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.
After a four-month selection process, the Unit for the Search for Disappeared People announces the two civil society organizations that will play a formal role on the Unit’s Consultative Council. They are the Coordinating Committee for the Pueblo Bello Case and the Association of Nariño Women Victims of Forced Disappearance.
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.