We remain extremely concerned about the violence taking place in Colombia namely massacres, killings and attacks against social leaders, and the abuses committed by the police in recent social protests. We encourage you to view the video of our recent Spanish-language event Social Leaders’ Perspectives on Colombia’s Recent Massacres (Perspectivas de líderes sociales sobre las recientes masacres en Colombia) to hear the perspectives and recommendations of social leaders from some of the regions most impacted by the violence. Also, we urge that you publicly condemn these violations and urge the Colombian authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Below are incidents reported to WOLA since July:
Three Massacres in a Day (Bolívar and Antioquia)
On September 7, 12 Colombians were victims of three separate massacres that occurred in the span of 24 hours. The assassinations occurred in the municipalities El Carmen de Bolívar and Simití in the Bolívar Department and Zaragoza in the Antioquia Department. The Ombudsman’s Office had alerted authorities to the increased presence of the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia, AGC) in Bolívar and Antioquia and the risks their presence poses for civilians in these areas.
Three Men Killed (Cauca)
On September 5, El Espectador reported that three corpses were found tied up and abandoned in public view in Seguengue. Officials are in process of identifying the identities of the victims. This massacre occurred less than 24 hours after another massacre in Santa Fe (Nariño).
Another Massacre in Southwestern Colombia (Nariño)According to El Espectador, on September 4, four victims who died from gunshot wounds were found in the Santa Fé hamlet of the Buesaco municipality. El Tiempo identified the victims as 29-year-old Luis Alberto García Caicedo, 24-year-old Carlos Alfredo Rosero, 36-year-old José Omar Castillo Ojeda, and 25-year-old Johan Wayner Ángulo. Over six massacres were recorded in Nariño in the past month. While media reports classify the incident as a massacre, the government deployed an elite unit to search and identify the perpetrators of what it classifies as “collective homicides”. Preliminary investigations have not identified the perpetrators, but investigators believe that the deaths are a result of armed disputes about drug trafficking among illegal armed groups. State officials revealed that García Caicedo was a former ELN combatant who was under house arrest for charges related to arms trafficking. Rosero had charges against him for drugs and arms trafficking. State officials were also investigating Castillo Ojeda for intrafamily violence and Ángulo Martínez for fraud.
Three Adolescents Murdered in Another Massacre (Antioquia)
On August 23, two masked perpetrators on motorcycles shot at five people in Venecia, a town located southwest of Medellín. The attack killed three adolescents: a 19-year-old, an 18-year-old, and a 15-year-old. Blu Radio reported on August 24 that an investigation is underway, and authorities believe narcotrafficking gangs are responsible for the massacre.
Civil Society Denounces Massacres and Pleads with Government for Multilateral Ceasefire
On August 22, over 91 civil society groups and community action boards from southwestern Colombia published a statement addressed to President Iván Duque denouncing a recent spate of massacres. Since March 16, the signatories have requested on several occasions that the government call for a multilateral ceasefire and implement a humanitarian agreement. The signatories argue that calling for a multilateral ceasefire will help stop the ongoing massacres across the country.
Massacre Leaves Six People Dead (Cauca)
On August 21, a FARC dissident group known as the ‘Second Marquetalia’ allegedly killed six people in the municipality of El Tambo. El Tiempo reported that local officials found the bodies of the six individuals in a remote area known for disputes among armed groups for control of drug trafficking routes. According to community accounts, the six victims planned to attend a municipal meeting.
Rural Massacre (Arauca)
On August 19, unidentified gunmen assassinated five persons, who locals believe were Venezuelan, in a rural part of Arauca. Meridiano 70 reports that the incident could be linked to a robbery that was reported a few days prior.
Three Indigenous Adolescents Massacred (Nariño)
The Awá Major Council of Ricaurte (Organización Cabildo Mayor Awa de Ricaurte, CAMAWARI) mourned the August 17 assassinations of three Awá adolescents that took place in the Pialambí Pueblo Viejo Indigenous reserve. CAMAWARI reported that despite pleas they have made to the government asking for protection since April 2020, systemic murders continue to take place. The Indigenous urge the government to implement the orders of the Constitutional Court and the precautionary measures issued to protect their communities by the OAS. Effective investigations by the regional government and the offices of the Human Rights Ombudsman, Public Prosecutor, and Attorney General are required. CAMAWARI urges the National Protection Unit to provide protective measures to the communities under threat.
Five Afro-Colombian Teens Brutally Massacred (Valle del Cauca)
The National Association for Displaced Afro-Colombians (Asociación Nacional de Afrocolombianos Desplazados, AFRODES) published a statement decrying the brutal massacre of five Afro-Colombian teens in Llano Verde on August 11. Llano Verde is a neighborhood located in eastern Cali where thousands of families, who were displaced due to the internal armed conflict, reside. The victims of the massacre included Luis Fernando Montaño, Josmar Jean Paul Cruz Perlaza, Álvaro Jose Caicedo Silva, Jair Andrés Cortes Castro, and Leider Cárdenas Hurtado. All of them were between the ages of 14 and 18. Evidence of torture was found on their bodies. They were also shot with firearms and one victim had his throat slit. AFRODES calls on the authorities to not only conduct a thorough investigation leading to the prosecution of those responsible for these crimes but to also investigate the racial dimensions of this massacre.
On August 13, WOLA echoed AFRODES’ requests and urged the Colombian government to make justice, peace, and rights-respecting investment for ethnic communities a national priority. WOLA has reported on the insecurity and abuses taking place in Llano Verde and lack of effective efforts on the part of the authorities to properly protect and assist displaced communities for the past 10 years. WOLA also urges U.S. and Colombian authorities to bring the intellectual perpetrators of this crime to justice and provide effective protection for the family members of the murdered youth and the AFRODES leaders and members living in this community.
On August 26, AFRODES rejected the systematic violence enacted upon Afro-Colombian communities, including the assassination of social leaders in Valle del Cauca. According to AFRODES, Cultural House Association of Chontaduro (Asociación Casa Cultural El Chontaduro), Other Black Women and… Feminists! (otras negras y… ¡feministas!), Diverse Women (Mujeres diversas), Anti Racist Resistance (Resistencia antirracista), and “Cimarroneando” the Verb (Cimarroneando El Verbo) over 200 youths have been murdered in Llano Verde in the past seven years.
Attacks against Social Leaders
Two Social Leaders Assassinated (Meta)
On September 12, armed persons killed Ramón Montejo Plazas and Simón Ochoa, the former a president and the latter a member of the El Castillo municipality’s Caño Claro community action board. Two suspects killed the victims in their homes in broad daylight and fled on a motorcycle. The Claretiana Norman Perez Bello Corporation (Corporación Claretiana Norman Perez Bello) demands that authorities protect the remaining community in El Castillo.
Social Leader Murdered (Meta)
On August 31, Indepaz reported that Julio Cesar Sogamoso, president of the community action board of Barranco Colorado, was assassinated in Puerto Rico.
Social Leader, Twins Killed (Antioquia)
On August 30, 2020 Noticias confirmed the murder of Sandra Meneses, the former president of a community action board in El Porvernir, La Caucana, in the hamlet of Tarazá. Her body was found on a pathway to Tarazá in lower Cauca. Authorities have failed to uncover additional information. Sixteen-year-old twins Wilmer and Edil Ramírez were also assassinated in lower Cauca on the same day.
Social Leader Assassinated (Magdalena)
On August 25, two armed men assassinated social leader Rita Rubiela Bayona Alfonso in Santa Marta. Contagio Radio reports that Bayona worked on land that was under dispute for years. Police reports indicate that Bayona had reported threats to the Prosecutor’s Office and National Protection Unit. The authorities are offering a $5 million-peso reward for information that helps them solve this homicide.
Afro-Colombian Leader Murdered (Chocó)
On August 24, two armed men broke into the home of Edis Manuel Caré Pérez, an Afro-Colombian community council leader, and murdered him.The Community Council of Larga and Tumaradó (Consejo Comunitario de la Larga y Tumaradó, COCOLATU) urges the government to provide their community members with the proper security measures. COCOLATU warns that these events will continue to occur if the State does not take proper action.
Social Leader Assassinated (Cauca)
On August 19, RCN Radio reported that armed men shot and killed Fabio Andrés Gómez Grande, president of the Community Action Board of La Cristalina in the Argelia municipality. Authorities found the victim’s body at his farm. According to reports, FARC dissidents operating in the area had previously threatened members of this community. The Argelia Peasant Workers Association (Asociación Campesina de Trabajadores de Argelia, ASCAMTA) denounces the ongoing threats FARC dissidents are making against its members, social leaders and ex-combatants involved in the reintegration process. The organization asks why the police and military are not acting to address these threats.
Environmental Activist Assassinated (Valle del Cauca)
El Espectador reported that unknown perpetrators shot and killed 62-year-old environmentalist activist Jaime Monage on August 18. The crime occurred in Villacarmelo, a community located in the outskirts of the city of Cali. Jaime Monge created the ASOCAMPESINA foundation and led the Pachamama Foundation, which is dedicated to environmental issues and lodging in Villacarmelo. An investigation is currently underway by local authorities.
Paramilitaries Kill Afro-Colombian Social Leader (Chocó)
On August 11, paramilitaries assassinated Afro-Colombian leader Patrocinio Bonilla in Alto Baudó’s Santa Rita community, a fervent defender of Afro-Colombian collective land rights. The Black Communities’ Process (Proceso de Comunidades Negras, PCN) reported Patrocinio and 15 others were kidnapped by paramilitaries. While the others were released the men killed Patrocinio. Contagio Radio detailed that the paramilitaries released each individual one by one and shot Patrocinio dead. Patrocinio formed part of the National Agrarian Coordinator (Coordinador Nacional Agrario) where he worked with the youth to promote economic projects in Black and Indigenous communities.
Social Leader Assassinated (Bolívar)
On August 7, the National Liberation Army (Ejército Nacional de Liberación, ELN) assassinated Hernando Jóse Molina Villamizar, a community social leader. who formed part of a miner’s association. Molina Villamizar, a demobilized member of the ELN, received death threats as well. The Democratic Cultural Foundation (Fundación Cultura Democrática) demands that proper actions be taken against the ELN regarding this matter.
Indigenous Leader Survives Murder Attempt (Nariño)
On August 11, the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia, ONIC) condemned the illegal armed group known as Contadores for attempting to assassinate Awá leader Francisco Javier Cortes Guanga. The crime occurred at the victim’s mother’s home in Vaquerio where the men opened fire at him and his security detail. They luckily missed their targets. Francisco Javier is a prominent leader in the Piguambí Palangala reserve. The ONIC believes that this assassination attempt forms part of a systematic effort to intimidate and exterminate Indigenous communities in Colombia. They are urging the Colombian government, the Attorney General’s Office, and the National Protection Unit to safeguard the lives of their peoples. The Indigenous authorities urge that all legal and illegal armed actors refrain from operations that violate the fundamental rights of their communities. The ONIC asks the Human Rights Ombudsman to closely monitor the increasing incidents of intimidation and assassinations against its members.
Possible Assassination of Kidnapped Afro-Colombian Social Leader (Cauca)
On September 1, armed men kidnapped Leoncio Sinisterra, local community leader, from his home in Bellavista, in the Guapi Abajo community council. It is now being rumored that he has been killed. There is no information regarding his whereabouts. Organization COCOCAUCA condemns this act of violence against a community member and calls on armed actors to return the remains of Leoncio Sinisterra so that the ancestral tradition of the deceased may be honored.
Afro-Colombian Man Kidnapped (Cauca)
On September 1, four armed men kidnapped a yet to be identified Afro-Colombian man who is approximately 39 years old in Bellavista. It is possible that this kidnapping is somehow linked with former FARC rebels. The Guapi Abajo Community Council (Consejo Comunitario Guapi Abajo) is urging human rights organizations to investigate this matter.
Attempted Murder of Social Leader’s Children (Cundinamarca)
On August 31, two hooded men attempted to assassinate brothers Jonathan Molina Castillo and Cristian David Ariza Castillo, children of social leader Martha Irene Castillo Mateus. In June 2019, Cristian David Ariza Castillo received threats that propelled him to leave the country. He returned due to COVID-19 pandemic. Communities Constructing Peace in Colombia (Comunidades Construyendo Paz en Colombia, CONPAZCOL) are asking the Bogotá Mayor, Claudia Lopez and other local institutions to prioritize the protection of Martha Irene Castillo Matheus and her sons.
Vehicle Continuously Surveils Human Rights Defenders (Cauca)
The Inter-Ecclesial Commission for Justice and Peace (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz, CIJP) reported that on August 21 a silver-grey Chevrolet Spark GTI with license plate RJX 419 dangerously surveilled four human rights defenders in Popayán. The vehicle followed Diego Manzano, Milbia Díaz, and Juan Camilo Giralda. Minutes later, the vehicle followed Gloria Cecilia Orcué to her home, twice blocking entry for her UNP security detail. The CIJP previously photographed the same vehicle on July 23 and 25 when it conducted surveillance on the CJIP’s headquarters. The organization notes that their activists remain in danger despite alerts about their security situation.
Human Rights Defenders at Risk of Orchestrated Paramilitary Attacks (Santander)
On August 19, the Regional Corporation for Human Rights (Corporación Regional para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos, CREDHOS) condemned an alleged scheme between a local businessman and paramilitary groups to orchestrate attacks on members of CREDHOS. CREDHOS believes it is at risk because of its on-going public condemnations and legal actions against local, national, and international companies for the environmental damage and its effects on the local population in Barrancabermeja city and the Middle Magdalena region. CREDHOS urges that Colombia comply with the precautionary measure the OAS’s Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (OAS) issued to their organization in 2002. It asks the Attorney General to carry out investigations and prosecutions of the intellectual and material authors of this plot. CREDHOS asks the international community to urge the Colombian government to prioritize and effectively address the protection needs of human rights defenders.
Abduction of Social Leader (North Santander)
On August 10, the Popular Constituent Movement of North Santander (Movimiento por la Constituyente Popular de Norte de Santander, MCP) called on Mayor Dimar Barbosa Riobo, Municipal Representative Héctor Díaz, and state authorities to prioritize the search for disappeared social leader Juan de Jesus Peinado Mora. Unknown men abducted Juan de Jesus, president of a local community action board, while he worked at a COVID-19 prevention checkpoint. MCP demands his release by the captors as well as the contribution of any information related to his proof of life.
Civil Society Condemns Police Brutality During Demonstrations and Urges for Reforms (Cundinamarca)
On September 16, the Europe United States Coordination on Colombia and 294 other civil society organizations published a statement condemning widespread instances of police brutality during demonstrations in Bogotá. The September 9 demonstrations were prompted by the police killing of Javier Ordóñez and State forces responded with disproportionate use of force against civilians exercising their rights. Numerous videos, complaints, and testimonies reveal the Bogotá Police employing firearms against, beating, and attacking demonstrators and bystanders in different parts of the city. The organizations expressed that the national government is moving the country further away from democracy through de facto suspensions of the rule of law, allowing public forces to act without legal control by civil authorities. At the statement’s time of publication, the organizations recorded over 10 deaths and 200 injuries.
The statement praises Mayor of Bogotá Claudia López’s commitment to devoting institutional attention to the victims of police abuses and murders. It also condemns the attitudes of President Iván Duque and Minister of Defense Carlos Trujillo for supporting the police’s actions, attacking freedom of speech online, and further stigmatizing members of the political opposition. The organizations urge a special unit of the Attorney General’s office to investigate the abuses, and for the separation of the National Police and Ministry of Defense, so that it can become a civilian police force that respects human rights. The organizations also call on the Inter-American Human Rights system and the United Nations to activate their different protection mechanisms to document the serious violations that occurred during the demonstrations and bring those responsible to justice.
WOLA encourages you to read the following articles about the recent protests and police response:
- Colombian Cops Killed, Maimed, and Sexually Abused Protesters During Anti-Police Uprising
- In Colombia, Police Brutality Fuels Deadly Unrest as Protesters Demand Reform
Journalist Harassed for Practicing Free Speech (Santander)
On September 13, police commander Edwin Pérez harassed Laura María Margarita Santisteban Niño, journalist and restaurant owner, for placing a sign criticizing the police on her business’ wall. Laura posted a sign on the wall of her restaurant which reads, “They’re killing us, who’s giving the orders?” (Nos están matando, ¿Quién da las ordenes?). Two hours after the message was posted, Edwin Pérez and officials from the Attorney General’s Office arrived at Laura’s restaurant to question her about her message and a previous post from her personal social media account. The human rights group, Rights of the People (Derechos de los Pueblos), condemns this infraction of a basic right and calls for Laura’s protection as well as the suspension of Edwin Pérez and other parties involved.
Police Shoot at Journalist (Cundinamarca)
On September 10, the Mobile Riot Squad (Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios, ESMAD) shot at Carlos Zea, a Contagio Radio journalist. Minutes later, a member of the ESMAD pointed a gun at Zea’s defendants. Earlier in June, police forces previously assaulted Carlos Zea. Police forces continue to assault and harass members of Contagio Radio.
Police Murder Young Afro-Colombian Woman in Her Home (Valle del Cauca)
On August 20, police officers shot through the front door of Natalia Andrea Perlaza’s home killing her. She was a 22-year-old nurse. The officers followed Brayan Perlaza, Natalia’s brother, to the family’s home and beat him up outside the residence. As Bryan pounded on the front door calling for help, a police officer killed Natalia with a gunshot that ricocheted through the door. El País reported that the police officers involved claim they acted in self-defense. Eudes Perlaza, Natalia’s father, calls for justice in his daughter’s tragic case as an investigation is underway.
Other Issues of Concern:
Construction Project Harms Community (Atlántico)
On September 18, Communities Building Peace in Colombia (Comunidades Construyendo Paz en Colombia, CONPAZ) demanded that the construction company Amarilo take immediate action for the negative effects its recent project has had on the Vereda Las Nubes community, located in Barranquilla. Earlier this year, Amarilo closed one of the main access roads that farmers use to transport products out of Barranquilla. The construction of barriers has blocked residents from entering and leaving their land, as well as contributed to the contamination of the local reservoir. Community members have held several meetings with the manager of Amarilo, yet no appropriate actions have been taken. CONPAZ calls on the mayor of Barranquilla, the regional Ombudsman, and environmental authorities to assist in these matters.
Paramilitaries Up Threats against Social Leaders (Cundinamarca)
On September 15, RCN Radio reported that the Capital Bloc of the Black Eagles paramilitary network has increased its threats and intimidation tactics against social leaders in the Bogotá neighborhoods of Usme and Bosa, and in the Soacha municipality. Social leaders informed local authorities of pamphlets distributed by the Black Eagles, which target the leaders as military objectives and wrongly classify them as youth of the FARC. Among those who have denounced these ongoing threats include Colombian Congresswoman Ángela María Robledo and Jomary Ortegón Osorio from the José Alvear Restrepo Collective (Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo, CCJAR).
12-Year-Old Wounded in Crossfire with Security Forces (Putumayo)
On September 16, Conexión Putumayo detailed sources from the department’s human rights network confirming clashes between State forces and coca crop farmers that seriously injured a 12-year-old-boy in a rural area of Puerto Asís, in the Cabildo Nuevo Amanecer of the Awá people. The victim indicated that he was standing next to a coca crop as farmers spoke to State officials. Suddenly, State officials fired gas grenades that struck the child’s right cheekbone requiring him to seek medical attention in the city of Pasto. According to community reports, State officials continuously carry out forced eradication and the fumigation of coca crops spurring campesinos to act to protect their crops.
Victims Demand Rescue of Remains (Valle del Cauca)
On September 10, the National Movement of State Crime Victims (Movimiento Nacional de Víctimas de Crímenes de Estado, Movice) is concerned that the dredging of the San Antonio estuary may affect the remains of missing loved ones. MOVICE asks that the estuary search for missing persons before this infrastructure project is started to prevent the possible destruction of disposed bodies and evidence. Colombia is a signatory to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons. Both conventions require it to guarantee rights of the families of the disappeared. Movice demands that Colombia put in place a plan of action that includes searching for the missing bodies in the estuary before it advances this project.
Armed Group Kills Community Member (Putumayo)
On September 5, members of the armed group Commandos of the Border (Comandos de la Frontera) assassinated Segundo Ramírez, a local taxi driver in Peneya. CIJP reports that the assassination is a result of heightened military presence in the region, particularly the presence of the Army Jungle Brigade XXVII (Brigada XVII de Selva del Ejército). The organization argues that the Duque administration’s militarized security policies negatively impact rural communities and fail to curb the activities of illegal armed groups.
Thousands Displaced in Lower Cauca (Antioquia)
On September 2, the Popular Training Institute (Instituto Popular de Capacitación, IPC) reported that over 50,000 people have been displaced from Lower Cauca (Bajo Cauca) in the last three years. 261 people have been assassinated in six municipalities of Antioquia since 2017. Youth and leaders of the Voluntary Illicit Crop Substitution Program (Programa de Sustitución Voluntaria de Cultivos Ilícitos, PNIS) are at the highest risk in this region. One of the most affected municipalities, Tarazá, serves as a central base for illicit drug economies and illegal armed group activities, specifically those of “Los Caparros” and the AGC.
Demand for the Return of Indigenous Youth Corpse (Cundinamarca)
The Wayuu Indigenous Organizational Process in Bogotá (El Proceso Organizativo del Pueblo Indígena, Wayuu Onoshi) calls on national and regional authorities to allow for the safe return of the remains of an Indigenous youth that recently passed in Bogotá. On August 31, the unnamed youth passed away in a hospital in Bogotá during a birthing process. The denial of the return of her remains to the ancestral lands is a direct attack on Wayuu customs.
National Condemnation of Employer (Valle del Cauca)
On August 28, The National Board of Directors (Junta Directiva Nacional) decried the administration of Santa Clara Industries (Industrias Santa Clara, S.A.S) for its unjust dismissal of eleven workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The workers, who were primarily female heads of households, were deceived and fired without reason. This incident is a direct violation of Article 25 of the Colombian Political Constitution, which states that work is a right and social obligation under the protection of the State.
Six Rural Workers Arrested Without Due Process (Meta)
On August 11, a collective of community action boards decried the arbitrary detention of six rural workers in the Silencio hamlet of the Mapiripán municipality. According to allegations made by Minister of Defense Carlos Holmes Trujillo, the rural workers threatened and forcibly displaced social leaders. Despite attempts to hold a trial since their initial hearing on June 10, an official trial date is still not set. Families of the rural workers reported security concerns after the declarations made by the Minister of Defense, and they demand due process in their detained family member’s cases. The statement asks the Inspector General’s Office and the Ombudsman’s Office to follow up on the cases and accompany the rural workers since the arrests without due process violate their rights.
Domestic Worker Fatally Fell from Apartment Complex (Bolívar)
El Universal reported that on August 6, 52-year-old Glenis Baloyes Pérez fatally fell from the 11th floor of a Cartagena apartment complex while she cleaned windows. The Women’s Social Movement Working Group in Bolívar (Mesa del Movimiento Social de Mujeres en Bolívar) denounced tragic cases of workers like her who are left unprotected without social security. The working group called on authorities to implement a comprehensive social security plan for all to help protect workers across all industries.
Awá Indigenous Man Killed by Hitmen (Nariño)
On August 5, the Indigenous Unit of the Awá People (Unidad Indígena del Pueblo Awá, UNIPA) denounced the assassination of 29-year-old Marcos Armando Busbicus, an Awá Indigenous person. According to the UNIP, on the evening of August 4, four hitmen entered the victim’s home and shot him dead in front of his family. The crime occurred in the Saunde Guiguay reserve located in the municipality of Tumaco. The UNIP stated that the assassination forms part of an ongoing extermination scheme against their Indigenous community. They called on state and non-state actors to respect the lives of their people.
Indigenous Communities Attacked (Chocó)
The Traditional Indigenous Authorities of the Embera Dóbida, Katío, Chamí y Dule under the OREWA Association (Asociación OREWA) denounced the recent attacks against Indigenous communities in Chocó. On July 26, a shootout occurred in the Paso Salado Indigenous community located in the Medio Atrato municipality. Franklin Olea Rubiano was injured after a bullet hit his left arm. 30 armed men proceeded to enter the community house and terrorize the inhabitants. Then, on July 28, three armed men shot Santiado Campaña Negeta in the Alto Andagueda Reservation. The 23-year-old Indigenous man remains gravely injured.
Afro-Colombian Scholar Excluded from Academic Committee (Valle del Cauca)
On July 24, Dr. William Mina Aragón, an Afro-Colombian scholar, denounced his exclusion from the University of Valle’s editorial project on Manuel Zapata Olivella. The editorial project commemorates the life and work of Zapata Olivella, one of the most prolific Afro-Colombian scholars of the 20th century. Dr. Mina is internationally recognized for his analysis of Zapata Olivella’s work, which is why Dr. Mina’s exclusion from the committee raises concerns of racial discrimination among Colombia’s academic community. In a July 28 statement, a group of Colombian and international academics called on the University of Valle and the editorial project’s committee to reinstate Dr. Mina’s seat in the committee, highlight his contributions to the project, eradicate racist and “anti-black” attitudes from the project, and open a space for Afro-Colombian women.
Open Letter to Colombian Prisons
On August 26, over 100 civil society organizations published a letter that denounced the human rights conditions of the Colombian prison system during the COVID-19 pandemic. This letter addresses the lack of proper resources and effective solutions that contribute to the high risk of contagion within these prisons. The National Government previously implemented sanitary measures that have proved ineffective. In response to this health crisis, the author urges for the installation of the national table proposed by the National Prison Movement (Movimiento Nacional Carcelario). They also demand that proper measures be taken to reduce the prison population, control the entry of external personnel, and implement prevention protocols, including the distribution of necessary medical resources.
German Parliamentarians Denounces Threats against Senator Cepeda
On August 24, Members of the German parliament urged for the protection of Senator Iván Cepeda Castro, who has faced numerous death threats since the supreme court ruling against ex-president Álvaro Uribe Vélez. They request that the president officiate further investigation of the death threats against Senator Iván Cepeda Castro, his family members, and members of his office. They also ask that the national protection authority and special prosecutor’s office be strengthened in the face of the 185 murders that have occurred in 2020.
Civil Society Condemns Government for Violations of Basic Rights
The Multilateral of Social and Political Forces, Popular and of the Left (Multilateral de Fuerzas Sociales y Políticas, Populares y de Izquierda) condemn the government for the harm it has committed against its citizens. Specifically, the implementation of Decree 1174 jeopardizes the minimum wage and denies citizens a right to a pension. They demand for the protection of the human rights of Colombian citizens, especially against violence and COVID-19. They also invited the government to participate in the political acts of Peace Week (Semana por la Paz), which occurs September 5-12 and emphasizes the movement towards human rights.
Departmental Court Revoked Black Community’s Collective Land Title (Bolívar)
On August 21, the PCN published a statement denouncing the Bolívar Administrative Court’s decision to revoke the collective land title of La Boquilla, a black community outside of Cartagena. The State had originally enacted the emblematic collective land title on March 30, 2012, which upheld the ethnic community’s right to the land and any decisions regarding development projects. The community believes the State originally provided the title for international publicity to accelerate a Free Trade Agreement with the United States that demanded ethnic rights protections.
The Court’s August 2020 decision undermines several constitutional and legal obligations, such as those afforded by Law 70 of 1993 and Decree 1745 of 1995, to provide collective land titles to communities with ancestral ties. The PCN notes that Cartagena’s Land Management Plan (Plan de Ordenamiento Territorial, POT) failed to recognize the rural nature of the territory and special constitutional protections guaranteed to Afro-descendants. The PCN demanded that the National Land Agency and the Ministry of the Interior fulfill their duties to protect ethnic territorial rights, and that the Bolívar Administrative Court evaluate constitutional obligations in its decision. The international community’s collaboration is urgent in this massive future dispossession of black communities on Colombia’s Atlantic coast.
New Book about Effects of Mechanized Mining (Chocó)
On August 3, WOLA hosted a webinar with Steve Cagan and Mary Kelsey to promote their new book entitled, “The Price of Gold: The Cost of Mechanized Mining in El Chocó, Colombia”. A new era of conflict plagues the Pacific department of Chocó as illegal armed groups continue to viciously contest territorial control, inflict violence, and forcibly displace Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities. The groups are interested in controlling this biodiverse area rich in minerals including gold. The book describes how traditional practices were changed once mechanized mining was introduced to the region. While traditional panning for gold minimally affects rivers and forests, mechanized machines and the use of toxic chemicals create grave environmental, health, and social damage. These issues include mercury poison from gold mining, increased malaria transmission from water mining pits, deforestation, and a breakdown of solidarity among communities and social institutions at the hands of armed groups.
September 23, 2020