Defend the Peace Virtually Advocates for Peace with ELN

On April 17, 2020, Defend the Peace Colombia hosted a webinar that explored the prospects for peace with the ELN.

On April 17, WOLA participated in the Defend the Peace Colombia (Defendamos La Paz Colombia, DLPwebinar that explored the prospects for peace with the ELN. Following the guerrilla group’s declaration of a unilateral ceasefire due to the global pandemic, hope was reawakened that this temporary truce could serve as a stepping stone for restarting peace dialogues with the ELN. DLP, of which WOLA forms part, released a statement commending the ELN for paying heed to the UN Secretary-General and Colombian civil society’s calls for ceasefires. The Government of Colombia announced that two former ELN commanders, Francisco Galán and Carlos Velandia, would serve as “peace promoters”. The DLP statement emphasizes that these steps serve as an opportunity to consolidate a full peace by opening a much-needed space for exploratory dialogues with the ELN. DLP urges the Colombian State and illegal armed groups to agree to a multilateral ceasefire in order to advance peace and as a response to the public health crisis.

The findings of the latest report by the Conflict Analysis Resource Center (Centro de Recursos para el Análisis de Conflictos, CERAC) were presented. This noted that (as of April 17) the ELN had not engaged in armed actions and that no military offensives against the ELN were initiated. Clara López, representing DLP, stated that the public health crisis should not reduce efforts for consolidating peace and that the Iván Duque administration should increase its political will to foster dialogue with the rebel group. Former Senator and Minister of the Interior Juan Fernando stated the CERAC report’s main finding- the positive developments between the Colombian government and the ELN – were not getting media attention because the pandemic was dominating the headlines. Given this, proponents of peace had to adapt their advocacy and be strategic so as to guarantee that both issues, peace promotion and the health crisis, get attention. To help mobilize efforts by civil society in support of advancing peace with the ELN, it was necessary that positive developments obtain visibility. 

Senator Roy Barreras argued that the Duque administration continues to carry out warmongering acts against the ELN that generate obstacles for advancing dialogue with the rebel group. Violence committed by the group, fuels fear in Colombian society and the administration takes advantage of this to justify its military actions. Further, Senator Barreras noted that humanitarian emergencies weaken governmental plans and this is also used to explain away poor leadership. The pandemic allows governments in general to reframe political narratives in their respective countries, which can unfortunately result in assaults against critical rights. The Senator believes that the Colombian government should take advantage of this unprecedented public health emergency to reframe the political narrative around peace with the ELN. The speakers closed by asking that Colombia’s government fully implement the 2016 Peace Agreement with FARC and start peace dialogues with the ELN.

Speakers went on to emphasize that civil society participation is crucial to any peace process. César Sandino from Paz Completa said that civil society needs to be treated like an actor at the negotiating table because they are the ones directly affected by the conflict and are essential to guaranteeing a sustainable peace. Diana Sánchez added that continued oversight and support by the United Nations’ was needed.

Afro-Colombian leader and Bojayá massacre survivor from Chocó Leyner Palacios emphasized that guarantees of non-repetition are needed and that victims are central to peace negotiations. A multilateral ceasefire is needed in order to protect innocent civilians throughout Colombia. At the current juncture, communities in the Pacific face infrastructure issues, institutional neglect, and armed conflict. The health crisis is compounding all of these structural issues. Leyner pleaded that the government take action to protect the territories of ethnic minorities now affected by the pandemic. Throughout the discussion, it was pointed out that the communities affected by the ELN’s armed actions are the same that are likely to be most negatively affected by the pandemic. Despite the national quarantine, forced coca crop eradication operations continue and armed actors are murdering social leaders. Marylen Serna, a social leader from Cauca, and Ediver Suárez, an activist from Catatumbo, pointed out that the government was not implementing the 2016 peace agreement. They recommend that it be fully implemented and that negotiations with the ELN are prioritized. 

Cali’s Monsignor Dario Monslave of Cali urged the ELN to free any hostages it has in its possession. He asked that the ELN respect the territories and communities it typically operates in. When doing so, the rebel group needs to be environmentally conscientious, as its operations are detrimentally impacting ecosystems. U.S. Reverend Douglas Leonard from the Global Council of Churches spoke of the importance of peace, particularly during the Easter season.   

In sum, these are challenging times for communities facing on-going armed conflict and now a pandemic. Senator Iván Cepeda closed the meeting by underscoring the need to uphold democracy during these times. He stated that democracy should not be seen as an obstacle but rather a vital part of the solution to pandemic. Senator Cepeda called on other armed groups including the Gulf Clan to lay down their weapons. He said: “Facing the pandemic is a war in itself. Peace is fundamental to civilian security and is the only path forward.”

Tags: Civil Society Peace Movement, ELN Peace Talks, Post-Conflict Implementation

May 11, 2020

A New Scandal Underscores Colombia’s Stubborn Inability to Reform Military Intelligence

(Cross-posted from wola.org)

Semana, a Colombian newsmagazine that often exposes human rights wrongdoing in Colombia’s armed forces, published another scoop on May 1, 2020. Army intelligence units, it found, had been developing detailed dossiers on the personal lives of at least 130 reporters, human rights defenders, politicians, judges, and possible military whistleblowers. The list of targets includes U.S. citizens who work in Colombia as reporters for major media outlets.

Semana has a long record of revealing malfeasance in the security forces. The last five covers are from the past twelve months.

This is the latest of a long series of scandals involving illegal wiretapping, hacking, surveillance, or threats from Colombia’s powerful, U.S.-backed security and intelligence forces. Though Colombia has taken modest steps toward accountability over its military, the Semana revelations show us how fragile and reversible this progress is.

The purpose of intelligence should be to foresee and help prevent threats to law-abiding people and their freedoms. In a country where a social leader is murdered every other day, such threats abound. For scarce intelligence resources to be diverted away from those threats, and channeled instead to illegal and politicized ends, is a betrayal of public trust and an attack on Colombian democracy.

Preventing a further repetition of these intelligence abuses will require Colombia’s government to take bold steps. These include holding those responsible, at the highest levels, swiftly and transparently accountable for their crimes. Because U.S. assistance may be implicated in, or at least adjacent to, the military intelligence units’ actions, how Colombia responds must have giant implications for the integrity of the bilateral relationship and the ostensible purposes of U.S. aid. Any indication that these crimes may once again end up in impunity must trigger a cutoff of U.S. aid to the units involved.

What we know about the latest revelations comes mainly from Semana and other Colombian media. We lay it out in the following narrative.

Prehistory: this keeps happening

Unauthorized wiretapping scandals recur with numbing regularity in Colombia. In 2009, Semana—which tends to reveal most of these misdeeds—uncovered massive surveillance and threats against opposition politicians, judicial personnel, reporters, and human rights defenders. These were carried out by an intelligence body, the Administrative Security Department (DAS), that reported directly to President Álvaro Uribe. The DAS had already run into trouble earlier in Uribe’s government (2002-2010) for collaborating with paramilitary groups on selective killings. As a result of the 2009 scandal, the DAS was abolished in 2011.

In 2013 Colombia passed a landmark intelligence law prohibiting warrantless surveillance or intercepts, and put strong limits on judges issuing warrants against people who were not organized criminals, drug traffickers, or terrorists. The law created a congressional oversight body that has been largely inactive, while a commission to purge intelligence files issued a report that was not acted upon.

By 2014, army intelligence was at it again. Semana revealed the existence of a hacking operation, “Andromeda,” working out of what looked like a restaurant in western Bogotá. Its targets included government negotiators participating at the time in peace talks with the FARC guerrillas. Since then, efforts to hold accountable those responsible for Operation Andromeda have shown “no results to date,” according to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.

President Juan Manuel Santos’s second term (2014-2018), marked by the conclusion of a peace accord with the FARC, was a quieter period for military human rights scandals. A moderate, and moderately reformist, high command implemented doctrinal changes and supported the peace process, while human rights groups documented fewer extrajudicial executions committed directly by the armed forces.

2019, a bad year for Colombia’s army

Progress reversed sharply in 2019. The high command that new President Iván Duque put into place, including Army Chief Gen. Nicacio Martínez, fell under criticism from human rights groups for their past proximity to “false positive” extrajudicial killings a decade earlier. Colombian media began gathering reports about increased abuses, and abusive behavior, at the hands of military personnel. Semana revealed that in a January meeting Gen. Diego Luis Villegas, the chief of the military’s “Vulcan Task Force” and now head of the army’s “Transformations Command,” said, “The army of speaking English, of protocols, of human rights is over.… If we need to carry out hits, we’ll be hitmen, and if the problem is money, then there’s money for that.”

President Iván Duque and Army Chief Gen. Nicacio Martínez, February 4, 2019 (Image c/o the Colombian presidency). 

In April, troops in Gen. Villegas’s task force killed a former FARC guerrilla in northeast Colombia’s volatile Catatumbo region. Semana reported later in the year that a colonel had told his subordinates that he wanted Dimar Torres dead. (Gen. Villegas apologized publicly for the killing, and the colonel is detained awaiting trial.)

In May 2019, the New York Times ran with a story that Semana had been sitting on: army chief Gen. Martínez and his commanders were reviving “body counts” as a principal measure of commanders’ effectiveness. Rather than measure territorial security or governance, army brass decided to require unit commanders to sign forms committing themselves to a doubling of “afectaciones”—armed-group members killed or captured—in their areas of operations. This raised concerns about creating incentives for “false positives”: killings of innocent civilians in order to pass them off as combatants to pad body counts, as happened thousands of times in the 2000s. 

Whistleblowers within the military were the main sources for the Times story. Rather than upholding those whistleblowers and rethinking “body counts,” the high command launched a campaign to root out officers who talked to the media, including New York Times reporter Nicholas Casey. In what Semana revealed in July and called “Operación Silencio,” counterintelligence officers began interrogating and polygraphing army colleagues suspected of snitching. (We would learn in May 2020 what the army was doing at the time about Nicholas Casey.)

The second half of 2019 had more bumps for the army. Semana revealed corruption scandals, including selling permits to carry weapons and misuse of funds meant for fuel and other needs. These led to the firing of five army generals, including Gen. Martínez’s second in command. In November, the civilian defense minister, Guillermo Botero, was forced to resign amid allegations of a cover-up of an August bombing raid on a rearmed FARC dissident encampment, which killed eight children.

The January 2020 hacking revelations

After a stormy year-long tenure, Gen. Nicacio Martínez, the army commander, abruptly resigned on December 26, 2019. (The General told El Tiempo that he discussed his exit with his family on December 8, notified President Iván Duque the next day, and was out 17 days later.) On January 13, 2020, Semana published a bombshell cover story on what it called “the real reasons that caused the government to retire the army commander.”

Tags: Civil-Military Relations, Human Rights, Human Rights Defenders, Military and Human Rights, Press Freedom, U.S. Policy

May 7, 2020

Alert about the serious risk that misuse of state intelligence systems represents for peace and democracy in Colombia

This is an English translation of a statement signed by the U.S. and European human rights and humanitarian aid organizations whose logos appear above. (PDF en español)

International civil society organizations warn of the serious risk that misuse of state intelligence systems represents for peace and democracy in Colombia

The international civil society organizations that sign this communiqué express their solidarity with the more than 130 people, including journalists, members of political parties, NGOs defending human rights, and trade unionists who, according to Semana magazine investigations, have been victims of a new episode of illegal interceptions, through the implementation of a computer monitoring program, executed by several units of the national Army. These intercepts, which include even high officials of Iván Duque’s government, call into question the guarantees of constitutional and democratic principles in Colombia.

The results of this journalistic investigation are worrying: the surveillance took place in response to the publications, by the New York Times in early 2019 on the return of extrajudicial executions, and the investigation by La Liga Contra el Silencio and Rutas del Conflicto in July 2019 about agreements between extractive companies and the Ministry of Defense.

Freedom of expression is included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, in Colombia it is a constitutional right (article 20) and it is essential, as stated by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in its chapter VIII, for the development of democracy and for the full exercise of human rights.

As highlighted by the Office in Colombia of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, state intelligence systems should be used for the protection of human rights, and not to violate them. In this sense, we urge the Colombian State to take concrete measures to regulate these intelligence systems .

It is urgent that the Colombian State, in an exercise of transparency with the Colombian people and with the international community, carry out the pertinent investigations to clarify the origin of these actions and bring to the competent authorities those responsible for this very serious aggression against the work of human rights defense, freedom of the press, and guarantees to the political opposition in Colombia.

The Colombian State must, likewise, provide sufficient guarantees for life and integrity and the right to defense of individuals and organizations defending human rights in general and in particular of those who have been exposed with this illegal practice.

As international civil society organizations, we warn of the high risk of the sustainability of the peace process in Colombia, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, with this type of persecution of the political opposition, added to the increase in murders of human rights defenders and ex-combatants from the Farc, which so far in 2020 already number more than 100, according to the records of Indepaz.

Intelligence systems must respect human rights and be subject to strict civil and judicial controls

Bogotá, May 6, 2000

Tags: Civil-Military Relations, Human Rights, Military and Human Rights, Press Freedom

May 7, 2020

Podcast: “These moments of social resistance are never moments. They have long histories.”

Winifred Tate, an anthropologist at Colby College and former WOLA staff member, is one of the country’s top experts on Colombia. She is the author of 2 books about Colombia: Counting the Dead, about the human rights movement in the country, and Drugs, Thugs, and Diplomats, about how U.S. policy toward Colombia gets made and how human rights groups have dealt with it. Tate has worked on Colombia from two perspectives: as a scholar, but also as an advocate, which gives her a unique perspective.

Here, she talks about the origins of Colombia’s human rights movement and the pros and cons of “professionalizing” defense of human rights. She discusses the importance of community-based organizing and the work of women activists in a very conflictive part of the country. The conversation delves into continuities in U.S. policy, especially Washington’s preference for military solutions to complex problems.

Listen above, or download the .mp3 file.

Tags: Audio, Civil Society Peace Movement, Drug Policy, Human Rights Defenders, Podcast, U.S. Policy

May 5, 2020

Illegal Surveillance by Colombia’s Military is Unacceptable

Cross-posted from wola.org

In an investigation published on May 1, Colombian weekly news magazine Semana reported that between February and December 2019, Colombian army intelligence units carried out illicit surveillance of more than 130 individuals, including human rights defenders, national and international journalists, politicians, labor leaders, and other members of the military. 

Among those who were illegally monitored are veteran U.S. journalists, as well as partners of WOLA like rural land reform advocate César Jerez, indigenous leader Senator Feliciano Valencia, and the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (CCAJAR), a non-governmental organization that has represented families of victims illegally killed by members of the military.

The report adds more detail to a previous Semana investigation that revealed a military intelligence unit was illegally wiretapping journalists, politicians, and others, including members of the Supreme Court. Since the new report’s publication on Friday, 11 military officials have been dismissed or resigned. The Attorney General’s Office said it is investigating Gen. Nicacio Martínez, who headed the army at the time; the Inspector General’s Office is also opening an investigation. 

Colombia should be devoting its intelligence resources to investigating organized crime networks and establishing a state presence in territories still essentially controlled by armed groups. Intelligence should also be used when appropriate to support investigations by the Attorney General’s Office into the killings of human rights defenders and social leaders. Instead, what the Semana reports reveal is that military intelligence is targeting reformers and the free press. The perversity of this can’t be understated.

Colombia previously lived through a major illegal wiretapping scandal in 2009, involving the now-dissolved Administrative Security Directorate (DAS). In 2014, an army intelligence unit was discovered, also by Semana, to have been hacking the communications of government peace negotiators taking part in talks with the FARC.

In order to send the message that these types of anti-democratic activities are unacceptable and will not be tolerated, it is essential that both the civilian Attorney General’s Office and Inspector General’s Office conduct thorough and independent investigations, resulting in appropriate sanctions and disciplinary procedures against those who ordered the illegal monitoring. A further purging of state intelligence units may be necessary to guarantee that history will not repeat itself again. Additionally, in order to send a message that the state is taking transparency concerns seriously, authorities should declassify and release all information illegally obtained about human rights defenders.  

While important security gains were made under the 2016 peace accord, the Colombian army is currently facing significant challenges, due in part to the Duque administration’s resistance to fully implementing the accord, the lack of a negotiations process with rebel group the National Liberation Army (ELN), and an ongoing struggle to confront paramilitary successor groups. As many as 15,000 people are in more than 20 rapidly growing armed groups across the country. Colombia’s budget crunch has left the armed forces with only 15 out of 42 Black Hawk helicopters in good operating conditions. The army should not be spending scarce resources on compiling intelligence dossiers on the phone numbers, vehicles, and even the voting sites used by journalists. 

Troublingly, the Semana investigation notes that Colombian army cyber-intelligence battalions have received about US$400,000 from “a foreign intelligence agency.” A military source told the magazine, “The Americans aren’t going to be happy that part of their own money, from their taxpayers as they say, has been diverted from legitimate missions like the fight against terrorism and narcotrafficking, and ending up used to dig up dirt on the lives of reporters from important media outlets in their own country.” 

That U.S. assistance may be even tangentially related to this military activity is extremely alarming. These revelations, which cap a year of human rights and corruption scandals in the army, demand a thorough reappraisal of U.S. military assistance to Colombia, with full participation of congressional oversight personnel. Congress should move to freeze U.S. military aid to Colombia at the first indication that the Colombian army is pushing to have this behavior tried in the military court system, failing to cooperate with civilian investigators, using delaying tactics, or otherwise stonewalling efforts to hold accountable those responsible.

Journalists, human rights defenders and military whistleblowers should not be treated as “internal enemies.” These advocates are doing important and valid work to advance peace and uphold democratic practices, at a crucial moment for Colombia’s security. The military should recognize this work as legal and legitimate, and as essential for helping the armed forces do its job better, at a time when it risks being hobbled by corruption and poor leadership. 

Tags: Civil-Military Relations, Human Rights Defenders, Military and Human Rights, Press Freedom

May 4, 2020

“The disease of coronavirus cannot lend itself to strengthen the disease of war.”

Here is an English translation of an April 27 letter to the chief of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia from Defendamos la Paz, a broad coalition of peace advocates.

Letter addressed to Carlos Ruiz Massieu Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General Verification Mission in Colombia

Bogotá, April 28, 2020

We are writing to you to share our concern and, through you, to alert the Secretary General and the members of the Security Council about attacks against the implementation of the Peace Agreement in Colombia in times of coronavirus.

As the Defendamos la Paz movement, we raise our voice of protest against the instrumentalization of the pandemic to undermine the Peace Agreement. The health crisis does not only hide the inaction of the Government. More importantly, it fuels the governming party’s campaign against peace implementation.

Defendamos la Paz is against designs aimed at making reforms to the Peace Agreement, which the Government and the ruling party failed to obtain through legislation, become reality through the back door, while citizens remain focused on the pandemic.

We call the attention of the Verification Mission, the General Secretariat and the Security Council to the events listed below.

1- THE INCREASE IN MURDERS OF EXCOMBATANTS AND SOCIAL LEADERS

We are approaching the number of 200 ex-combatants killed. The Verification Mission has registered 197 homicides since the signing of the Peace Agreement. To this number must be added 39 assassination attempts and 13 disappearances of former Farc-EP members.

As for human rights defenders, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights verified 108 homicides in 2019 and registered 56 more denounced cases for 2000 as of March 24.

The Government remains silent in the face of this attack on peace, there are no initiatives to stop the bleeding and the pandemic has served to camouflage its passivity. The security forces do not react, the Attorney General’s Office does not advance enough and the instruments provided by the Peace Agreement, such as the National Commission for Security Guarantees, are not convened by the Government.

You yourself pointed it out before the Security Council: “No efforts must be spared with regard to those facing specific risks, given their roles in the promotion of human rights and the implementation of the peace agreement, and those who laid down their weapons and remain committed to the peace process.”

Defendamos la Paz requests, once again, the immediate convocation of the National Commission for Security Guarantees, the Commission for Monitoring, Promotion and Verification of Implementation and the tripartite Attorney General-FARC-Verification Mission commission.

2- THE GOVERNMENT’S PLANS

In the latest management report of the Presidential Advisor for Stabilization and Consolidation, which covers the period August 7, 2018 – March 31, 2020, the Government revealed intentions to evade compliance with the Peace Agreement and national regulations and jurisprudence. We mention:

1- The expulsion of FARC members from Congress

The Government insisted on the withdrawal of senators and representatives from the FARC until they carry out the sentences dictated by the Special Peace Jurisdiction. This proposal was the subject of a defeated draft legislative act in Congress, a process later studied by the Constitutional Court. In the view of Defendamos la Paz, this point was settled both in the legislative and judicial branches and there can be no modifications.

2- Loss of transitional justice benefits

The Government has warned that it will seek the removal of transitional justice benefits for ex-FARC-EP combatants who have not turned over their declared assets by July 31. The ex-FARC-EP combatants reported that they handed over the inventory and, once disarmed, they lost the ability to guard some of the assets in conflict zones. Several of them have been occupied by third parties. Defendamos la Paz believes that this obligation of the Peace Agreement must be fulfilled as soon as possible in the framework of dialogue and good faith and warns about the danger of its politicized use to unleash de facto reforms not obtained in Congress.

3- Glyphosate spraying

The Government continues planning to spray with glyphosate. From the governing party and allied sectors, calls for the start of fumigations during quarantine have been reinforced. The Constitutional Court has conditioned spraying on the fulfillment of a list of requirements related to the Peace Agreement. Several of these cannot be met during a period of social distancing. Defendamos la Paz reiterates its rejection of glyphosate fumigation, especially in times of isolation when families depend on basic food crops.

3- PAROLE DURING THE PANDEMIC

Decree 546 of 2020, which authorizes house arrest during the pandemic, leaves out members of the security forces and the FARC-EP. Defendamos la Paz states that this exclusion not only lacks the slightest humanitarian sense, but also constitutes a violation of the Agreement, which establishes conditional liberty for those who accept the jurisdiction of the Special Justice for Peace.

4- DEMANDS TO DEFUND PEACE

The pandemic serves as an excuse to demand the reduction of funding for peace. The governming party proposed that part of the funds for the implementation of the Havana accords be reprioritized toward Covid 19 health needs, for basic food, and to save small and medium-sized companies. Defendamos la Paz believes that the health of Colombians in the midst of war cannot be guaranteed and, therefore, the commitment to peace is part of the health response. Rather, we call for speeding up the implementation of health projects in the Territorially Focused Development Plans (PDET).

Mr. Ruiz Massieu, you, the Secretary-General, and the Security Council must know that the country has not escaped the authoritarian discourses that go against the separation of powers. For example, a governming party spokesperson called for the closing of Congress during the pandemic. The natural head of this political force, former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, called for its reduction, on the verge of a ruling by the State Council that could make the 16 seats for peace [temporary congressional seats for victims’ organizations] contemplated in the Peace Agreement a reality. The Government has not rejected these proposals.

The Secretary General was right when he called for a global ceasefire. At Defendamos la Paz, we believe, like him, that the more we’re in a pandemic, the more we need peace.

Mr. Ruiz Massieu, there is no doubt; in Colombia, a pandemic is being used to dodge peace commitments; the disease of coronavirus cannot lend itself to strengthen the disease of war. We ask you, Secretary-General Guterres and the members of the Security Council to help us avoid this.

Cordial greeting.

See full letter

Tags: Civil Society Peace Movement, Compliance with Commitments, Public Health

May 4, 2020

New Explainer: FARC Dissident Groups

We’ve added a fifth resource to this site’s page of “Explainer” documents: a graphics-heavy overview of the growing network of FARC “dissident” groups around the country. These are armed groups founded by, and mostly comprised of, fighters who either rejected the 2016 peace accord outright, or demobilized in 2017 only to take up arms again. The Explainer covers the groups’ origins and estimated size, their illicit revenue streams, their poor human rights record, the two main national dissident confederations, and some regions in which dissidents are embroiled in violent territorial disputes.

Tags: Admin, Dissident Groups

April 24, 2020

Colombia Pushes Coca Eradication During COVID-19 Pandemic

The following April 23, 2020 statement is cross-posted from wola.org. We are alarmed that Colombia is not only going ahead full-throttle with manual eradication operations in coca-growing zones during a pandemic, but that eradicators’ security-force escorts have killed two civilians in the past four weeks.

Washington, D.C.—On Wednesday, April 22, in an Indigenous community in southwest Colombia, public security forces killed one person and injured three others who were peacefully protesting a police operation to manually eradicate coca plants. Members of the police eradication team fired into a group of Awa Indigenous people, who were attempting to talk to them about why Indigenous authorities hadn’t been consulted about the planned eradication, as required by law. The death is the second related to manual coca eradication operations since Colombia went into national quarantine in late March.

Even while imposing a strict national quarantine, the Colombian government has launched more intense and aggressive coca eradication operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. These operations, which often require the deployment of public security forces without appropriate protective equipment, have sparked long-standing tensions in six Colombian departments. In addition to concerns about the spread of COVID-19 due to the deployment of eradication forces, the aggressive eradication campaign has ignored key elements of the historic 2016 peace accord. 

In the operation that led to the death of one Indigenous community member and three wounded in southwest Colombia, the government had failed to consult with the community prior to the operation. Additionally, in many of the other municipalities targeted in the last month, the Colombian government has systematically failed to deliver payments and other productive project support for crop substitution programs as laid out by Chapter 4 of the peace accords. 

The Duque administration’s push to intensify coca eradication has largely responded to an aggressive pressure campaign from the Trump administration. Citing rising rates of coca production and cultivation, the Trump administration has pushed the Duque government to expand its eradication teams from 25 in 2017 to nearly 150 today. This rapid expansion appears to have vastly outpaced any instruction in use-of-force protocols that the security forces accompanying the eradicators were receiving, heightening the risk that when these teams go into rural communities to destroy what is, for many families, their only steady source of income, the resulting confrontations involve excessive or even lethal force. 

Beside increasing coca eradication operations during the nationwide lockdown, Colombia has seen no slowdown in the pace of attacks and threats against social leaders, including those who are advocating for implementation of the peace agreement’s illicit crops chapter. On April 22 alone, three people at a local community council in southwest Nariño department were killed by dissident fighters from the now-demobilized FARC guerrilla group; another social leader, who formed part of the leftist Marcha Patriótica political movement, was killed in Cauca department; and two more were killed elsewhere in Cauca. Various Afro-Colombian communities in Cauca and Chocó department have also expressed concern about eradication operations and threats by armed groups in their area. According to Colombian think tank Indepaz, at least 71 social leaders were killed during the first three months of 2020; at least another dozen have been killed since Colombia’s national quarantine began. 

The Colombian government needs to rigorously and promptly investigate the killings of social leaders, securing convictions for those who carried out and those who ordered the crime. Additionally, instead of a drug policy that emphasizes forced eradication of coca, the Colombian government should uphold its commitments in the 2016 peace agreement and promote rural land reform, sustainable development, and the establishment of state presence in coca cultivation areas. Finally, given the number of leaders from farmers’ association the National Agrarian Coordinator (Coordinador Nacional Agrario) and the Marcha Patriótica who have faced violent attacks and threats, all armed actors—including FARC dissident groups and government forces—should avoid involving civilians in armed conflict.

Tags: Coca, Drug Policy, Human Rights, Illicit Crop Eradication, U.S. Policy, WOLA Statements

April 24, 2020

Podcast: Democracy, Displacement, and “Political Cleansing” in Colombia’s Armed Conflict

Abbey Steele of the University of Amsterdam’s Faculty of Social and Behavioral Sciences is a scholar of violence and politics who has done most of her work in Colombia. She is the author of Democracy and Displacement in Colombia’s Civil War (2017, Cornell University Press).

In this episode, she discusses her work in Apartadó, in Colombia’s Urabá region, which saw forced displacement by paramilitary groups intensify after Colombia began direct local elections and leftist parties performed well. She calls what happened “political cleansing” or “collective targeting”: the paramilitaries targeted entire communities for displacement based on election results.

Steele explains this and other findings, particularly how communities have organized to resist the onslaught. She has a sharp analysis of the challenges that continue for the displaced—and for communities and social leaders at risk of political cleansing—today, in post-peace-accord Colombia.

Listen above, or download the .mp3 file.

Tags: Audio, Displacement, Elections, Paramilitarism, Podcast, Political Participation, Uraba

April 16, 2020

New Explainer: The ELN

Photo source: Defensoría del Pueblo de Colombia.

We’ve added a fourth article to this site’s page of “Explainer” documents: an overview of the National Liberation Army, ELN, Colombia’s largest existing guerrilla group. The Explainer moves rapidly through the ELN’s difficult history, its command structure and way of operating, its geography, its revenue streams, its poor human rights record, and Colombia’s experience engaging it in peace talks. All in a concise 5,400 words—but with numerous photos and maps.

Tags: Admin, ELN

April 15, 2020

Podcast: COVID-19, Communities, and Human Rights in Colombia

As of early April 2020, Colombia has documented a relatively low number of coronavirus cases, and in cities at least, the country has taken on strict social distancing measures.

This has not meant that Colombia’s embattled social leaders and human rights defenders are any safer. WOLA’s latest urgent action memo, released on April 10, finds that “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.”

In this edition of the WOLA Podcast, that memo’s author, Director for the Andes Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, explains the danger to social leaders, the shifting security situation, the ceasefire declared by the ELN guerrillas, the persistence of U.S.-backed coca eradication operations, and how communities are organizing to respond to all of this.

Listen above, or download the .mp3 file here.

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

April 11, 2020

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. 

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

April 10, 2020

A Review of How Colombia’s Truth Commission is Advancing

The 2016 Peace Accords created the Truth, Coexistence and Non-Repetition Commission (La Comisión para el Esclarecimiento de la Verdad, la Convivencia y la No Repetición) via Article 5.1.1. This entity is the truth component for the Comprehensive System of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition (Sistema Integral de Verdad, Justicia, Reparación y No Repetición​​, SIVJRNR). The government established the Truth Commission through Legislative Act 01 of 2017 and structured its functioning through Decree 588 of 2017. According to the Decree, the Truth Commission will operate for a period of three years following an additional six-months of institutional preparation. The Truth Commission started operating on November 28, 2018. 

According to the Peace Accords, the Truth Commission aims to fulfill three main objectives before the end of its mandate:

  1. To investigate and explain the armed conflict, and to promote its understanding emphasizing its least known aspects
  2. To promote the recognition of individual and collective victims, and the voluntary acknowledgment of responsibility, in support of non-repetition
  3. To promote tolerant, respectful, and democratic coexistence across the country’s territories based on the dignity and rights of victims. 

Here, the Truth Commission’s activities are explored based on how they broadly advance each of the three objectives. 

Objective 1: To investigate and explain the armed conflict, and to promote its understanding emphasizing its least known aspects

On November 28, 2021, the Truth Commission will publish a comprehensive report explaining Colombia’s protracted armed conflict. For this, the Truth Commission is undertaking a multi-step investigative process. Throughout the first stage of its investigative process, the Truth Commission is hearing from victims and armed actors.

In 2019, the Truth Commission received a total of 10,755 testimonies from 5,988 individual and collective interviews. 20% of these testimonies were from Ethnic Peoples: 2,086 persons testified during eight collective interviews, and 61 testified in individual interviews. These indigenous communities were significantly impacted by the armed conflict. For approximately every seven victims, one victim was an indigenous person. Notably, civilian actors (such as members of the business community who financed the conflict) only gave 2% of the testimonies. Also notable, the Truth Commission received 365 testimonies from exiles.

Some prominent individuals provided testimonies to the Truth Commission including Former President Ernesto Samper who testified on allegations that the Cali Cartel financed his 1994 presidential campaign, as well as, former Senator David Char who spoke about the paramilitary’s activities in Atlántico and their involvement in his Senate campaign. Additionally, this year, José Miguel Narváez, former Deputy Director for the Administrative Department of Security (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad, DAS), is set to testify about the paramilitaries’ infiltration in the intelligence agency. Narváez is currently serving a 26-year sentence for the assassination of journalist Jaime Garzón.  

On March 9, 2020, the Truth Commission launched a new mechanism for collective interviews called Listening Spaces (Espacios de Escucha). With this initiative, the Truth Commission seeks to hear from a more diverse set of individuals involved in the conflict. Among the individuals scheduled to testify are former combatants from every irregular armed group, politicians from different parties, business leaders, journalists and members of the Armed Forces. This year, the Truth Commission expects to hold eight national and 56 territorial Listening Spaces —at least two in each of its 22 regional offices or Truth Houses (Casas de la Verdad). During the first Listening Spaces former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC) members spoke about the assassinations of fellow ex-guerillas and other security issues they currently face.

To solidify its explanation of the Armed Conflict, the Truth Commission will contrast the conclusions from the testimonies gathered with secondary sources. In 2019, the Truth Commission received 118 reports from various social and ethnic organizations describing the incidents they and individuals from their territories suffered. Recently, for example, a group of women from the Nukak Maku peoples submitted their report on the sexual violence they endured for over 20 years. The social organization Region Corporation (Corporacion Región) also submitted their report: an account of the conflict’s impact on Antioquia based on more than 90 testimonies by individuals from the San Carlos, Granada, and San Rafael municipalities.

The Truth Commission aims to transversally apply the Ethnic Chapter of the Peace Accords. This Chapter requires an ethnic-based perspective in the implementation of the Accords. To guarantee that the ethnic perspective is properly integrated, the Truth Commission met with the Permanent Working Table for Indigenous Peoples, and the Permanent Working Table for the Black, Afro-Colombian, Raizal and Palenquero Peoples, and the Permanent Working Table for Women from the Afro-Colombian, Raizal and Palenquero Women. These Permanent Tables bring together representatives of indigenous and Afro-Colombian organizations to the Truth Commission in an advisory capacity. At these meetings, participants discussed the implementation of truth-seeking methodologies sensitive to the racism and ethnic intolerance that many communities suffer. They also stressed the importance of adopting a narrative that explains the differentiated experiences ethnic and racial communities suffered during the armed conflict in the final report. Groups that were present at these meeting were the Matamba Collective National Space for Previous Consultation (Colectivo Matamba Espacio Nacional de Consulta Previa), Paez’s Captaincy (Capitanía de Páez), the Network of Women from Matamba and Guasa (Red de Mujeres Matamba y Guasa), Other Black Women (Otras Negras), and Feminists (Feministas). 


Objective 2: To promote the recognition of individual and collective victims, and the voluntary acknowledgment of responsibility, in support of non-repetition.

In order to guarantee continuous input from victims during its recognition process, the Truth Commission held 131 sessions with victims’ working groups. 4,476 individuals participated in such sessions. They held sessions with the following groups: 

  • Sexual Violence: 37 tables with 1,034 participants.
  • In Search of Disappeared Individuals: 35 tables with 834 participants.
  • Children, Adolescents and Young People: 37 tables with 2,004 participants. 
  • Rural Farmers: 22 tables with 637 participants.
  • Solidarity and Dignity: 1 table with 11 participants. 

These tables aimed to guarantee the participation of victims in the planning and development of four Encounters for Truth (Encuentros por la Verdad). The Truth Commission designed these events to recognize victims of the Armed Conflict and to promote the acknowledgement of responsibilities. Each Ecounterhad a specific focus:

First Ecounter for Truth: My Body Tells the Truth, Cartagena, June 26, 2019:

At Cartagena’s Adolfo Mejía Theater, more than 400 women and members of the LGBTQ+ community gathered to recount their experiences as victims of sexual violence. During the event, the attendees heard the stories of 17 victims who, at the hands of paramilitaries, guerillas, police officers, and U.S. officials, were raped, tortured, or slaved. The stories emphasized the particular vulnerability of indigenous and Afro-Colombians to this criminal modality. Later in the day, approximately 2,000 individuals participated in artistic and cultural events in recognition of the victims’ courage and resilience. Cartagena (Bolívar) – as one of the Caribe region’s main cities – was chosen for the first Encounter because approximately 30% of reported sexual violence cases took place in the city.

Second Encounter for Truth: Recognition of the Persistence of Mothers and Families Searching for Disappeared Individuals, Pasto, August 26-28:

For three days, the Truth Commission organized a series of events in the city of Pasto (Nariño) to commemorate the victims of forced disappearance. These included theater plays, academic forums, art displays, and concerts in which more than 17,000 individuals participated. At the Encounter’s main event, the Truth Commission held an open dialogue ceremony with the mothers and families of the disappeared. There, the relatives of the victims (who are also considered secondary victims themselves) narrated their decades-long struggle to find their loved ones. Despite the lack of accurate data, estimates calculate around 80,000 to 100,000 individuals were disappeared during the armed conflict in Colombia. This criminal modality involved every actor in the conflict: guerilla groups, paramilitaries, and state agents. 

Third Encounter for Truth: Never Again Children in the War, Medellin, November 22-23:

At two separate events in Medellin (Antioquia), the Truth Commission and more than 1,000 attendees heard the stories of twenty-six children and adults that –as children–were victims of the armed conflict. Their accounts highlighted that, during the conflict, minors were especially vulnerable to massacres, forced recruitment, murders and internal displacement. Notably, this was the first Encounter where perpetrators faced their victims and publicly acknowledged their responsibility. Rodrigo Londoño (former FARC leader), Fredy Rendón (former paramilitary commander), and Daladier Rivera (a military major) stood in front of the victims and recognized their direct or indirect responsibility for the crimes they committed. According to Colombia’s Victims Unit (Unidad de Victimas), approximately 2,500,000 children were victims of the armed conflict.

Fourth Encounter for Truth: The Countryside Tells the Truth, Cabrera, December 12-13:

The Truth held the fourth Encounter for Truth in Cabrera (Cundinamarca), a town at the center of the Sumpaz Rural Farmers’ Concentration Zone. This Encounter consisted of multiple intergenerational and inter-territorial tables where rural farmers (victims of the armed conflict) shared their experiences. More than 700 individuals participated. For decades, these individuals suffered forced displacements, land dispossession, and political persecution. Out of the more than 8 million individuals internally displaced in Colombia during the conflict, approximately 6 million are rural farmers. Such massive displacement has contributed to a highly unequal land ownership regime in which 1% of the productive units own more than 80% of the land. 

The Truth Commission also held six events titled “Dialogues for Non-Repetition: Truth Comes Alongside Social Leaders.” These were public round table-type discussions were stakeholders considered how the phenomenon of social leaders’ assassinations affects peacebuilding and non-repetition in Colombia. Many of attendees were representatives from social organizations. Others included social leaders, journalists, opinion leaders, and government officials. More information on the events:

First Dialogue for Non-Repetition, Bogotá (Cundinamarca), May 11:

During this dialogue, speakers introduced the phenomenon of social leaders’ assassinations. According to data mentioned at the discussion, 4,788 social leaders have been assassinated in the country since 1986. The departments most affected are Cauca, Antioquia, Nariño and North Santander. All four of them have a significant number of coca crops and are strategic locations for drug trafficking. The speakers also discussed the causes and dimensions of this phenomenon. They highlighted that, since 1997, the government has signed legislation aimed at protecting social leaders. However, as the speakers pointed out, the government has failed to comprehensively implement these measures partly because it lacks presence in the most vulnerable areas.

Second Dialogue for Non-Repetition, Arauca (Arauca), September 12:

At this second dialogue, speakers expanded on the causes of social leaders’ assassinations discussed in the first dialogue. The speakers agreed that the indiscriminate stigmatization of social leaders as guerilla sympathizers is among factors that cause this deadly phenomenon. They also explained the role of social leaders as the voice of the country’s communities: they regularly report corruption in their territories and fight against private or public projects that go against their community’s wellbeing. The speakers also emphasized the wide discrepancy between the central government’s concept of security and that of the rural, indigenous, and Afro-Colombian communities. They argued that the general security measures crafted at the central level do not match different local-level needs.

Third Dialogue for Non-Repetition, Monteria (Cordoba), September 19:

At this third dialogue, speakers explored the relation between the assassination of social leaders and Colombia’s peace-building efforts. In their interventions, many of them emphasized the particular history of Cordoba as the stage of multiple peace processes. Cordoba saw the demobilization of the Popular Liberation Army (Ejercito Popular de Liberación, EPL), the United Self-Defense Forces (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, AUC), and now of the FARC. Nevertheless, social leader’s assassinations are on the rise in this department. Among others, the speakers presented two factors as causes for this increase: (1) a general effort to exclude ethnic and racial communities, and (2) the efforts by irregular groups to maintain political and economic control of strategic regions as other groups demobilize. Different from the last two dialogues, legislators from three different political parties participated in this discussion. 

Fourth Dialogue for Non-Repetition, Barrancabermeja (Santander), November 19:

The focus of discussion during the fourth dialogue was the Middle Magdalena region, a historic epicenter of the Armed Conflict and a region that extends into 8 departments. At this dialogue, speakers tried to answer the question: how has the aggression against social leaders evolved recently? In their answers, the speakers introduced a new level of analysis for the phenomenon: the extraction-based economy. Barrancabermeja is a national center for the extraction of oil, and as armed groups fight to capture some of the oil rents, to the risk to social leaders increases. The speakers also discussed other topics mentioned before such as the lack of state presence in vulnerable areas of the territory as well as the endemic corruption present in many of the country’s departments. 

Fifth Dialogue for Non-Repetition, Quibdó (Chocó), November 28:

The Armed Conflict disproportionately affected departments like Chocó: with precarious standards of living, widespread poverty, and acute state abandonment. At its capital Quibdó, the speakers discussed these and other dire socio-economic conditions and how they impact the efforts at non-repetition. They emphasized the disparities between urban and rural territories, and why the latter experience higher levels of social leaders’ assassinations. Notably, this was the first time that a former FARC leader took part in the dialogues. Pastor Lisandro Alape, now a political leader, centered his remarks on how the lack of implementation of multiple elements of the Peace Accords hinder efforts at closing the country’s socio-economic gap. These elements include the comprehensive rural reform (Chapter 1) and the 16 congressional seats for victims of the conflict (Chapter 2). 

Sixth Dialogue for Non-Repetition, Bogota (Cundinamarca), December 6:

During the last dialogue, four social leaders provided concluding remarks on the impact of social leaders’ assassinations on their communities. They reiterated the crucial political and cultural role that social leaders play in pace-building. After their remarks, Francisco de Roux—the Truth Commission’s president—and eight Commissioners spoke. They summarized the general points on the causes of social leaders’ assassinations as well as the particular impact of this phenomenon on Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities. This concluding dialogue centered on themes such as the lack of appropriate region-specific protection measures, and the forced displacements caused by social leaders’ assassinations cause. De Roux also mentioned the proposals discussed at the dialogues. Among others, he explained the need to strengthen self-defense mechanisms like the Afro-Colombian Cimarrona guard and the indigenous guard. He closed by calling for the full implement the Peace Accords.


Objective 3: To promote tolerant, respectful, and democratic coexistence across the country’s territories based on the dignity and rights of victims

To promote coexistence, the Truth Commission held a number of capacity-building workshops with social and community leaders. The first series, conducted in partnership with the Foundation for Reconciliation (Fundación para la Reconciliación), trained 110 social leaders in: reconciliation, restorative practices, generative dialogues, and appreciative communication. The second series consisted of 5 “truth laboratories;” an idea proposed by the Center for Faith and Culture (Centro de Fe y Culturas). At these events, the Truth Commission sought to raise awareness about the role of the environment and the territories in the promotion of coexistence. Held in Urabá, North Santander, Cauca, Caquetá and the Pacific region, 84 social leaders participated in these.  

The Truth Commission also created 58 spaces for capacity-building in coexistence practices. At these events, the Truth Commission worked with victims of the conflict on coping mechanisms, constructive communication strategies, and other tools to promote peaceful coexistence. With 1,508 participants, these spaces are territorially distributed as follows: 

Macro RegionNumber of processes carried out
Caribe2
Center Andina24
Middle Magdalena2
Northeast9
Orinoquia8
Pacific5
Antioquia and Eje Cafetero6
South Andina2
Source: Informe de Gestión – Comisión de la Verdad

PDF Version with References

Tags: Transitional Justice, Truth Commission

April 6, 2020

Statement from the Cooperation Space for Peace (ECP): Stop the Bloodshed and Protect Social Leaders

On March 16, the Cooperation Space for Peace (Espacio de Cooperación para la Paz – ECP) published a statement, signed by 17 international civil society organizations, urging the Colombian government to guarantee protections for social leaders throughout the country.

Social leaders are vital to the communities they represent. The statement argues that in its process of consolidating peace, Colombia cannot tolerate violence against leaders who work in their communities to improve living conditions and protect natural resources.

The statement calls on the Colombian government to provide adequate safety guarantees, ensure justice is enforced, and implement policies that dismantle the criminal groups responsible for the bloodshed against social leaders and their communities. Below is the English text of the statement:

STATEMENT TO THE PUBLIC AND A CALL TO THE COLOMBIAN GOVERNMENT INTERNATIONAL CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANIZATIONS

Bogotá, March 16, 2020. The international civil society organizations signed onto this statement express with deep pain and concern the persistence and increase of threats, attacks, harassment, and murders against individuals and human rights organizations who endorse the peace agreement and, in the process of reincorporation, move from a past of war to a future of reconciliation and peace. 

In the past week, Astrid Conde Gutiérrez (March 5) and Edwin de Jesús Carrascal Barrios (March 10) were assassinated. Thus far, according to the FARC’s political party, these killings amount to 15 former combatants of the FARC killed since the beginning of this year and 190 former combatants killed since the signing of the Peace Accords in 2016. Additionally, the corporation Legal Solidarity (Solidaridad Jurídica) has also reported threats and harassment against other former political prisoners. 

On March 11, a new threat from the Black Eagles (Águilas Negras) against an extensive list of lead social organizations and social leaders became public. It included the Wayuu Women’s Force (Fuerza de Mujeres Wayuu)—a human and territorial rights organization that won the 2017 National Human Rights Defense Award and has been working for ethnic and territorial rights in La Guajira since 2006. 

The lack of protections for social leaders and the lack of comprehensive implementation of the Peace Agreement put the sustainability of the process and the search for new paths towards peace in Colombia at serious risk. Thus, it is urgent for the State, who is responsible for the life of all Colombians, to: 

  • Provide sufficient guarantees for those who actively work towards peace and defend human and territorial rights so they can carry out their legitimate work in an enabling environment. 
  • Ensure that justice is enforced and that those responsible are identified, investigated, and brought before competent authorities. In doing so, a strong message in favor of peace would be expressed through Colombia’s institutions, currently governed by Iván Duque.
  • Rapidly advance the design and adoption of public policies to dismantle criminal organizations that are responsible for killings and massacres or attacks on human rights defenders, social movements, or political movements. Such criminal organizations include paramilitary groups, successor groups, and their support networks (3.4.3 of the Peace Agreement). Civil society organizations have already submitted proposals about this matter.

The international civil society organizations signed onto this statement and members of the Cooperation Space for Peace (Espacio de Cooperación para la Paz) reiterate concern about these incidents and the lack of strong action by the Colombian State to clarify and finally stop this bloodshed in Colombia. 

A country that genuinely aims to consolidate peace cannot tolerate violence against citizens of any kind, particularly against those in civil society who work to improve living conditions and protect territories and natural resources. 

Tags: Attacks on social leaders, FARC

April 3, 2020

Forced Coca Eradication Operations amid the COVID-19 Crisis: Letter to the Colombian Government

On March 30, 2020, the Action for Change (Acciones para el Cambio – APC) coalition published a letter addressed to the Colombian government urging it to stop forced coca eradication operations amid the COVID-19 public health crisis. The letter encourages the government to instead enforce quarantine measures to prevent the spread of the virus among vulnerable farmer communities.

Despite calls to follow quarantine measures, the Government of Colombia has continued forced coca eradication operations in the Catatumbo region and the departments of Caquetá and Putumayo. These operations, the letter states, violate voluntary substitution agreements signed with farmer communities within the framework of the peace accord.

The letter also highlights the increased use of force and violence against farmers and condemns the murders of Marco Rivadeneira and Alejandro Carvajal. Here is the English text of the letter:

THE ACTION FOR CHANGE (ACCIONES PARA EL CAMBIO – APC) COALITION CALLS ON THE NATIONAL GOVERNMENT TO SUSPEND FORCED ERADICATION OPERATIONS DURING THE COVID-19 CRISIS TO GUARANTEE THE RIGHTS OF RURAL POPULATIONS

The COVID-19 pandemic places the Colombian State in a unique situation, in which it must implement rigorous measures to contain the spread of the virus and guarantee its citizens the right to life, health, and survival.

Despite the measures implemented by the national government to address the emergency, several organizations in the Catatumbo region and the departments of Caquetá and Putumayo have denounced intensified forced coca eradication operations, specifically in municipalities where collective agreements were signed under the Comprehensive National Program for the Substitution of Illicit Crops (Programa Nacional Integral de Sustitución de Cultivos de Uso Ilícito, PNIS). To date, the national government has not fully complied with these agreements. Such noncompliance, coupled with uncertain isolation measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, has in recent days caused a number of violations to rural populations’ rights.

Amid the national quarantine on March 19, Marco Rivadeneira was assassinated in the Nueva Granada territory, located in Puerto Asís municipality, Putumayo. Marco was a prominent leader who promoted the substitution of crops in the department and sought alternatives for those who had been left out of crop substitution programs. According to data from the Coordinator for Coca, Marijuana and Poppy Growers (Coordinadora de Cultivadores de Coca, Marihuana y Amapola, COCCAM), Marco Rivadeneira’s murder raises to 60 the total number of people killed for leading crop substitution processes in Colombia. Three days after that, on March 22, the arrival of state forces was denounced, as they began to fumigate coca crops with glyphosate using manual spray pumps.

According to public complaints from the COCCAM and the Departmental Coordinator of Social, Environmental and Peasant Organizations of Caquetá (Coordinadora Departamental de Organizaciones Sociales, Ambientales y Campesinas del Caquetá, COORDOSAC), since March 23 in Caquetá, members of the National Army have carried out forced eradication operations using force and gunfire against farmers. Despite the public health crisis, these operations are occurring in the Palestina, Inspección Unión Peneya territory in Montañita municipality.

Finally, according to information from the Peasant Association of Catatumbo (Asociación Campesina del Catatumbo, ASCAMCAT) and the COCCAM, Alejandro Carvajal was killed by members of the National Army in the context of forced and violent eradications last Thursday, March 26. This assassination occurred in the territory of Santa Teresita, La Victoria, which forms part of Sardinata municipality in Norte de Santander. The National Army has already assumed responsibility for said killing. 

Faced with the aforementioned context, the APC coalition urges the Colombian government to:

  1. Investigate the incidents and punish those responsible for the killings of Marco Rivadeneira and Alejandro Carvajal. Additionally, investigate and punish the members of the National Army who use threats and force against rural populations in Catatumbo, Caquetá, and Putumayo.
  1. Implement the mandatory, preventative measures ordered by the President and suspend forced eradication efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The rural population is already at risk and its right to health and food security needs to be guaranteed.
  1. Respect and advance compliance with voluntary substitution agreements signed with farmer communities.

SIGNED

THE ACTION FOR CHANGE (ACCIONES PARA EL CAMBIO – APC) COALITION

Tags: Attacks on social leaders, Caqueta, Catatumbo, Coca, coronavirus, Illicit Crop Eradication, Putumayo

April 1, 2020