for instance, has denied that the murders of human rights defenders has been “systematic.”

Semantics aside, the hard truth is that ever since a peace deal was signed in 2016 with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), there has been alarming spike in such attacks–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 activists from further threats, as well as to investigate and prosecute those responsible for these attacks. Below is a list of the incidents that have occurred since our last monthly update (see January and February’s updates). Together, we stand with our partners in Colombia in calling for justice.

  • Community Organizer Shot Dead (Cauca)
    On December 30, the Patriotic March reported the assassination of human rights defender and community organizer Yanetn Alejandra Calvache Viveros. An armed man fired at and fatally injured Ms. Viveros.
  • Human Rights Defender Assassinated (Cauca)
    On January 6, the Patriotic March reported that Omedo Pito Garcia, a defender and community leader, was targeted by armed men. They fatally stabbed him multiple times resulting in his death while he was heading home.
  • Social Leader Targeted for Murder (Cauca)
    On February 20, the ¡Pacifista!, a VICE publication reporting on peace in Colombia, reported that armed men shot and killed anti-illegal mining activist Faiver Cerón Gómez. Mr. Cerón was killed after leaving a meeting in Esmeralda mayor’s office.
  • Rural Community Leader Assassinated (Antioquia)
    On March 2, the People’s Congress condemned the killing of Ruth Alicia López Guisao, a human rights defender that formed part of the Agro-Ecological Inter-Ethnic and Intercultural Association (ASOKINCHAS). Ms. López was shot repeatedly by two armed men while visiting her family in Medellin.
  • Assassination of Afro-Colombian Community Member by Paramilitaries (Cauca)
    On February 22, the Afro-Colombian Community Councils of Cauca (COCOCAUCA) reported the death of 19 year old Oldener Albercy Rodriguez. Community members found his body in front of his home along with a note from persons alleging to be guerillas that claimed responsibility for his death.
  • Human Rights Activist Attacked While Sleeping (Arauca)
    On February 21, the Foundation for Human Rights (DHOC) reported that Francisco Javier Gómez Ayala was targeted by armed men. Mr. Ayala is a lawyer and human rights defender for the Arauca Campesino Organization (ACA) and DHO. Armed men entered his home and shot him multiple times while he was sleeping. He remains in critical condition.
  • Deteriorating Security Situation in Cúcuta (Northern Santander)
    On March 2, the Progress Foundation finds that in the Cúcuta region murders, forced disappearances, and displacement of human rights defenders are on the rise. They also note that the presence and control of illegal armed groups in the region is becoming more apparent.
  • Rural Community Leader Attacked (Cauca)
    On February 16, the Patriotic March reported that Edwin Jair Solís Muñoz, vice-president of the Sucre Campesino Workers Association, was ambushed at his farm by four armed men who fired at him repeatedly. Luckily, he was able to seek cover and evade the bullets.
  • Armed Groups Threaten Locals in Argelia Municipality (Cauca)
    On February 23, two heavily armed men in motorcycles arrived at Leider Fabián Narváez Mayorga (21 years old)’s home. According to the Patriotic March, they carried a list of human rights defenders and trade unionists whom they plan to assassinate. After failing to find Mr. Narváez Mayorga at his home, the men headed to the residence of Yebinson Arley Bermeo (19 years old) and Deiner Alejandro Bermeo (15 years old), Mr. Mayorga’s family members. Luckily, these brothers had fled the home before the men arrived. Before this, a group of armed men detained a truck and its passengers in Argelia municipality and locals reported hearing gunfire in the area.
  • Community Leader Targeted for Murder (Cauca)
    On January 3, the Patriotic March reported that Oscar Gerardo Salazar Muñoz, union leader and social activist, received a text on his cell phone from the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitaries. The threats condemned him as a “military target” as a result of his peace activism. This occurred a week after Mr. Salazar Muñoz participated in the march for life and water organized by the Campesino Process of the La Vega municipality.
  • Paramilitaries Threaten Afro-Colombian Rural Workers (Chocó)
    The Greater Community Council of the Campesino Association of the Atrato (COCOMACIA) reported that on February 2, a member of the council received a call from an individual claiming to be an official from the Ministry of Agriculture. He requested a list of 15 beneficiaries whom the council would recommend to receive an agricultural grant. Once the list was submitted, the supposed beneficiaries were victims of extortion and death threats. Paramilitaries demanded $1,000,000 COL from each individual and warned that a “social cleansing” operation would occur in the regions of Urabá and Murindó.
  • Black Eagles Threaten to Eliminate Human Rights Leaders (Cauca)
    On February 10, the Black Eagles paramilitary group distributed pamphlet death threats alerting social leaders and their families that they will be killed. The pamphlets target Wilson Andres Sanchez, Nilson Campo, Claudia Patricia Sánchez, and Lida Luz Luligo, who serve as leaders within the Totoro Municipality Campesino Association. The paramilitaries are threatening to eliminate all the Caucan human rights defenders and social leaders who support the peace process.
  • Armed Groups Displace Communities in the Alto Baudó Municipality (Chocó)
    On March 5, the People’s Congress reported that over 200 Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces (AGC) paramilitaries were present in the Afro-Colombian community of Peña Azul. The paramilitaries shot indiscriminately at locals, which resulted in a shootout between the AGC and the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerillas. Residents were forcibly displaced from the region, and it is not clear how many individuals were killed or injured. Eight communities within the municipality with over 700 local residents remain caught in the crossfire.
  • Human Rights Defenders Intimidated (Cauca)
    On February 23, the Patriotic March expressed concern for the safety of social leaders Alejandra Parra Guzmán and Jonathan Enrique Centeno Muñoz. Ms. Guzmán was followed by two armed men in motorcycles as she drove home. Upon nearing her vehicle, one of the men aimed a gun at her head and threatened, “tell Jonathan we will not warn him again,” before speeding off.
  • Harassment of Social Leader (Cauca)
    On December 27, the Patriotic March reported that armed men harassed local leader Edison Raúl Valencia Medina. An armed man on a motorcycle threateningly circled Mr. Medina’s residence and he alerted the authorities. After the suspect, Edwin Walter López Duran, was apprehended, Mr. Medina took photographs of the arrest for documentation, but was questioned by a lieutenant and was forced to erase the pictures.
  • Stigmatization of Federation of University Students (Cauca)
    On February 11, the Patriotic March informed that José Luis Pineda, a university student from the Palmira municipality, received a call from an individual who identified himself as “Harold the guerilla.” The caller repeatedly asked for his whereabouts. On February 17, Mr. Pineda’s mother answered another call to his residence. On this occasion, the man claimed a guerilla commander demanded to know Mr. Pineda’s location so they could drop off a shipment of arms.
  • Black Eagles Threaten Environmental Leaders (Cesar)
    On February 27, the Corporation for the Defense of Water, Territory, and Ecosystems (CORDATEC) reported the circulation of death threat pamphlets by the Black Eagles paramilitary group. These threats target CORDATEC activists.
  • The Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia Threaten Rural Farmers (Santander)
    On February 27, the Colombian Campesino Organization (ASOGRAS) received death threats via their organization’s email. These threats by the AGC paramilitaries specifically targeted Cesar Augusto Tamayo, the national president of ASOGRAS. The email warned Mr. Tamayo, along with other human rights defenders, to leave the region within 48 hours or they would be assassinated.
  • Black Eagles Threaten Ethnic Leaders (Cauca)
    On March 3, Afro-Colombian Community Councils of Cauca (COCOCAUCA) received an email from the Black Eagles paramilitary group threatening their organization’s social leaders and their families. They were told to leave the region or they would face assassination. This is the second death threat that COCOCAUCA has received in 2017.
  • Threats against Human Rights Defender (Magdalena)
    On February 25, Anibal Jose Perez Parra, a human rights defender and community leader, reported threats against his family to the local police force. Three suspicious men followed his son, Anibal Jose Perez Muñoz (17 years old), home and then remained at his residence, while attempting to coerce him to come outside. Mr. Perez Parra and his family have endured continued threats and physical violence as a result of his activism as a defender in the region.
  • Paramilitaries Announce Plan to Kill Jiguamiandó Leaders (Chocó)
    On March 14, the Inter-Ecclesial Commission for Justice and Peace (Justicia y Paz) reported that paramilitaries have declared seven members of the Jiguamiandó Community Council to be military targets. The names of those targeted come from a paramilitary who revealed them. They include Manuel Denis Blandon, Melkin Romana, Rumualdo Salcedo and another four persons the source refused to share. A different source states that Eramos Sierra and his son and Felix Alvarado are also targets. A few days prior, Mr. Alvarado was arbitrarily detained for 36 hours due to false accusations against him of murder and rebellion in the police station in Belen de Bajira. Since these could not be proven he was released. Manuel Denis is a recipient of cautionary measures from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (CIDH). Last week, an estimated 200 men thought to belong to the AGC paramilitary group engaged in military operations in the area.
  • Meanwhile in nearby Curvaradó, land rights claimant Yomaira Mendoza received another death threat on February 21. After leaving a meeting to discuss the land disputes relating to Caracoli, Pedeguita, Mansilla, La Larga, Turmarandó and Curvaradó she received a text stating “SOB if you return to Brisas, you’ll live only until that day..” This is just one of the increased numbers of death threats Ms. Mendoza has received since paramilitaries have reactivated their activities in this area.
  • Police Threaten to Detain Land Rights Leader (Meta)
    On March 6, during an effort by defender William Aljure to intervene on behalf of two community members falsely accused of links to illegal armed groups’ detention by the police, the Police Coronel in charge of Human Rights threatened to capture Mr. Aljure. A man dressed in civilian without identification then appeared where Mr. Aljure was situated and asked him to follow him. Mr. Aljure refused to follow this man.
  • Ethnic Communities Caught in the Crossfire of the Armed Forces (Chocó)
    Representatives of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities in the San Juan municipality reported that on February 19, troops of the Colombian Marine Corps detained and inspected the boat of a community leader. Shortly after being released, this person (name not being released for security purposed) was a victim of an armed attack. These events follow a morning shootout that occurred between the Colombian army and an illegal armed group that persisted until the next day, causing the displacement of community members of the Carrá municipality.
  • Intimidation of Human Rights Defenders (Cauca)
    On February 20, the Patriotic March reported that members of the national army detained a humanitarian mission traveling near the Buenos Aires municipality. After identifying the passengers and purpose of travel, the soldiers stated that the group could not proceed until the army received authorization by the High Commission for Peace. Approximately three hours after being detained at the army checkpoint, the humanitarian mission was released.
  • Peace Community of San José de Apartadó Faces Increased Paramilitary Activity (Antioquia)
    On January 15, the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó reported the presence of paramilitaries in the La Esperanza municipality. Residents informed of Colombian military helicopters picking up AGC paramilitaries along with vast amounts of ammunition, medical supplies, landmines, and military manuals. On February 22, peace community residents confirmed the presence of paramilitaries in the Arena Altas municipality. On February 16, army troops entered the private grounds of the community. These men stated that they planned to remain in the area under orders from a superior. Such an action violates the community’s principles of neutrality and independence from armed groups. On February 17, Paula Gaviria, the Presidential Counsel on Human Rights, the mayor of Apartadó, and various government officials visited La Esperanza municipality. Dr. Gaviria denied the presence of paramilitary groups in the area during a speaking event, despite accumulating evidence indicating otherwise,
  • Persecution by Ecopetrol against Trade Unionists (Bolívar)
    On February 21, the USO worker union reported that over 500 trade unionists and workers were blocked from entering the Ecopetrol facilities and denied of their right to unionize.  At the Cartagena refineries, the national army physically injured USO unionists Wilmer Hernández, Rodolfo Vecino, and Alex Escobar. Four security guards were also arbitrarily detained and transported in a van to an unknown location.
  • Intimidation of Social Leaders (Casanare)
    COSPACC, a Colombian human rights organization, reported that on February 7 and 18, suspicious individuals took cellphone pictures and closely observed social leaders inside the COSPACC offices. Following these events, an unknown individual attempted to steal the laptop of human rights defender Carlos Romero as he left the COSPACC Casanare branch. The man then threated Mr. Romero and warned of his imminent persecution by armed groups.
  • Harassment of Social Leaders by Members of the Army (Antioquia)
    On February 23, members of the Colombian military accused the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó of “opposing progress” over radio. These allegations stemmed from community activism resisting the construction of an illegal road built by paramilitaries between the New Antioquia and La Esperanza municipalities.
  • Mining Accident Kills Several in Guapi (Cauca)
    On February 22, COCOCAUCA reported a mining avalanche that killed Yulissa Lerma Caicedo (17 years old) and Jose Enrique Torres (28 years old) and injured six others. The laborers worked on traditional mining in the Afro-Colombian community of Guapi. The illegal use of large machinery without regulation of most mining operations in this area makes them more likely to become a death trap for ancestral miners.
  • Rural Workers Report Acts of Hostility by the Colombian Police Force (Cauca)
    On February 21, the Patriotic March condemned efforts of forced eradication by members of the national police force. The communities in the region mobilized peacefully urging the Colombian government to implement was agreed upon in point four of the FARC peace accords. In response, government troops carried out attacks against rural farmers by means of tear gas, smoke grenades, and rubber bullets. Patriotic March reported that various families, children, and elderly community members were affected or hurt by the assault. The president of Asociación Porvenir Campesina (ASOPORCA), Hector Arturo Rodriguez Escobar, was also threatened by a colonel of the police force for his activism.
  • SINALTRAINAL Trade Unionists Exonerated from False Claims (Santander)
    On March 2, SINALTRAINAL reports that a prosecutor’s office found a lack of evidence to support these allegations and dismissed the case against William Mendoza and Juan Carlos Galvis. These two trade unionists were falsely accused of setting an explosive device in Coca Cola’s warehouse in Barrancabermeja. The accusations led to months of security incidents and persecution against both men.