WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
27 Jun 2018 | Commentary

May Update: Attacks against Colombian Social Leaders Continue

Acts of violence and attacks against human rights defenders in Colombia continue apace. WOLA will continue to monitor the situation in Colombia and will continue to stand with victims and our partners to ensure that the Colombian government protects these activists from further threats. The work of human rights defenders is essential to constructing a democratic society and consolidating rule of law. The Colombian government must investigate and prosecute those responsible.

In this installment of WOLA’s Human Rights Update, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) would like to point to a letter signed by 73 Members of the U.S. Congress to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo concerning the grave situation facing human rights defenders, social leaders, land rights claimants and Afro-Colombian and indigenous activists. We strongly encourage the Trump Administration to implement its recommendations. In particular, efforts must be stepped up to investigate and prosecute those responsible for these crimes.

Below is a list of incidents since our last installment. To see past human rights updates, please click here.

  • Three Social Leaders Killed within a 24 Hour Time Period (Nariño, Cordoba)
    On June 2, three Colombian social leaders were killed within the same day, according to media reports. First, Carlos Jimmy Prado Gallardo, a prominent Afro-Colombian human rights activist and national delegate for the Afro-Colombian, Raizal, Black, and Palenquero communities in the department of Nariño’s prior consultation working group. He was killed in the Olaya Herrera-Satinga municipality and was last seen participating in a government-sponsored activity the day before. Then two others were shot dead in Cordoba department:  Orlando Negre, former president of the community assembly of Camu, and Julio Cesar Montalvo, an indigenous human rights defender.
  • Three Union Leaders Assassinated in a Ten Day Period (Valle del Cauca)
    On June 6 the Central Union of Workers (Central Unitaria de Trabajadores, CUT), Colombia’s largest union federation reported the assassination of Cristian Andrés Lozano, Luis Eduardo Domínguez, and Gilberto Espinosa. These three trade unionists from SINALTRAINAL worked for Nestlé of Colombia. SINALTRAINAL is the country’s most important food and drink union. According to the CUT, the first two leaders, Lozano and Dominguez, were assassinated on May 23 in Andalucía municipality. Espinosa was killed on May 13 in Bugalagrande.
  • Afro-Colombian Leader Assassinated (Valle del Cauca)
    On May 31, the Afro Cultural Assets Foundation of Colombia (La Fundación Colombiana Activos Culturales Afro, ACUA) reported the murder of Delmayro Reyes in the Dagua municipality. Mr. Reyes was a beloved social leader and teacher. According to ACUA, Reyes was murdered in front of his students. He died during his trip to the local hospital.
  • Three Indigenous Leaders Assassinated in 48 Hour Period (Valle del Cauca)
    The Regional Indigenous Valle del Cauca Organization (Organización Regional Indígena Valle del Cauca, ORIVAC) denounced the murder of three indigenous leaders in the northwestern region of Valle del Cauca. According to ORIVAC, Pablo Dagua and Adriana Montero Parra were disappeared in the Delfina neighborhood of Buenaventura on May 26. Their bodies that included signs of torture were found a day later. On May 28, Amilkar Yagari was found dead in the El Dovio municipality. Mr. Yagari was a former indigenous governor and member of the indigenous guard of the Embera Chami people. It is disturbing that Mr. Yagari was murdered despite the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) having granted the Embera Chamin community precautionary measures in 2017. The IACHR granted such measures after four members of this community were forcibly disappeared.  
  • Environmental Activist Assassinated in Ituango (Antioquia)
    On May 8, the Ríos Vivos Movement reported the murder of environmental defender Luis Alberto Torres Montoya, a member of the Association of Victims Affected by Megaprojects (Víctimas y Afectados por Megaproyectos, ASVAM) in Ituango. Torres Montoya led a campaign to halt the construction of the controversial Hidroituango dam project. The dam has already displaced hundreds of families. Flooding of the river will end the livelihoods of fishermen and small-time gold miners who have lived off this river for hundreds of years. It will lead to irreparable harm to thousands of hectares where ASVAM and Ríos Vivos Movement claim that hundreds of unidentified war victims are buried in mass graves. Flooding of such graves, without first having recovered the remains of disappearance victims would greatly jeopardize the victims’ families’ ability to reconcile with the past.
  • Kidnapped Social Leader Assassinated in Captivity (Arauca)
    On May 3, the body of María del Carmen Moreno was found by local authorities in Arauca department. Moreno was kidnapped by paramilitaries on April 27. Her kidnappers demanded a $350,000 ransom for her release. It is believed she was targeted for Moreno being a well-known leader in Arauca.
  • Woman Leader Remains Missing after Month of Search
    Deyanira Guerrero Tovar, a member of the Putumayo based Alianza Tejedoras de Vida organization has been missing since May 2, as reported by El Espectador. According to the newspaper, Guerrero was included in a list of threatened people earlier this year, and her organization fears this is a case of forced disappearance.
  • Attacks against the Indigenous Nasa Embera Chamí in La Delfina Reservation (Valle del Cauca)
    On June 8, the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (Organizacion Nacional Indigena de Colombia, ONIC) reported attacks against the Nasa Embera Chamí indigenous community in Buenaventura municipality. According to ONIC, at least 250 people face severe obstacles to meeting their basic needs. Their freedom of movement is also severely restricted by armed groups. On June 8, armed men entered the reservation and attempted to murder indigenous leader Gonzalo Hilamo Mesa. They shot at his house on multiple occasions. 
  • Deputy and Social Leader Threatened (Putumayo)
    On June 6, human rights organizations in Putumayo denounced threats against social leader Yuri Quintero. Quintero is the founder of several social organizations including the Human Rights Network of Putumayo (Red de Derechos Humanos del Putumayo). For years, her work has brought human rights violations to light. She also serves as counsel on the homicide case involving social leader Alexander Sanchez.
  • Threats against Cxhab Wala Kiwe Indigenous Authorities (Cauca)
    On June 5, the ONIC condemned threats by the dissident FARC mobile unit “Dagoberto Ramos” against Cxhab Wala Kiwe indigenous authorities. According to ONIC, tension exists between the FARC dissident faction and the authorities because the Cxhab Wala Kiwe leadership controls indigenous territories that span 20 municipalities. The areas of Jambaló, Corinto, Miranda, Toribío, Caloto, Santander de Quilichao, Suarez, and Buenos Aires are of particular interest to this dissident organization.
  • Naya River Community under Attack (Valle del Cauca)
    The Inter-Ecclesial Commission for Justice and Peace (Justicia y Paz) reported that fighting between illegal armed groups on May 23 displaced 300 Afro-Colombian civilians from various Naya River communities.  This recent event follows the kidnapping and homicides of three members of this community, numerous death threats and other hostilities against the community’s leaders. The group responsible for the disappearance of Obdulio, Hermes, Simeon (April 17) and Iber (May 5) Angulo continue to operate unabated in this area.

    Insight Crime translated into English an informative Verdad Abierta article on the dissident FARC group thought to be responsible for these killings.    

  • Awá Indigenous Communities at Risk of Harm (Nariño)
    On May 28, the Association of Traditional Authorities, and the Awá Indigenous Councils and the Indigenous Unity of the Awá People (Unidad Indígena del Pueblo Awá, UNIPA) sent out an SOS to the international community alerting to potential risk of harm of their communities by an illegal armed group that is operating Nariño. Twelve days prior on May 17, three hooded men arrived in the Chachajo community. They shot indigenous leader Pablo Emilio Moreno 18 times in front of his children and relatives. This incident is sparking fear that similar attacks may occur against other members of this community.

    On June 10, the ONIC sent out an alert concerning threats against indigenous leader Miguel Caicedo Guanga by the National Liberation Army (Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional, ELN). Caicedo Guanga received a threatening call after he refused to participate in a meeting organized by the ELN, and for refusing to pay a war tax to the guerillas.

  • Paramilitary Incursion of Embera Community in Lower Baudo (Chocó)
    On May 14, the Association of Cabildos, Traditional Indigenous Authorities Embera Dobida, Katío, Chami, and Dule of the Department of Chocó (Asociación de Cabildos, Autoridades Tradicionales Indígenas Embera Dóbida, Katío, Chamí y Dule del Departamento del Chocó, OREWA) denounced the presence of paramilitary groups in their reservation. OREWA reports that an estimated 100 armed men arrived to their territory on May 14. Since their arrival, these men forcibly recruited four minors and displaced 656 indigenous persons.
  • Bojayá Communities at Risk of Displacement (Chocó)
    On May 15, the Icesi University and the Center of Historical Memory warned that there is a high risk of mass displacement of the Bojayá communities located in the Medio Atrato River region. The Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) and the ELN guerillas are likely to engage in combat operations. Such combat is likely to displace Afro-Colombian communities belonging to the Greater Community Council of the Atrato Peasant Association (COCOMACIA) and the indigenous reserves present in the area.

    On June 12, ONIC reported that 1,695 indigenous persons are facing “confinement” with lack of access to services, basic goods, and mobility in Bojayá area. According to the organization, the 5 communities at risk are Mojaudó, Chanu, Unión Baquiaza, Playa Blanca and Puerto Antioquia.  The document indicates that the communities are subject to threats such as the installation of anti-personnel mines, forced recruitment, extortion, sexual violence, looting and robbery.

  • Humanitarian Crisis in the Catatumbo
    On June 7, the Commission for Life, Reconciliation and Peace in Catatumbo (Comision por la vida, la reconciliacion y la paz del Catatumbo), expressed concern over the findings of the recent verification mission led by the Ocaña Human Rights Ombudsman. Combat between the Colombian Armed Forces and EPL guerillas is leading to humanitarian consequences on the local populations. There are reports of indiscriminate bombings and shoot outs impacting civilians’ homes (their only shelter from the fighting) and goods. At least 64 families were displaced to El Esperanza and La Estación and another 25 families to the urban center. Two civilians were injured due to projectiles launched from a plane. Several of these newly displaced families were forcibly displaced on two prior occasions this year due to fighting between the two guerilla groups, ELN and EPL.

    The Commission alerts to the fact that military intervention in this area is generating abuses against civilians and that the Colombian government is not addressing the humanitarian concerns of those affected by this crisis. On June 6, an explosive artifact launched from a plane killed Yurgen Gutierrez and injured two others. Also concerning are allegations of military officials statements that stigmatize civilians residing in these communities. Such false characterizations make civilians military targets.

  • Humanitarian Crisis Affecting Indigenous in Jiguamiandó (Chocó)
    On May 24, Justicia y Paz alerted numerous high level officials of the Colombian government of the displacement and humanitarian crisis facing indigenous communities in Jiguamiandó. On March 30, indigenous Jose Emilio Bailarin was kidnapped and tortured. Fighting between the ELN guerillas, the AGC paramilitaries have displaced over 400 indigenous persons. Communities are confined and in need of humanitarian assistance. The illegal armed groups are forcibly recruiting youth and intimidating indigenous leaders. Justicia y Paz asks what the armed forces are doing to protect these communities from harm
  • Paramilitaries Threaten the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó (Antioquia)
    On June 11, the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó expressed concern over growing paramilitary presence in their territory. According to community leaders, members of the 17th Brigade of the Colombian Army and the Gaitanista Self Defense Forces (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia, AGC) are jointly patrolling the area without any consequence.