Bogotá police are caught on mobile phone video issuing repeated taser shocks to 42-year-old lawyer Javier Ordóñez, who dies of blunt-force blows in police custody. The video sparks citywide protests on September 9 and 10, which in turn engender dozens of mobile phone videos of police aggressively attacking civilians. Police kill twelve citizens around the city over those two evenings.
Bogotá Mayor Claudia López says that the police disobeyed her directives, while President Duque dons a police jacket and has his photo taken at a police station. Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo and other officials blame the uprising, which targeted dozens of neighborhood police posts or CAIs, on a conspiracy of ELN and FARC dissident elements, a claim that is widely disputed. The unrest inspires a weeks-long debate about reforming Colombia’s police, one of few Latin American police forces that remain within a defense ministry.
Maximum FARC party leader Rodrigo Londoño repeats the claim, uttered a day earlier by FARC Senator Griselda Lobo, that the guerrilla group did not recruit children as a matter of policy—while also admitting that the FARC’s policy was to accept recruits as young as 15 years old.
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.
Embera indigenous community leaders in Pueblo Rico, Risaralda, denounce that a group of soldiers raped a 12-year-old girl. The Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalia) reports that seven soldiers have pleaded guilty, but 25 more “may have had knowledge of this act.” President Duque promises, “We will get to the bottom of the investigations, and if we have to inaugurate the use of life sentences with them, we will do so.” An Army spokesperson says that the institution will not be providing defense lawyers for the accused.
Ultra-conservative ruling party Senator María Fernanda Cabal, known for her incendiary statements and for being the wife of the president of Colombia’s cattlemen’s federation, tweets that the rape allegation might be a “judicial false positive” instigated by those who wish to defame the armed forces.
Colombia’s Free Press Federation (FLIP) learns that 14 more journalists were among the 130 civilians for whom military intelligence had been maintaining detailed profiles, part of a scandal known as the “Secret Folders” that broke in early May. That pushes to 52 the known number of profiled civilians who work as journalists.
Coca-growing farmers confront a forced eradication operation, begun on May 26 and carried out by the military’s Omega Joint Task Force, Narcotics Police, and Police Anti-Disturbances Squadron (ESMAD) personnel in Tercer Milenio, Vistahermosa municipality, Meta. The security forces wound at least six farmers, some of them seriously. An Army statement alleges that the farmers were obligated to resist by FARC dissidents (“Gentil Duarte’s” group). The National Coordinator of Cultivators (COCCAM) contends that campesinos in this community had repeatedly voiced their desire to substitute their crops voluntarily.
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.
As fallout continues over a scandal involving military intelligence abuses, Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo announces new measures: the creation of new inspectors to supervise military intelligence and counter-intelligence units, new standards for personnel entering intelligence units; and stronger mechanisms for receiving complaints of wrongdoing.
Following an online meeting with Cauca indigenous leaders, Interior Ministry officials unintentionally leave their microphones on. “How about those motherf******s, I don’t give an a** about them at this moment,” one can be heard saying. “They’re never going to change and they’re going to be miserable and stupid their whole lives. …I hate those sons of b*****s.”
The Human Rights Ombudsman’s office (Defensoría) issues an “early warning” alert about armed groups’ activities during the COVID-19 emergency. Between March 23 and April 27, the agency documents 72 threats or other violent acts that groups have justified by claiming enforcement of public health measures. It documents ten cases in which armed groups killed people for violating the quarantine rules that they had put in place. Of 41 violent acts, the Defensoría finds FARC dissidents responsible for 14, the ELN for 11, neo-paramilitary groups 6, the EPL 2, and the rest other organized crime groups or unknown armed actors.
In a letter responding to the Defendamos la Paz coalition, Adama Dieng, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, declares his concern for attacks on social leaders and his intention to visit Colombia.
Human rights groups denounce that Ángel Artemio Nastacuas Villareal, an Awá indigenous farmer in the Inda Zavaleta y La Brava reserve in Tumaco, Nariño, is killed by security forces amid protests against forced coca eradication.
20-year-old Alejandro Carvajal is killed in an “incident,” as the Army calls it, with soldiers accompanying coca eradication in the municipality of Sardinata, in the Catatumbo region. The Catatumbo Campesino Organization (ASCAMCAT) states that Carvajal, the nephew of a local social leader, was killed in his home.
On March 19, the Defense Ministry had pledged to continue manual coca eradication despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
On its Twitter account, Colombia’s army briefly creates a reading list called “Opposition,” which includes the accounts of 33 journalists, former guerrillas, politicians, opinion leaders, and non-governmental advocates. The Army apologizes, and either deletes the list or takes it private.
The JEP requires former police general Mauricio Santoyo to stand trial for his role in the 2000 disappearance of two members of the Association of Relatives of the Disappeared (ASFADDES) in Medellín. Santoyo stands accused of working with the paramilitaries who disappeared Claudia Patricia Monsalve and Ángel José Quintero when he was commander of the Medellín Police anti-kidnapping unit. He later went on to be the chief of then-president Álvaro Uribe’s security detail before being extradited to the United States to face drug charges. He was returned to Colombia in 2019.
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 tellsW 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.
The human rights group Corporación MINGA withdraws its archive from the government’s Center for Historical Memory due to concerns about its director, Darío Acevedo. The materials MINGA took back included 66 boxes, 427 folders, and 31,265 folios of testimonies and documents. Acevedo, who took over the Center in 2019, had made past statements denying the existence of an armed conflict, and in the view of human rights defenders, has been favoring efforts to help military officers and large landowners to tell their stories of victimization.
The Colombia office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) releases its annual report on the human rights situation in Colombia. It includes criticisms of the government’s implementation of the peace accord’s rural governance provisions and protections of social leaders, while documenting abuses committed by the security forces.
President Iván Duque criticizes “imprecisions,” adding that the report’s recommendation that the National Police pass from the Defense Ministry to the Interior Ministry is an “infringement of sovereignty.” High Counselor for Stabilization Emilio Archila calls the report a “blunder” (chambonada).
At a February 27 UN Human Rights Council meeting to review the report, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet expresses grave concern about Colombia’s human rights situation. Colombian government representatives regret that the UN High Commissioner’s Office “missed the opportunity to produce a complete, balanced, comprehensive, and updated report that reflects precisely Colombia’s complex reality, and takes into account the precise context in which that reality happens.”
The “Defendamos la Paz” coalition releases a statement backing the UN agency.
The president of the FEDEGAN cattlemen’s federation, José Félix Lafaurie, delivers two reports to the National Center for Historical Memory attesting that “approximately 11,000 cattlemen have declared themselves conflict victims.” Cattle ranchers are widely alleged to have been a key support for paramilitary groups, and Lafaurie’s predecessor, Jorge Visbal, was imprisoned for supporting the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.