WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
28 Nov 2017 | Commentary

November Update: Indigenous Peoples and Others Face Serious Security Risk in Colombia

Colombia’s alarming wave of attacks on human rights defenders, particularly community activists in rural areas, is continuing apace. WOLA has been monitoring these cases closely, and is working with our partners to ensure that the Colombian government protects these activists from further threats. In this installment of WOLA’s human rights update, WOLA has once again recorded concerning trends that continue to affect social leaders. Specifically, we would like to point to the murder of social leaders in the departments of Caldas, Choco, Cauca and Nariño by various illegal armed groups, as well as the attacks that the Colombian National Police and Anti-Riot Police (ESMAD) carried out in various locations against indigenous communities, who were carrying out a nationwide peaceful protest known as the Minga.

As mentioned in the last human rights update, the alarming number of ongoing killings, security incidents, and threats, mandate that U.S. policymakers do their utmost to convince Colombian authorities to take bold, efficient, and constructive steps to address the security crisis facing community leaders and defenders. We will continue to see more killings unless Colombian authorities bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice and provide effective protection to vulnerable communities.

Together, we stand with our partners in Colombia in calling for justice, and we call on the Colombian government to investigate and prosecute those responsible for these crimes.

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

  • Indigenous Leader Murdered (Caldas)
    On November 2, the Commission on Human Rights for Indigenous People (CHRIP) reported the murder of indigenous leader Elvia Azucena Vargas by armed men in the Paneso community. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) granted this community precautionary measures in 2002, and as such members of the community called on the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations on Rights of the Indigenous Peoples to encourage the Colombian government to investigate the murder of Azucena Vargas.
  • Indigenous Governor Murdered (Chocó)
    On October 24, the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) reported the murder of Aulio Isarama Forastero, an indigenous governor of the Docacina community in Chocó.  The National Liberation Army (ELN) claimed responsibility for the murder of the governor. The murder of the indigenous governor occurred in the midst of the temporary bilateral ceasefire between the Colombian government and the ELN. Similarly, earlier in October, Jhon Eriberto Isarama Forastero, a teacher and member of the same community was kidnapped. His whereabouts are still unknown.
  • EPL Murders Rural Farmer (Cauca)
    On November 8, fifteen armed men dressed in camouflage who had previously stated they belonged to the Popular Liberation Army (EPL) abducted Alber Matinez. Witnesses saw these men beat Mr. Matinez as they walked toward a bridge on the Cauca River. They also observed the men placing his lifeless body into a car that is then driven to Pan de Azucar hamlet. Mr. Matinez’s body is later discovered floating in the river.
  • Awá Indigenous Killed (Nariño)
    On November 3, the CHRIP reported the murder of Orlando García, a member of the Awá indigenous community. Mr. García attended a meeting organized by FARC members, which, according to the Awá, sought to address rumors about the extension of reintegration benefits extended to non-combatants.  Mr. García was a non-combatant. According to the report, unknown individuals killed Mr. Garcia because they erroneously confused him with a former FARC member.
  • Nationwide Peaceful Indigenous Protest Met with Police Repression
    From October 30 to November 9, a Minga nationwide peaceful communal protest by indigenous communities—was organized to demand fulfillment of agreements made between the Colombian government and  indigenous communities to improve existing problems such as education and access to health.  During the protest, ONIC and other indigenous groupings reported cases of excessive use of force by the Colombian National Police and the Colombian Anti-Riot Police (ESMAD). This violence left dozens injured.

    Members of the ONIC suffered injuries in Cauca, Valle del Cauca, Risaralda, Caldas, and Nariño suffered injuries.  As of November 5, these injuries total to 44 (Cauca: 22 injured, Caldas: 12 injured and Valle del Cauca: 10 injured). Another 19 persons received death threats (Cauca: 11 and Risaralda: 5 threatened by unknown actors, Tolima: 2 threatened by paramilitaries and Caldas: 1 threatened by a local police commander). ONIC also records that during this time 6 arbitrary detentions of the indigenous took place. On October 30, severe injuries were suffered by José Miguel Dura Barqueño, an indigenous teacher in the Siapidara community, during the Minga protest. Mr. Dura Barqueño has lost use of one eye and suffered a concussion.

    On November 9, the Minga ended when an agreement was reached on how the government would fulfill its promises to the indigenous communities in the coming 10 months.

  • Armed Groups Present in Afro-Colombian Collective Territories (Chocó)
    On November 9, the Inter-Ecclesial Commission on for Justice and Peace (Justicia y Paz) warned communities sent out an SOS concerning the high number of armed groups present in the Afro-Colombian collective territory of Jiguamiandó. Both the Gaitanista Self Defense Forces (AGC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) were spotted in this area. Justicia y Paz notes that the ELN entered the area in order to install land mines. At the same time, an estimated 100 AGC members entered the same area a few days after. The large presence of armed actors has confined the Urada, Puerto Lleras, El Ovo, Vergel, La Laguna, Bracitos and Pueblo Pipón residents to their homes.
  • ESMAD Accused of Excessive Use of Force in Caldas, Cauca and Valle del Cauca
    On November 1, the Indigenous Regional Council of Caldas (CRIDEC) reported that the anti-riot police ESMAD entered the indigenous lands of Supia and proceeded to beat Orleyman Guerro and José Reinal Vargas, two community members, for resisting their entry into the reserve. At the same time, ESMAD dispersed tear gas throughout the territory. Just afterwards on November 3, the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) reported that ESMAD attacks in Caldono (Cauca) led to the wounding of four Nasa persons, including two teenagers.
  • San Onofre Community Victims of the Armed Conflict (Sucre)
    On November 3, Jose Melendez Marquez, human rights lawyer in Cartagena, wrote to the Colombian government requesting that it provide better protection and security to the rural and urban San Onofre communities. Illegal armed groups, such as the Clan del Golfo are endangering San Onofre civilians by carrying out armed strikes and threatening to murder community leaders.
  • Popular Liberation Army (EPL) Threatens Indigenous Leaders (Cauca)
    On October 27, the Association of Indigenous Cabildos of Northern Cauca (ACIN) denounced receiving death threats in a social media platform operated by the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), a small guerilla operating in Cauca and eastern Colombia. Among those threatened are the most prominent indigenous leaders in the country: Lizardo UI, Ruben Orley Velasco, Harold Sescue, Rodrigo Escue, Zuly Camargo, Aida Quilcué Vivas, Feliciano Valencia, Hermes Pete, Fabián Molcué, and Alveiro Mamaño. The ACIN calls upon the Colombian government to guarantee the safety of the threatened. Furthermore, it warned civil society in Jambaló, Tacueyó and San Francisco to remain vigilant.
  • Displaced Emberás Victimized by the Police Brutality (Bogota)
    On October 25, CHRIP decried police brutality against a group of internally displaced Emberás in Bogota. CHRIP calls upon Mayor Enrique Peñalosa to launch a full investigation to identify the perpetrators responsible for this attack. Furthermore, the national government must provide protection for internally displaced Emberas who are at risk of persecution and intra-urban displacement. Among the injured were minors and pregnant women. Victims suffered from concussions and bruises.
  • Environmental Leaders Face Threats and Attacks (Cesar)
    On October 11, the Corporation for the Defense of Water, Territory and Ecosystems (CORDATEC) expressed concern over persistent attacks against social leaders in San Martin, Cesar. Leaders fighting for land rights or who are speaking out against fracking were forced to leave the area and/or received threats. Luis Galvis, one of CORDATEC’s leaders was attacked by armed men in downtown San Martin.