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As Colombia Transitions, Abuses Continue

By Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli

Published on WOLA (Washington Office on Latin America)  

As Colombia Transitions, Abuses Continue

Below you will find the incidents WOLA received during Colombia’s period of transition from the Iván Duque to Gustavo Petro governments. It is positive that the Petro government has announced an emergency plan to protect the lives of social leaders. In addition to addressing the protection of social leaders and civilians, a robust implementation of the 2016 peace accord is required along with the dismantlement of other illegal armed groups operating throughout Colombia. We urge U.S. policymakers to raise concerns about the situations below with the Colombian government. Also, to support all efforts that prevent further violations from taking place and justice for the abuses that occurred. 

Afro-Colombian community caught in crossfire between illegal groups (Chocó)
On September 12, armed conflict terrorized the community of San Miguel in Medio San Juan, forcefully displacing several families from the area. Reported statistics of internally displaced families from San Miguel indicate migrations towards the urban centers of Istmina, Medio San Miguel, communities of Negría (3 families), Dipurdú, San Agustín (14 families, approx. 44 people), and Cocové. Civilians in San Miguel remain without power and under lockdown. Communities both in San Miguel and those internally displaced are at a high risk of violence, where according to the last census houses 391 families and up to 1,058 people. The largest communities at risk are Isla Cruz (Medio San Juan), San Agustín, Barranoncito, and Las Brisas (Sipí), with 98 families and 429 people. In the greatest affected region of Medio San Juan and Sipí the largest number of communities at risk amounts to 500 families and approximately 1,500 people. 

The Afro-Colombian General Community Council of San Juan (Consejo Comunitario General de San Juan, ACADESAN) calls on the State to defend the human rights of the community. ACADESAN also calls on all the armed forces in Colombia to respect International Human Rights laws, and urges both national and international human rights organizations to support them.

USO trade unionist killed by hitmen (Santander)
On September 10, hitmen assassinated Sibares Lamprea Vargas, secretary of administrative affairs of the Oil Workers Union (Unión Sindical Obrera, USO) in Barrancabermeja. Vargas was killed at 8:30pm just after attending the funeral of his father, who passed that morning. Officials report that hitmen on a motorcycle shot him while he was driving. Vargas was transported to Magdalena Clinic where he died. In response, the Human Rights Ombudsman (Defensoría del Pueblo) issued an Early Warning Alert (Alerta de Sistema Temprana, SAT) No. 076/18 Report, indicating that trade unionists belonging to the USO face danger due to their activities. USO leaders are victims of death threats, intimidation, monitoring, theft of information, and sabotage in their workplace.

Illegal armed groups murder a family in Buenos Aires (Santander)
On September 10, illegal armed groups murdered a family with a knife in the village of Buenos Aires located in Landázuri municipality, Santander. The perpetrators set the house on fire to cover up the evidence. The victims included Alvaro Díaz, a local teacher, Loiden Acuña, his wife, Johan Sebastian Díaz Acuña, his son and his 13-year old daughter. Two of the alleged perpetrators were later found dead. The Human Rights Ombudsman issued an Early Warning Alert (SAT) No. 004/22 for this area. In it, it notes that illegal armed groups operate with a low profile in this region. Their activities include controlling traffic and outsourcing violent activities to other organized crime groups located in strategic areas for their operations. By utilizing these strategies, these groups operate under the radar of local law enforcement.

Female social leader assassinated in her home (Sucre)
Persons found Eva Amaya Vidal’s body covered in multiple knife wounds in her home on September 9 in Tolú, Sucre. Vidal, a social leader, actively participated in Sucre government innovation programs, including Productivity and Innovation Strategy (Estrategia de Productividad e Innovación), Sucre Innovates (Sucre Innova), and Sucre Knows Different (Sucre Sabe Diferente). She stood out as an example of leadership to other women in her region. In their No. 004/22 Human Rights Ombudsman Early Warning report (SAT), it indicated that female social leaders and human rights defenders are often victims of violence based on their gender. Also, that these threats extend to their families and support networks. This impedes women from taking public leadership positions and affects those leaders’ ability to make public presentations.

Illegal armed actors kill two men (Meta)
Two men’s lifeless bodies containing gunshot wounds were found on the side of the road on September 9 near Mapiripán, Meta. These men were installing the internet. The first front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC) maintains a presence in the area. There are reports that in the weeks prior to this murder, illegal armed groups were seen transiting through the area. The SomosGénesis Network urges the different illegal armed groups to de-escalate the armed conflict in this area in order to protect the lives of civilians. 

Assassination of afro-descendant woman (Cauca)
On September 9, W Radio reported that the secretary of the municipal government of Guachené announced that an Afro-Descendant woman was kidnapped and taken from her home in the village of Llano de Taula in Northern Cauca. The perpetrators took her to a nearby sugarcane field, sexually assaulted, and then murderd her. The woman, 41-year-old Mónica Ximena Carabalí Bolaños, was found in a position that suggested she was sexually violated. In this area, there are known disputes between indigenous and afro-descendant communities over access as well as ownership claims of the land.

Paramilitaries threaten indigenous leaders (Cauca and Valle del Cauca)
On September 6, Eduin Mauricio Capaz Lectamo, Nasa indigenous leader, reported he received a death threat pamphlet where he is listed as a target. The threat issued by the Black Eagles (Águilas Negras) paramilitary group includes: members of the Indigenous Regional Council of Cauca (Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca, CRIC), the Colombian Association for Infectology (Asociación Colombiana de Infectología, ACIN), indigenous Senator Aída Quilcué, Hermes Pete, Norman Bañol, Alejandro Casamachin, and Indigenous Regional Organization of Valle del Cauca (Organización Regional Indígena del Valle del Cauca, ORIVAC) consultants Emilio Valencia, Linderman Andrada, Alex Lulico, and Julieth Cuchillo. It falsely accuses the individuals listed as belonging to guerilla groups and states that they “need to be killed to protect the sovereignty of the country.” 

JEP order regarding FARC ex-combatants union
On September 5, the Absence of Recognition Section of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz, JEPtold the National Protection Unit (Unidad Nacional de Protección, UNP) that they had 20 days to implement security measures for members of the Living Memory National Union of Workers (Sindicato Nacional Memoria Viva de los Trabajadores). According to Gustavo Gallardo, the union’s lawyer, legal action is required because members are experiencing homicides and death threats. The union reports the following abuses committed against their members, which include five murders. In addition, the group suffered a disappearance, an attempted homicide, a judicial set-up, a situation of harassment by a judicial authority, surveillance, and a theft that included an illegal entry into their offices. Furthermore, one of their members was neglected psychologically and the individual committed suicide. Judge Reniere Jaramillo of the JEP ordered that the government provide it with a report of compliance to this order. The letter has to be submitted 5 days after the 20-day period is over. 

Four people killed in a home in Chapinero (Cundinamarca)
On September 4, a massacre of four people took place in the Chapinero neighborhood of Bogotá. Their bodies were transported by car to the neighborhood of Bochica and left in a vacant lot located in the town of Suba. The victims were identified as Arely Orlay, Hurtado Muñoz, Duban Amaya Cueto, Maikol Javier Cervantes Orozco, and Yahir Alfredo Serna Díaz. In response, the Human Rights Ombudsman issued their Early Alert (SAT) No. 022/20 Report, highlighting the formation of an organized crime ring in the city designed to engage in illicit activities including: murder; production, distribution, and commercialization of narcotics; illegal buying/selling of properties, usury loans, imposition of illegal tributes, “security” changes, merchant extortion, and theft. These are believed to sustain criminal infrastructures that parallel those in Medellín and Cali.

Social leader killed by armed assailants (Amazonas)
On September 3, William Pedraza, a social leader, was shot twice by armed men in the Ciudad Nueva neighborhood of Leticia, Amazonas. He was moved to a care center where he died shortly after from his injuries. William Pedraza is a recognized social leader and president of the Ñia Nee Mechi Estate Management Board (Junta Administradora de la Urbanización Ñia Nee Mechi), and a member of the Oversight Network of the Amazon (Red de Veedurías del Amazonas). In response, the Human Rights Ombudsman emitted their Early Warning Alert (SAT) No. 002/21 Report, stating that an accurate comprehension of human rights violations in the Amazon requires an understanding of the population, along with territorial and structural conditions of the region.

Three brothers killed in massacre (Bolívar)
The Institute of Studies for Peace and Development (Instituto de Estudios para el Desarrollo y la Paz, INDEPAZ) reported on September 2 that three brothers- Manuel Víctor, Darwin and José Alfredo Mercado Vivanco- were assassinated in Villanueva municipality, Bolívar. The massacre occurred in the village Algarrobo at the hands of illegal armed actors operating in the area. The perpetrators of this crime are not yet known. Operating in this area are the 37th front of the FARC—a dissident FARC group, and the Self-Defense Gaitanistas Forces of Colombia/Gulf Clan (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia/Clan de Golfo, AGC), among others.

Afro-Colombian leaders internally displaced (Magdalena)
On September 1, Marly Molina Álvarez and Levith Leonel Molina Álvarez, social leaders from the Afro-Colombian Community Council of Rincón Guapo Loverán (Consejo Comunitario de Comunidades Negras Rincón Guapo Loverán) found their home marked with black graffiti with the insignias AGC (Autodefensas Gaitanistas paramilitaries) after this group declared them to be military objectives. The AGC gave them 24 hours to leave town or face the consequences. This incident has led to their internal displacement to another area where they are in need of shelter, assistance and protection.

This incident follows a series of prior problematic ones. In August and January of this year, an illegally armed group made their presence known in the Community Council’s territory. These were reported to the Attorney General’s office. On February 25, Levith Molina Álvarez suffered an assassination attempt when he was fired at with a gun three times. At that time, the Human Rights Ombudsman asked the National Protection Unit (UNP) to provide Levith with protection measures. Previously, members of the Community Council have suffered intimidation, threats, internal displacement, confinement, and recently, attempts against their lives and physical integrity. 

In this situation, U.S. policymakers and others are urged to: contact the pertinent Colombian authorities so they can provide Marly and Levith with immediate shelter, assistance and protection in Bogotá.

  1. Contact the National Protection Unit (UNP) and urge them that they guarantee the protection mechanisms for Levith and re-evaluate the level of risk faced by Marly. Her current individual protection scheme is not adequate for her level of risk. It should be reinforced with the measures that go with Protection Scheme Type 2 which includes an armored car.
  2. Insist that the Human Rights Ombudsman of Magdalena Medio has to advance the protection route designated for Levith Molina Álvarez.
  3. Encourage the Attorney General’s office in Magdalena to investigate and sanction those responsible for the incidents mentioned above. 

Illegal surveillance of Claretian Priests’ Foundation (Vichada)
On August 30, a security incident occurred at the headquarters of the Claretian Corporation Norman Pérez Bello (Corporación Claretiana Norman Pérez Bello, CCNPB). In the morning, a man approximately 40 years old wearing black clothing and rubber boots parked in front of their office. The indigenous guards stationed outside noted that he proceeded to fly a drone along the interior and exterior of the building. He then drove away. At noon that same day, these guards reported that the vehicle in question contained a “RJQ 631” license plate. Given that the building owners had not authorized this activity, the police were informed. The police said they would keep an eye out for further activity. The CCNPB staff later went to the Trompillo Educational Institute found in the Trompillo indigenous territories. When they arrive they notice a similar vehicle parked at this place. After cross-referencing the license plate, it is identified to be the same vehicle seen outside CCNPB headquarters. The vehicle in question had polarized windows, a feature often seen in cars belonging to armed groups. 

Two-hour shootout waged in Buenaventura (Valle del Cauca)
On August 30, two rival drug trafficking gangs, the “Shotas” and “Espartanos”, engaged in a shootout on the streets of an impoverished neighborhood of Buenaventura for over 2 hours. Videos taken from residents showed Colombian Armed Forces steadily advancing through the, largely Afro-Colombian, Juan XXIII neighborhood. Arlington Agudelo, Buenaventura’s Secretary of Security stated that the shootout erupted over a territorial dispute from a larger criminal organization and drug cartel known as “El Local”. President Petro ordered the “police and Navy to react immediately”, while vice president Francia Márquez assured “restoring peace” in Buenaventura was a government priority. According to the Institute for Peace and Development (INDEPAZ), 72 massacres have occurred so far this year, with 11 under the new administration. With the murder of indigenous social leader Adriana del Rocío Guerrero, the number of social activists killed this year in the country rose to 122 (as of Aug. 30).

Threats and risk of displacement by armed actors (Nariño)
On August 29, the Inter-Ecclesiastical Commission for Justice and Peace (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz CIJPreported that illegal armed groups are threatening communities in Nariño. The Border Commanders illegal armed group (Comandos de la Frontera, CDF) are restricting the freedom of movement of inhabitants and falsely accusing individuals of belonging to rival armed groups. These incidents occurred a week after six Awá and Nasa indigenous people were murdered in Nariño. While on-going internal displacement due to armed group activity takes place in neighboring Putumayo, death threats are rising as illegally armed groups like the CDF and the Jhonier Toro Mobile Column of the FARC impose their presence in the area. Communities in both departments are calling for the adhesion of illegal armed groups to humanitarian accords to protect civilians caught in the middle of these groups. 

Forced fumigation in indigenous Nasa Kwesx Kiwe territory (Putumayo)
On August 26, according to the CIJP, two anti-narcotics police helicopters landed on the ancestral land of the Nasa Kwesx Kiwe community in the Piñuña Blanco district, of the Puerto Asís municipality. Prior to this, Nasa leaders provided the authorities with well-documented maps of their territories, however, the police infringed upon their territorial autonomy when they sprayed glyphosate on four hectares of coca plants located within Nasa territorial boundaries. The community urges President Petro to protect their territories from these actions.

Indigenous authorities’ report on July abuses
On August 22, the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia, ONIC) released their report on violations that occurred in the month of July. In the departments of Caldas, Chocó, Cauca, and Nariño, 2,103 indigenous people suffered abuses. Of this number, 23 became victims and another 11 became internally displaced. The Emberá community in Chocó was the hardest hit with 2,081 people directly impacted. 

Human rights defender intimidated (Chocó)
On August 16, the CIJP reported that two men photographed one of their human rights defenders who was accompanied by two international observers in Belén de Bajirá, in the Riosucio municipality of Chocó. The perpetrators are young and ride a motorcycle. The intimidation tactic of their staff member occurred right after indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities formed an inter-ethnic forum to condemn the impacts that the Minera Cobre company’s open-pit mining project is having on their communities. Such an incident is concerning because the Self-Defense Gaitanistas Forces of Colombia/Gulf Clan and military are in the area. 

Sexual assault of an Emberá Chami minor (Quindío)
The sexual assault of a thirteen-year old Emberá Chami girl took place on August 12. She was assaulted by a presumed rancher on her way to school. The Human Rights Commission of Indigenous Peoples of Colombia (Comisión de DDHH de Pueblos Indígenas de Colombia, DDHHPI) rejects this sexual assault and demands that authorities implement protections for indigenous children and adolescents. Indigenous minors affected by the armed conflict are particularly vulnerable as their bodies are considered sacred. The DDHHPI asks for a differential implementation when it comes to their rights, and protections of minors, families, and their communities. The DDHHPI demands an immediate investigation in coordination with the Territorial Authorities and the Indigenous Special Jurisdiction (Jurisdicción Especial Indígena, JEI). 

Afro-Colombian Peace Council reports alarming figures
The Afro-Colombian Peace Council (Consejo Nacional de Paz de Afro-Colombianos, CONPA) reports that a concerning number of violations took place between July 27 and August 7 of this year. According to CONPA, the Iván Duque government generated a humanitarian crisis in Afro-Colombian territories constituting a national level crisis. The following are the violations that CONPA denounces:

  1. a) 957 assassinations of male and female leaders and human rights defenders
  2. b) 44 of the 957 killed were afro-descendant leaders
  3. c) 261 signers of the peace accord murdered
  4. d) 313 massacres with 1,192 victims
  5. e) 2,366 death threats
  6. f) 446 incidents of confinement of communities
  7. g) 220 cases of forced disappearances
  8. h) 545 incidents of internal displacement
  9. i) 555 kidnappings
  10. j) 178 early warning reports issued
  11. k) 2,9634 cases of extortions

CONPA urges the new government of Gustavo Petro to declare a national humanitarian emergency and seek politically negotiated solutions to the conflict.

Police harass social leader (Valle del Cauca)
On August 4, the Inter-Organizational Committee for the Defense of the Territories Gained by the Sea (El Comité Interorganizacional por la Defensa de los Territorios Ganados al Mar, CIDTGMdenounced the threats and intimidation by the police against the community leader and human rights defender, Adriel Ruiz Galván. Galván is the coordinator of the Memory and Peace Corporation (Corporación Memoria y Paz, CORMEPAZ), an organization that works to provide children with integral protection. CORMEPAZ also promotes historical memory and culture at their Social House (Casa Social). The CIDTGM urges international human rights promoters to protect and guarantee the safety of Adriel Ruiz and other members of the committee.

Community rejects Dique Canal project (Bolívar)
On August 1, the black, indigenous, and rural farming communities rejected the 5G Megaproject for the Environmental Restoration of the Degraded Systems of the Canal del Dique planned for construction in the Dique sub-region of Bolívar. The large-scale development project is advancing without having gone through the ethnic communities’ constitutionally guaranteed right to a prior, consultation process. These communities fear that the project will damage their environment, natural resources, and ecosystems.

Afro-Colombian and indigenous leaders receive death threat (Chocó)
On July 10, WOLA was notified that the Pablo José Montalvo Front of the Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia was circulating death threat pamphlets listing several individuals in the Riosucio municipality of Chocó. Among those listed as targets are Marino Cordoba of The National Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians (Asociación Nacional de Afrocolombianos Desplazados, AFRODES) and Luis Evelis Andrade of the ONIC. There is speculation that the AGC views those listed in these pamphlets erroneously to be informants for the Colombian authorities who are reporting on this illegal armed group’s whereabouts. This is particularly concerning since AFRODES and ONIC are implementing USAID’s Inter-Ethnic Alliance Program in this region. 

Trans woman attacked by three men (Antioquia)
On June 27, the American Post reported that three men attacked a trans woman with chains and a leash in the neighborhood of Prado Centro, Medellín in the department of Antioquia. The attack, re-posted by The Trans Community Network (Red Comunitaria Trans, RCT), through a video on social media, shows the perpetrators beating the woman. The mayor of Medellín, Daniel Quintero Calle, spoke out about the incident calling for the identification and prosecution of those responsible, recommending that the men be “put behind bars”.

JEP condemns attack against the Nydia Erika Bautista Foundation
On June 7, the JEP expressed its concern that the Nydia Erika Bautista Foundation (Fundación Nydia Erika Bautista) is facing death threats and intimidation. The Bautista Foundation represents the victims of forced disappearances before the entities that make up the transitional system. The morning of June 5, a man entered the foundation’s headquarters and stole sensitive information belonging to this organization. The Foundation denounced previous security incidents in May 2022. The JEP urges the competent authorities to carry out an effective investigation that allows the stolen information to be recovered. It encourages the authorities to take actions that can prevent future attacks against the foundation.

Indigenous Wayuu leader receives death threats (La Guajira)
On June 6, the Wayuu Women’s force movement (Fuerza de Mujeres Wayuu) denounced that their Communications Counselor, Miguel Iván Ramírez Bozcán received death threats over the phone. The Wayuu Women have been historically organized in defense of their land, environment, and right to self-determination. The organization is calling on the Prosecutor’s Office, Police, Maicao Mayor’s Office, and the regional government to establish mechanisms that safeguard the integrity of Ramírez Bozcán and his family.

Massacre takes place in Banana Zone (Magdalena)
On June 1, INDEPAZ reported a massacre in the Tucurinca township of Magdalena involving three victims. They also note that inhabitants of the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta are facing “analogous dynamics of threat, vulnerability, and capacities” that affect their lives, freedom of movement, and personal integrity.

CCAJAR lawyer is threatened (Cundinamarca)
On May 27, the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective (Corporación Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo, CCAJAR) condemned attacks against one of its female lawyers. On May 26, Yessika Hoyos Morales, a lawyer, received a text on her cell phone with a threatening message. It alluded to her work representing Alfonso Mora León, father of Jenner Alfonso Mora, a victim of the Mondoñedo massacre that was committed by the National Police-Dijin on September 6 and 7, 1996. The day prior, May 25, perpetrators illegally entered Ms. Hoyos’ home. This is the second time that Hoyos and Mora are threatened in connection to this case. Recently CCAJAR submitted over 30 testimonies from their members and their families (including Hoyos) to the Inter-American System of Human Rights (IACHR) (La Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos CIDH). CCAJAR calls on the Colombian State to condemn these latest threats. The organization also asks the JEP to adopt a comprehensive public policy that provides guarantees for social leaders and human rights defenders. 

IACHR concerned about illegal armed groups’ actions in Colombia
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHRdenounced illegal armed groups’ order for a total suspension of economic, social, and political activities in various departments since May 4. These departments include: Antioquia, Bolívar, Cesar, Chocó, Córdoba, Magdalena, Norte de Santander, and Sucre. As a result, several human rights violations have been reported in at least 178 municipalities. These include 24 selective homicides and 15 attempted homicides; 138 communities left confined; attacks on 10 local media outlets, and 5 attacks on humanitarian missions. Additionally, the groups perpetrated 22 attacks on security forces leading to the death of 2 members. These groups are threatening and harassing the local population and restricting the freedom of movement of public institutions. Businesses are closed which is leading to food shortages. Vehicles are intercepted and public transport vehicles are incinerated. IACHR is concerned about this violent scenario and calls upon the State to increase its efforts to combat the factors allowing illegal armed groups to operate. Particularly, it calls for the practical and effective implementation of Points 1 and 2 of the 2016 Peace Agreement.