Yolanda Cerón was a courageous Catholic nun that served the poor, disenfranchised and victims of the Colombian armed conflict in the Diocese of Tumaco (Nariño). During the paramilitary invasion of Tumaco in 2000, Sister Yolanda, as Director of the Diocese' Social Pastoral office, was an outspoken critic of collaboration between paramilitary groups and the Colombian military and abuses committed in order to expand oil palm production against the will of the local people. In April of 2001, Sister Yolanda publicly denounced these ties in a public letter and demanded an investigation. Less than five months later, she was assassinated in front of Our Lady of Humility Church in Tumaco as she was leaving mass on September 19, 2001.
Sister Yolanda was known for her tireless work in defense of the rights of Afro-Colombian communities on Colombia’s Pacific coast. She was recognized throughout the region for exposing criminal alliances between paramilitaries, the military and local politicians. Afro-Colombian leaders refer to her as “one of their leaders.” The Dioceses of Tumaco along with the human rights and Afro-Colombian community will be celebrating the legacy of Sister Yolanda on the anniversary of her death.
Ten years later, her case remains in impunity. In 2008, former paramilitary leader Pablo Sevillano admitted to giving the order to assassinate Sister Yolanda. The case against Pablo Sevillano was drawn to a halt because of his extradition to the United States for narcotics trafficking. Truth and justice remain unattainable for hundreds of victims, including Sister Yolanda’s case, as long as Pablo Sevillano’s cases for human rights abuses remain closed.