The UN Security Council holds its quarterly review of Colombia’s peace process and the work of the UN Verification Mission. Member states’ representatives voice strong concerns about increased attacks on social leaders and human rights defenders. Cauca-based social leader Clemencia Carabalí, of the Proceso de Comunidades Negras, addresses the session.
94 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, all Democrats, send a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling on the State Department to do more to encourage Colombia to protect social leaders and to “vigorously implement the peace accords.”
Community members in the village of Filoguamo, in Teorama municipality in Norte de Santander’s Catatumbo region, allege that Army soldiers killed social leader Salvador Jaimes Durán. The military’s Vulcano Task Force, which operates in Catatumbo, releases a photo of guerrillas insinuating that Durán was a member of the ELN. The ELN denies it and the guerrillas release a recording of the individual who appeared in the photo.
Assassins kill indigenous leader Luz Miriam Vargas Castaño at the Avirama reserve in Paez, Cauca. She is the third social leader killed in a 48-hour period in Colombia. Gunmen kidnapped and killed the indigenous governor of Agua Clara, Bajo Baudó, Chocó, and kill social leader Yoanny Yeffer Vanegas Cardona in San José del Guaviare, Guaviare.
The Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) arrests social leader Yolanda González García in Arauca, accusing her of working with FARC dissidents. Soldiers wounded González, and killed her government-funded bodyguard, at a vehicle checkpoint on September 19, 2019, in an incident that remains under investigation. In a statement, Colombia’s national human rights platforms call González’s arrest a “setup” and an effort “to destroy her physically and morally.”
The Peace and Reconciliation Foundation denounces seven arrests of social leaders or demobilized combatants in Arauca in recent days, “for which they have been charged with a series of crimes without corroborating the facts.”
The non-governmental organization Somos Defensores counts 47 social leaders and human rights defenders murdered during the first three months of 2020, an 88 percent increase over the 25 murders during the first three months of 2019.
Citing information from the Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía), Interior Minister Alicia Arango claims that between Januay 1 and May 15, 2020, only 25 social leaders had been killed in Colombia, a drop from 41 during the same period of 2018 and 46 during the same period of 2019. The 25 is the number of “verified” cases; Arango does not state how many 2020 homicides remain to be verified.
Daniel Palacios, a vice-minister of Interior and acting director of the Ministry’s National Protection Unit, says that a decree to speed up protection measures for threatened social leaders will be ready by the end of May. The month ends with no decree.
Gunmen massacre social leader Álvaro Narváez and three members of his family at their home in rural Mercaderes, Cauca.
Police capture Abel Antonio Loaiza Quiñonez, alias “Azul”, whom the Prosecutor-General’s Office holds responsible for the killing and forced displacement of 11 social leaders and former FARC combatants in Putumayo, mainly in Puerto Guzmán municipality. “Azul,” allegedly a member of a local FARC dissident group, was instrumental in a string of rural social leader killings that the magazine Semana called “the caravan of death.”
The Colombian National Protection Unit’s Risk Assessment and Protection Measures Recommendation Committee announces that, for public health reasons, it had suspended meetings to conduct risk assessments and respond to requests for protective measures on March 19.
- Marco Rivadeneira, a well-known campesino leader who had accompanied peace accord-mandated crop substitution programs in Putumayo, is killed in Puerto Asís municipality. Three men took Rivadeneira from a crop-substitution meeting by force; his body was found shortly afterward.
- The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ office, the OAS Mission in Support of the Peace Process, and the Truth Commission are among organizations issuing statements rejecting the murder.
- Three days after Rivadeneira’s murder, the government steps up forced manual eradication operations in Putumayo’s coca-growing areas.
- Assailants in Cali kill Arley Hernán Chalá, a bodyguard of prominent Chocó social leader Leyner Palacios, who is not with him at the time. Chalá is shot 18 times outside his home. “This must have been a message for me and for our process,” says Palacios, a survivor of the 2002 Bojayá massacre who was forced to leave Chocó in February after receiving threats. The threats continued even after Palacios met with President Duque and foreign ambassadors in January.
- Michel Forst, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, presents his report on Colombia to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Forst had a difficult relationship with the Duque government, which prevented him from traveling to the country in 2019 to do follow-up work on his preliminary findings.
- While on a visit to Putumayo, Colombia’s recently named interior minister, Alicia Arango, makes comments downplaying the severity of attacks on social leaders and human rights defenders. “More people die here from cellphone thefts than for being human rights defenders,” she says. “It sounds like a lie, but we have to defend all Colombians and we have to defend the leaders too, of course, we’re working on that.”
- Later, Arango tells W Radio that she refuses to retract her comments: “I don’t understand why there’s so much scandal when what I want to say is that a lot of people are killed in Colombia.” She adds that “the motive [for the killings] isn’t only that they’re leaders. What happens is that we’re a violent country, dreadful.”
- On March 10, networks of human rights defenders boycott a scheduled meeting with Arango in Cauca, the department that has suffered the most murders of human rights defenders and social leaders.
- Pablo Elías González resigns as head of the Interior Ministry’s National Protection Unit, which is charged with providing security for threatened social leaders, ex-combatants, officials, and others. González cites “personal reasons” for leaving.
- González’s replacement, at least on an interim basis, is the vice-minister of Interior for political relations, Daniel Palacios. FARC leaders object to having Palacios in charge of their protection. In 2017, Palacios wrote on social media, “It’s inadmissible that FARC terrorists should stroll down the streets of Bogotá with the excuse of carrying out pedagogy for peace, without even having confessed their crimes or given reparations to their victims.”
- The Electoral Observation Mission (MOE, a non-governmental organization) reports that 19 political killings took place in Colombia in January 2020: 14 social leaders, a community action board leader, and four political leaders.
- The Colombian government sends to the UN Human Rights Council a strongly worded, 20-page statement taking issue with the work of the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, Michael Forst. On December 26, 2019, Forst had published a report that was quite critical of the government’s response to the crisis of killings of social leaders, relying significantly on data from non-governmental sources. The Colombian government had refused to allow Forst to revisit the country for a follow-up visit.
- Hernando Londoño, director of the program implementing the peace accords’ crop substitution commitments (Comprehensive National Program for Illicit Crops, or PNIS), causes a stir by alleging that no leaders of coca substitution efforts have been killed. While dozens of people involved in coca substitution efforts have been murdered, Londoño tells El Espectador, they have not been leaders of coca farmer associations. He goes on to allege that “one or two last year” were killed because they were demanding kickbacks from the payments that coca growers were receiving from the PNIS program. “Those who have been killed were obviously involved in the program,” Londoño went on, “which is regrettable and should not happen, but many cases have to do with the same coca leaf business.”
- In Puerto Guzmán, Putumayo, Jordan Tovar becomes the 17th social leader murdered in Colombia during the first 14 days of 2020.
- A statement from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights offers grim numbers, which contradict the Colombian Presidency’s earlier claims of a 25 percent reduction in social leader killings during 2019. The UN agency’s 2020 count is smaller because it doesn’t count fully verified killings.
We are deeply troubled by the staggering number of human rights defenders killed in Colombia during 2019. According to our records, 107 activists were killed last year, and our staff in Colombia are still in the process of verifying 13 additional cases reported during 2019 which, if confirmed, would raise the annual total to 120 killings. Attacks on human rights defenders had already intensified during 2018, when 115 killings were confirmed by the UN Human Rights Office in Colombia. And this terrible trend is showing no let-up in 2020, with at least 10 human rights defenders already reportedly killed during the first 13 days of January.
- UN Verification Mission Head Carlos Ruiz Massieu presents the Mission’s latest findings to the UN Security Council. “It is urgent,” Ruiz Massieu says, that the parties establish and implement “a public policy to dismantle illegal armed groups, criminal structures and their support networks through the National Commission on Security Guarantees,” as foreseen in the peace accord.
- President Duque “reiterates that behind the killings of social leaders are narcotrafficking, illegal mineral mining, and organized armed groups,” according to the Presidency. This contrasts with human rights defenders’ claims that powerful local economic and political actors are behind at least some of the killings. Duque claims that social-leader killings declined by 25 per cent, a figure that human rights groups vigorously dispute.
- Amid reports of 23 homicides of social leaders in December, a large-scale “Gulf Clan” paramilitary incursion in Bojayá, Chocó, and the murder of human rights defender Gloria Ocampo in Putumayo, the Presidency convenes a rare meeting of the National Security Guarantees Commission that was established by the peace accord.
- Bojayá social leader Leyner Palacios, who denounced serious recent threats on his life, is invited to join the Commission’s meeting. Palacios is known nationally as a survivor of the 2002 FARC indiscriminate bombing that destroyed the village’s church, killing 79 people—including 5 of Palacios’s relatives—seeking refuge inside.
- High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos voices doubt that 300 Gulf Clan members could be deployed all at once in Bojayá, as local groups have denounced.