COVID-19 and Human Rights in Colombia

By Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, cross-posted from wola.org.

Colombia, along with the rest of the world, is dealing with the pandemic caused by the COVID-19 virus. Similar to governments across the globe, it is adapting the best it can to this unprecedented public health threat. As of April 9, 69 Colombians have died, and another 2,223 are infected with the virus that has spread across 23 departments. In this update, we include information received from our partners with their view on how the pandemic is affecting their communities, along with concerning reports of on-going killings, attacks, and threats against social leaders; armed conflict; insecurity; and other abuses. Sadly, despite the national quarantine in Colombia, killings and attacks on social leaders and armed confrontations continue and have become more targeted.

We are particularly concerned about how the pandemic will affect already marginalized Afro-Colombian and indigenous minorities in rural and urban settings. Additional measures must be put in place to protect the health of these already marginalized communities. For this to be effective, consultation, coordination, and implementation are required with ethnic leaders in both rural and urban settings. On March 30, the Ethnic Commission sent President Duque a letter with medium and long-term requests to best help ethnic communities. In sum, they ask the government to coordinate with them; guarantee food supplies, seeds, and inputs for planting their crops; and to strengthen their organizations so they can sustain their national and regional team that attends daily to the situation of the peoples in the territories. At present, the National Organization for Indigenous Peoples (ONIC) has developed a national system of territorial monitoring of the COVID-19 virus in indigenous territories. They have organized territorial controls with indigenous guards to limit contagion in indigenous areas. AFRODES has circulated guidelines for displaced Afro-Colombians in urban settings. 

COVID-19: 

Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Coalitions Ask for Peace and Help with COVID-19 (Pacific Region)

On April 7, several coalitions of national civil society organizations from the Pacific region drafted a letter to President Iván Duque demanding that the national government provide Afro-Colombian and indigenous peoples protection and the right to peace. The organizations include the Permanent Table for the Concertation of the Indigenous Peoples of Chocó (Mesa Permanente de Concertación de los Pueblos Indígenas de Chocó), Regional Coordination of the Pacific (Coordinación Regional del Pacífico – CRPC), and the inter-Ethnic Pacific Truth Commission (Comisión Interétnica de la Verdad del Pacífico-CIVP).

The organizations report that physical violence against their populations has increased since quarantine measures were put in place to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. They adamantly condemn the presence of illegal armed actors in their territories and emphasize that such groups do not represent them. They denounce violence between the AGC and ELN, and from other paramilitary groups. Particularly, the organizations detail violence in the Atrato River and its tributaries, the massacre of seven people in Alto Baudó, and the April 4 attack on a medical mission transporting sick people. The letter also raises alarm to continued alleged collusion between the military and paramilitary groups. The organizations ultimately call for the national government to provide protection and immediate and differentiated action on the COVID-19 crisis. They ask that all groups agree to a multilateral ceasefire.

Government Advisory Body calls for Peace and Solidarity amid COVID-19 Pandemic

On April 4, the National Council for Peace, Reconciliation, and Coexistence (El Consejo Nacional de Paz, Reconciliación y Convivencia, CNPRC) urged the public to abide by the protection and prevention protocols needed to address the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, they point out that quarantine measures may exacerbate domestic and gender-based violence. The CNPRC argues that the government must channel full efforts towards implementing the peace accord, with a focus on rural reforms and advancing the Development Program with Territorial Focus (Programa de Desarrollo con Enfoque Territorial, PDET). In doing so, rural health and food security would be strengthened. The CNPRC applauds the ELN’s announcement of a ceasefire, calls on the Colombian government to follow suit, and calls on all armed actors to lay arms and to stop involving adolescents and children in their conflicts. Solidarity and peace are needed amid the pandemic, and beyond.

Paramilitary Activity in Port Aggravates Food Insecurity and Health Crisis for Afro-Colombians (Valle del Cauca)

On April 4, the Interecclesial Commission for Justice and Peace (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Pazreported various instances of intimidation, robbery, and extortion by paramilitaries in the Punta Icaco neighborhood located in the port city of Buenaventura (Valle del Cauca). The previous day, paramilitaries under the command of alias “Mono” and alias “Mono Leche” approached locals loading provisions into their boats and stole their food. The paramilitaries are also forcing residents to pay a fee to be allowed back in the area to work. Punta Icaco is strategically located to transfer food and other essential supplies into the Naya River Collective Territory. In this territory, there are approximately 21,000 Afro-Colombian residents that are suffering a food crisis and are at high risk of a COVID-19 outbreak.

Afro-Colombian Leaders Point Out Vulnerability of Cauca’s Pacific Region to a COVID-19 Outbreak (Cauca)

On April 3, the Coordination of Afro-Colombian Community Councils and Grassroots Organizations of Black Peoples in Cauca’s Pacific Coast (Coordinación de Consejos Comunitarios y Organizaciones de Base del Pueblo Negro de la Costa Pacífica del Cauca, COCOCAUCApublished an analysis of the region’s precarious health system. It found that Guapi, Timbiquí, and López de Micay municipalities do not have an intensive care unit, respirators, COVID-19 tests, and equipment to safely transport tests to any of the closest laboratories. Approximately 90,000 people live in these three municipalities but there are only 20 available beds to treat potential COVID-19 patients. Of the 20 beds, only 2 are in isolated rooms. In the past month, the Cauca and Nariño departments have suffered two power outages. The first one lasted seven days and the second 55 hours. The region suffers from a dire shortage of medical personnel, limited internet access, and restrictions in their mobility. Such restrictions impede the regular transport of food and other essential supplies into Guapi, Timbiquí, and López de Micay.

Catholic Bishops Urge Comprehensive Response to Pandemic in the Pacific

On April 2, the Catholic bishops of the Pacific region’s dioceses urged stakeholders to take necessary steps to mitigate the current regional health and food emergency, a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. These Bishops represent Nariño, Cauca, Valle del Cauca, Chocó and Antioquia, which are areas with a large number of Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities. The bishops call on the national government to employ a differentiated ethnic and territorial approach when addressing impoverished communities located in the Pacific region. Regional and local governments, businesses, institutions, and individuals are being urged to coordinate response efforts, and asked to contribute resources to address the region’s food and medicine shortage. The bishops also urged all armed actors to implement a cease-fire and put an end to all actions that violate international humanitarian law (IHL). Lastly, they remind the general public to follow all preventive measures put in place by authorities.

Wayuu Women Sound Alarm Over COVID-19’s Potentially Devastating Impact (La Guajira)

On April 1, the Strength of Wayuu Women Movement (Movimiento Fuerza de Mujeres Wayuu) expressed to WOLA with deep concern about the potential spread of COVID-19 in Wayuu communities in La Guajira department. While the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urged the Colombian government in November 2015 to adopt the necessary measures to preserve the lives and integrity of all boys, girls and adolescents in the Uribía, Manaure, Riohacha, and Maicao municipalities, nothing has changed. In 2017, the Constitutional Court, through ruling T302, declared this state of affairs to be unconstitutional and a violation of the Wayuu children’s right to water, health, food, and participation. The Court ordered the State to develop public policy with the participation of the Wayuu peoples to address availability and access to quality water; improve the effectiveness and coverage of food programs; improve and increase immediate urgent measures to address health emergencies; and formulate and implement a health policy for La Guajira that allows for all Wayuu peoples to have their right to health protected. 

Given the inaction to the Court’s ruling, Wayuu female activists are concerned that Colombia’s plans to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic do not include a differentiated approach that addresses the specific needs of Wayuu peoples. They are disappointed that among the country’s authorities, only the Inspector General has voiced concern over how the COVID-19 crisis and the national quarantine are affecting the indigenous communities, and specifically the Wayuu. The Wayuu cannot rely on the current precarious health options and network of hospitals available to them, which do not have the capacity to address the virus. Aside from the Wayuu’s traditional medicine, health infrastructure to address regular illnesses, much less this pandemic, do not exist. Further, it is difficult for the Wayuu to remain isolated in their homes when 90% of their population is forced to go to the cities searching for income through the informal economy. 

At the same, time, the Wayuu continue to be extremely concerned with the incessant threats and attacks against their social leaders and are urging the international community to do its utmost to advocate for their security. On March 12, the Strength of Wayuu Women Movement published a statement condemning a recent series of pamphlets and messages circulated by the Black Eagles (Águilas Negras) paramilitary group, which lists the names of prominent Wayuu leaders and threatens to attack and kill them. The statement highlights the Duque administration’s lack of response to the situation and calls on the national government to provide adequate protections and resources to social leaders who face grave insecurity.

Indigenous Communities Face Confinement Both from Anti-Personnel Mines and COVID-19 (Chocó)

On March 31, the Embera Indigenous Association (Orewa) released a statement condemning continued armed actions between the AGC and ELN in the Nueva Jerusalén, an indigenous community of 612 people in Chocó. They specifically denounced armed confrontations that occurred on Saturday, March 28 and the continued use of anti-personnel mines. As a result of continued armed actions by these illegal groups, the community is confined and does not have access to their basic needs of water and food. Even further, due to quarantine measures, the community cannot travel to urban areas for their basic needs. The community urgently pleads for Colombian institutions and the international Red Cross to intervene to ensure the community’s right to peace, and food and health security.

Indigenous Persons Lack Access to Medical Centers (Chocó)

On March 29, one indigenous person was taken to a medical center after presenting symptoms of fever, headaches, diarrhea, vomit, and dehydration. Three other persons, two from the Ibudó community and another from the Pedadó community of the Urada Jiguamiandó Indigenous Reservation, suffer from the same symptoms. They cannot get to the health center because they cannot afford the transportation costs. For years, the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia, AGC) and the National Liberation Army (Ejercito de Liberación Nacional, ELN) have violently confronted each other in this area. The indigenous communities have suffered the consequences as a result. Their freedom of movement was restricted, in essence confining them to their homes, which has generated a health and food crisis. There is great concern that without immediate action the spread of COVID-19 in these remote areas will cause irreparable harm. 

Ethnic Activists Urge that Response to COVID-19 Includes Addressing Humanitarian Crisis (Chocó)

On March 27, the Chocó Inter-Ethnic Solidarity Forum (Foro Interétnico Solidaridad Chocóissued a statement urging all armed groups to respect the Humanitarian Accord Now! (Acuerdo Humanitario ¡Ya!) and to implement an immediate ceasefire. Chocó is extremely susceptible to a COVID-19 outbreak because healthcare systems in the region are either non-existent or in precarious conditions. Widespread confinements and displacements, a consequence of increased armed confrontations, have generated multiple humanitarian crises in these vulnerable communities. Throughout 2020, there has been an increased number of assassinations and forced recruitment in the regions of the Upper and Middle Atrato River and Baudó. The government is urged to seek a differentiated response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which prioritizes the socio-economic and humanitarian needs of ethnic communities. 

Union Concerned About the Increase in Workhours During COVID-19 Pandemic (Atlántico)

On March 26, the National Union of Workers of the Plastic, Rubber, Related and Similar Industries (Unión Nacional de Trabajadores de la Industria del Plástico, Caucho, Afines y Similares, UNTRAPLAST) urged that action be taken to protect the workers at the Litoplas S.A. factory located in Barranquilla (Atlántico). Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and despite national regulations to prevent the spread of the virus, Litoplas S.A. executives extended employees’ work hours and implemented 12-hour shifts. Traveling to the factory during the country’s national quarantine is a security risk for these workers, given the increase in robberies and attacks since the health measure was put in place. Factory employees have also seen their break time reduced but have not received face masks or other personal protection equipment from the company.

Indigenous Leaders Assassinated During COVID-19 Mandatory Confinement (Valle del Cauca)

On March 24, W Radio reported that hitmen took advantage of the COVID-19 mandatory confinement to assassinate two brothers – both indigenous leaders – in the town of Naranjal (Valle del Cauca). The assailants arrived at Ómar and Samper Guasiruma’s house, dragged them out, and shot them. Two other people were also injured. The two brothers who were shot dead were members of the Embera-Chami peoples. 

Military Operations Continue Despite COVID-19 Prevention Protocols (Chocó)

Between March 24 and 27, the military carried out multiple operations in areas inside and near the Nueva Esperanza de Dios Humanitarian Zone and the Nueva Vida Humanitarian Zone, Riosucio municipality (Chocó). The various helicopter flyovers and expeditions by foot soldiers caused concern among the local Afro-Colombian communities who have called for a bilateral ceasefire in light of the recent pandemic. These operations overlook the prevention protocols put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 and are not the adequate state response local communities need to avert the looming food and health crises.  

Indigenous Community, Confined by Armed Conflict, Fears a COVID-19 Outbreak (Antioquia)

Since February, the indigenous Embera community at the Chimiadó Reservation in the Murindó municipality (Antioquia) has been suffering in confinement amid constant fighting between the AGC, the ELN, and the military. For weeks now, the more than 1,400 Emberas living at the Reservation—mostly children—have suffered food shortages and security threats that significantly endanger their livelihoods. On March 26, a new armed confrontation between the AGC and the ELN further deteriorated this humanitarian and human rights crisis. Currently, the community fears a COVID-19 outbreak in their territory, a deadly scenario considering they also lack appropriate health services.

False COVID-19 Rumor Puts Social Leader and Her Family in Grave Risk (Córdoba)

On March 24, a false rumor spread that social leader Yina Paola Sánchez Rodríguez had COVID-19, forcing her and her family into home isolation. This total confinement has made them easy targets of death threats, not only from individuals vowing to burn them to stop the spread of the virus but also from the AGC who operate in the area. The Police have said that unless the victims are properly tested, they cannot be evacuated. Yina, a land rights defender, lives in the town of Tierradentro in the Montelibano municipality (Córdoba).

Fears Over the Spread of COVID-19 Spark Prison Riots 

On March 21, during a series of prison riots, 23 individuals lost their lives and 83 were injured. These riots took place inside the following prisons: La Modelo, El Buen Pastor and La Picota (Bogota D.C.); Bellavista, Pegregal, Puerto Berrío and Itagüí (Antioquia); Picaleña (Tolima); Cómbita (Boyacá); and Jamundī (Valle del Cauca). The inmates protested the lack of appropriate measures to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks inside prisons, pointing to the severe level of overcrowding in these facilities as an aggravating factor.

On March 22, WOLA along with over 700 organizations and individuals, including Colombian Senator Iván Cepeda, urged President Duque to implement a policy of decarceration in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Colombian prison system needs structural change. Overcrowding is a major problem with some prisons operating at 260% capacity. The signers recommend that the government place at-risk populations into house arrest; release individuals with low-level offenses; grant conditional liberty to persons that qualify under the peace accord; provide water, food, and sanitation services in the prisons; and isolate and provide medical attention to persons exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms. 

Human rights incidents brought to WOLA’s attention:

Femicide Targeted at Social Leader (Bolívar)

On March 24, in an act of feminicide, hitmen assassinated social leader Carlota Isabel Salinas Pérez in her home. The incident was reported by the Popular Female Organization (Organización Femenina Popular, OFP). Carlota lived in the Guarigua neighborhood, San Pablo municipality (Bolívar): an area designated for the implementation of a Development Program with Territorial Focus (Programa de Desarrollo con Enfoque Territorial, PDET). As a member of the OFP, Carlota worked to help women producers, savers, and victims’ defenders; among others. After the incident, Carlota’s husband was disappeared. 

Prominent Social Leader Assassinated (Putumayo)

On March 19, Marco Rivadeneira, perhaps Putumayo’s most prominent social leader, was assassinated. Marco was attending a rural farmers’ meeting in the Nueva Granada hamlet of Puerto Asís (Putumayo) when a group of armed men forcibly dragged him out. Half an hour later, he was found dead. Marco served as president of Puerto Asís’ Rural Farmers Association (Asociación Campesina de Puerto Asís, ASOPUERTOASÍS). He was a member of the Peoples’ Congress (Congreso de los Pueblos) and the Coordination of Colombia-Europe and the U.S. (Coordinación Colombia-Europa-EEUU). He was an avid supporter of the 2016 peace accord and actively promoted the rights of rural farmers and the voluntary substitution of coca crops. 

On March 24, over 21 international civil society organizations, including WOLA, called on the Colombian government to investigate Marco Rivadeneira’s assassination in a joint statement. The Colombian government must effectively investigate and prosecute perpetrators of violence against social leaders. The activists urge the U.S. government to vigorously support the Peace Accord implementation in Colombia. 

Displaced Indigenous Leader Assassinated (Cundinamarca)

On March 18, Contagio Radio reported the assassination of indigenous leader Ilario Mecha in Bogotá (Cundinamarca). Ilario was a member of the Wounaan Nonam peoples’ indigenous guard. He was displaced, along with more than 600 other Wounaan Nonam persons, from Chocó to Bogotá. Now in Bogotá, this community faces security threats reminiscent to those that caused their displacement. 

Afro-Colombian Union Leader Assassinated (Cauca) 

On March 10, the General Labor Confederation (Confederación General del Trabajo, CGT) reported the assassination of union leader Alexis Vergara in the Llano de Tabla hamlet, Gauchené municipality (Cauca). Alexis, a sugar cane worker, served as a delegate to the Sintricabaña Union Assembly. Alexis was the son of Raúl Vergara—also a union leader and former local politician. Regional labor leaders believe that Raúl’s work, which favored workers’ rights and partnerships between unions, possibly led to Alexis’ assassination. 

Social Leader Assassinated (Cauca)

On March 8, RCN Radio reported the assassination of social leader Jorge Macana. The perpetrators shot and killed Jorge inside his house in El Tambo municipality (Cauca). Jorge led coca substitution efforts in the area. 

Individual Killed After Returning from Internal Displacement (Chocó)

On March 29, the AGC assassinated José Isidro Cuesta in the road that connects Urada Afro and Pavarando (Chocó). Jose had recently returned to Jiguamiandó’s Collective Territory after being displaced.

Indigenous Person Murdered (Nariño)

On March 26, hitmen assassinated Wílder García inside his house at the Tortugaña-Telembí Reservation, Barbacoas municipality (Nariño). Wílder was a member of the Awâ Unipa peoples. The incident follows a recent series of threats and harassments against this indigenous community by illegal armed groups. 

Afro-Colombian Leader Assaulted (Valle del Cauca)

On March 18, Narcilo Delgado was loading supplies into his boat at the Punta Icaco neighborhood’s port, Buenaventura municipality (Valle del Cauca), when three men began chasing him. Narcilo attempted to hide at a restaurant but four other men appeared, attacked, and robbed him. As Narcilo tried to defend himself, one of the men ordered the others to kill him. Narcilo managed to escape and sought refuge at the Puente Nayero’s humanitarian space. Narcilo is a delegate of the humanitarian space’s Community Council (Consejo Comunitario). The attackers are part of a criminal organization linked to paramilitary groups. Among them were alias “El Mono” and alias “Mono Concha.” This incident was reported by the Interecclesial Commission for Justice and Peace.

Following Threats by Paramilitaries, Professor Suffers Attack (Antioquia)

On March 4, a teenager broke into professor Sara Yaneth Fernandez Gimenez’s house in Medellin (Antioquia) and stabbed her. Sara is a women’s rights activist and professor at the University of Antioquia. She is also the secretary of the Board of Directors of the University of Antioquia’s Association of Professors (Asociación de Profesores de la Universidad de Antioquia, Asoprudea). Before her attack, dozens of pamphlets threatening multiple students and faculty organizations, and signed by the AGC, appeared in the university’s campus. The documents listed Asoprudea as one of the targets. 

Military Wounds Indigenous Leader (Cauca)

On March 11, the military shot and wounded Albeiro Camayo during a non-violent protest that took place in El Pescador, Caldono municipality (Cauca). Albeiro is the regional coordinator of the indigenous guard. During the protest, local indigenous communities blocked the Pan-American highway demanding that the government uphold what was promised in a previous protest in 2019 to protect their human rights and in protest of a potential plan to build a hydroelectric plant in southern Cauca. 

Extrajudicial Killing During Forced Eradication (North Santander)

On March 28, Catatumbo’s Rural Farmer Association (Asociación Campesina del Catatumbo, ASCAMCATreported that the military assassinated rural farmer Alejandro Carvajal in the Santa Teresita hamlet, Sardinata municipality (North Santander). In the days leading up to the killing, the local community of rural farmers organized multiple protests in opposition to the government’s ongoing forced manual eradication operations in the area. In response to the protests, the military allegedly threatened to shoot at any rural farmer that blocked coca eradication operations.

Young Indigenous Person Assassinated (Cauca)

On March 6, hitmen assassinated Darwin Vitonco Gembuel. Darwin was a member of the Nasa peoples from the Toribio municipality (Cauca).

Rural Community on High Alert After Unknown Individual is Found Dead (Chocó)

On March 18, the Interecclesial Commission for Justice and Peace reported that the residents of the Pizarro community in the Lower San Juan municipality (Chocó) found the dead body of a man. Apparently, the victim was shot the night before following a boat chase. This incident and the increased presence of unknown men in the area have this small fishing community on high alert. 

Paramilitary Leader Threatens Environmental Defender (Santander)

On March 15, Vanguardia reported that Luis Alberto González received a call from an individual who identified as alias “Brandon,” a commander of the AGC. In the call, the individual threatened Luis for his water preservation-related work in Barrancabermeja (Santander). Luiz has made multiple complaints calling attention to the pollution of Barrancabermeja’s San Silvestre swamp.

Indigenous Community Fears Paramilitary Attack (Chocó)

In our previous Urgent Action, we reported an attack by the AGC on Jiguaimandó’s Nuevo Cañaveral Reservation, Carmen del Darién municipality (Chocó). During the February 11 incident, members of this indigenous community confiscated the paramilitaries’ equipment. On March 25, the Interecclesial Commission for Justice and Peace reported that a faction of the AGC returned to the Reservation. The paramilitary demanded the return of said equipment but discovered that the community had already handed it over to the appropriate authorities. Agitated, they falsely accused several indigenous leaders of being guerillas and ordered to have a meeting with the community at a former paramilitary base nearby. The community refused to attend and is now in fear of possible reprisal. 

Ethnic and Catholic Groups Concerned About Increase in Violence (Chocó)

Ethnic organizations and the Catholic dioceses urge that action be taken to protect the residents of the Alto Baudó municipality (Chocó). In a statement released on March 23, these organizations report that, since the beginning of the month, Alto Baudó’s residents have suffered: selective assassinations, a massacre that killed seven individuals including a pregnant woman, internal displacement and confinement, economic blockades, deaths and injuries by anti-personnel mines, recruitment of minors, sexual violence against women, death threats against social leaders and local communities, and attempts by armed groups to supplant ethnic authorities. According to the organizations, this precarious security situation results from territorial disputes by irregular armed groups and is compounded by the state’s complicity or ineffective response.

Brutal Assassinations Cause Mass Displacement (Chocó)

On March 18, Semana reported a massive internal displacement of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities from the Alto Baudó municipality (Chocó). During the previous weekend, after months of fighting between the AGC and the ELN in the region, the AGC killed four civilians in Alto Baudó; four of them were decapitated. These egregious killings caused the internal displacement of approximately 2,700 individuals. Most of them traveled to Pie de Pató (the municipal capital) where they currently await humanitarian assistance. 

Several Injured and Others Disappeared as Military Fires Against Indigenous Persons (Cauca)

On the morning of March 18, indigenous persons from the Huellas Reservation, Caloto municipality (Cauca), heard gunshots. The gunshots came from the military base located at the La Emperatriz farm. As many indigenous persons began their work-related with the process for the liberation of mother earth, the military indiscriminately fired against them. The firing lasted for two hours. During the incident, multiple persons were injured and several disappeared. The process for the liberation of mother earth is a collection of efforts by indigenous peoples to defend their collective land rights. 

Campesino Community Protests Violence and State Harassment (Antioquia)

On March 9, residents of the Campamento municipality (Antioquia) protested the mysterious murder of local social leader Didian Agudelo. Despite the heavy military presence in the area, Didian went missing on February 25. A few days later, social organizations found his dead body hanged from his own shirt. In addition to Didian’s death, locals also protested the constant harassment and stigmatization from members of the Armed Forces. They report that to avoid encounters with the military, some families stopped sending their kids to school and some parents now refrain from going to work. 

Peace Community Under Threat Amid Assassinations and Harassment (Antioquia)

Since the end of February, residents of the San José de Apartadó Peace Community, Apartadó municipality (Antioquia), have experienced increased paramilitary activity. In areas patrolled by the military’s XVII Brigade, paramilitaries were seen traveling through multiple hamlets and intimidating the civilian population. They are displacing entire families and also forcing local residents to sell them their lands. On February 29, individuals wearing uniforms and carrying weapons distinctive of the military assassinated social leader Amado Torres at his house in the La Miranda hamlet. Amado was a member of his hamlet’s Community Action Board (Junta de Acción Comunal, JAC)After this assassination, the Peace Community discovered the existence of a paramilitary hit list which includes Amado, multiple members of the Peace Community, and local residents. Then on March 1, paramilitaries Darío Tuberquia and Yeison Osorno threatened, and almost shot, José Policarpo Cataño—another local resident. 

Indigenous Persons Harassed (Valle del Cauca)

On March 23, two men chased a group of Wounaan indigenous persons as they traveled through the San Juan River, Buenaventura (Valle del Cauca). Fearing for their lives, the Wounaan sought refuge at the Puerto Pizario village. For years, illegal armed groups have conducted their operations at the San Juan River and other rivers in the region. The two men stayed on the riverbank and repeatedly flashed lights on the village, apparently looking for the indigenous persons. 

Police Harass and Stigmatize Social Leaders (Chocó)

On March 8, as social leaders Santiago Mera, Isabel Velásquez, and Laura Calvach departed the San Jose del Palmar municipality (Chocó), the police stopped their car. As part of the standard security protocol, the leaders’ bodyguard refused to open the door of the vehicle. In response to this, the police officers replied, “if it were the guerillas, you would obey and allow everything.” The policemen then summoned a counter-guerrilla officer who escorted the leaders to a station nearby. At the station, a police sub-intendant filmed and took pictures of the leaders. He stopped only after the leaders pointed out that they were in communication with regional police and the Council for Human Rights. 

Paramilitary Groups Recruit Teenagers (Cundinamarca)

On March 18, Contagio Radio reported that criminal organizations associated with paramilitary groups recruited ten teenagers in the Soacha municipality (Cundinamarca). One of them was later assassinated in Antioquia. The news station also reported a complaint alleging collusion between the Police and these organizations. Despite multiple Early Alerts by Colombia’s Ombudsman Office warning about the operations of illegal armed groups in Soacha, local politicians have repeatedly denied their presence in the area. 

Human Rights Defenders Harassed and Possibly Wiretapped (Cundinamarca)

On March 13, as reported by theInterecclesial Commission for Justice and Peacehuman rights lawyers Camila Forero, Isabel Velásquez, Manuel García, Jhonatan Orozco, and Danilo Rueda met at a restaurant in Bogotá (Cundinamarca). They defend victims of crimes against humanity perpetrated by state agents. During their meeting, they spotted a woman outside the restaurant taking pictures of them. When the lawyers’ bodyguards confronted the woman, she got into a vehicle that was waiting for her and left. Given the lawyers planned the meeting only 20 minutes in advance, this incident raised alarms about a possible wiretap. A week before, Danilo Rueda—also a human rights defender—experienced a similar incident.

Plot to Assassinate Social Leader Revealed (Putumayo)

On March 26, an anonymous source revealed a plot to kill social leader Jani Silva. According to the source, the assassins were planning to ambush her outside of the Perla Amazónica’s Rural Farmers Reserve Zone (Putumayo). Jani is among several other leaders from the Reserve Zone who have received death threats during the past year and a half. Despite the strong presence of the XXVII Jungle Brigade in the area, illegal armed groups enjoy significant freedom of movement around these rural farming communities. 

Anti-Personnel Mine Kills Young Emberas (Antioquia)

On March 10, an anti-personnel landmine killed two minors: Lorena Domicó Bailarín (12) and Epifanio Domicó Bailarín (17). They were members of the Embera Eyábida peoples. The incident happened in the Murrí Pantano Reservation, Frontino municipality (Antioquia). 

Black Eagles Threaten Political Leaders and a Vast Number of Social Organizations

On March 5, the Black Eagles circulated a death threat targeting indigenous persons, Afro-Colombians, social leaders, and several social organizations. Among others, the document specifically mentions the organizations: Diverse Mothers of Colombia (Madres Diversas por Colombia), Women’s Pacific Route (Ruta Pacifica de Mujeres), the Table of Women Victims (Mesa de Mujeres Victimas), Viva la Ciudadanía, Legal Corporation Yira Castro (Corporación Jurídica Yira Castro, CJYC), National Victims Table (Mesa Nacional de Victimas) and the Corporation Sisma Woman (Corporación Sisma Mujer). The Black Eagles also threatened Bogotá’s Mayor Claudia Lopez and the Human Rights Ombudsman Carlos Alfonso Negret. 

Afro-Colombian Cadets Suffer Racial Discrimination at Police School (Chocó)

On March 14, the Condoto Soy Yo news outlet reported that Afro-Colombian cadets were facing racial discrimination at a local police school in Chocó. The Miguel A. Caicedo Police School in the Atrato-Yuto municipality (Chocó) recently came under the direction of two new police officers. According to school’s students and parents (speaking anonymously for fear of reprisal), these officers frequently insult Afro-Colombians, calling them derogatory and racist slurs. The officers also intimidate the students with threats, which if the victims dare to report them, they would be sent to schools in more dangerous areas. The new school’s directors brag about their immunity saying that, if someone were to find out, the worst that can happen to them is being sent back to the Ministry of Defense in Bogotá.

We also bring the following information we received to your attention:

Departmental Government Urges National Government to Abstain from Restarting Aerial Coca Fumigation, Citing Environmental and Health-Related Concerns (Guaviare)

On February 27, Guaviare’s Departmental Assembly highlighted the potential risks of spraying glyphosate—the main chemical used for coca aerial eradication—in a department with such a high number of natural parks and indigenous reservations. Previous fumigation campaigns brought some of the department’s ethnic communities near extinction and caused severe damages to many of the rural farmers’ licit crops. Additionally, the Assembly expressed grave concern about the government’s failure to produce any study on glyphosate’s impact on human health (despite decades of aerial spraying in Guaviare) and the risk of a fumigation plan which lacks this scientific basis. In contrast, the letter states, recent coca substitution efforts implemented through the National Comprehensive Program for the Substitution of Illicit Crops (Programa Nacional Integral de Sustitución de Cultivos de Uso Ilícito, PNIS) resulted in a reduction of coca crops between 2017 and 2018 with little to no impact on health or the environment. 

Military Adds Human Rights Defenders, Social Organizations, and Others to “Opposition” List

On March 10, the Colombian Army added the War Crimes Tribunal of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz, JEP), Human Rights Watch, the Colombian Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and others to a Twitter list called “opposition.” A group of investigative journalists Cuestión Política noticed the opposition list first. This group recently published evidence tying President Iván Duque, former president Álvaro Uribe, and other politicians and military leaders with José Guillermo Hernández. Up until his assassination in 2019, José was under investigation for his alleged links with paramilitary and drug-trafficking groups. On the Twitter list, the Army also included opposition politicians, social organizations, journalists, and academics.

As of November 2019, Kroc Institute Found 25% of the Peace Agreement was Implemented

On March 10, Notre Dame University’ Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies—the institute designated to monitor the Final Peace Agreement’s implementation—released a statement summarizing some of its findings. The institute monitors the implementation of 578 identifiable and measurable compromises. As of November 2019, 25% of these compromises were completed, 15% showed moderate progress, 34% showed minimum progress, and 26% showed no progress. These percentages represent the institute’s mainly quantitative approach to monitoring the Agreement’s implementation. Qualitative considerations only play a role in distinguishing compromises that if not implemented, will hinder or delay the implementation of the rest of the Agreement.

We thank you in advance for your attention to these important issues. 

Tags: Afro-Descendant Communities, Attacks on social leaders, Human Rights, Human Rights Defenders, Indigenous Communities, Public Health, WOLA Statements

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