Social leader killings have exploded in Caquetá, and few even get investigated.
August 4, 2020
Social leader killings have exploded in Caquetá, and few even get investigated.
August 4, 2020
This past July, in a powerful show of force, 94 members of the United States House of Representatives sent a letter to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo outlining grave concerns about the status of Colombia’s peace process.
The letter’s message, and the sheer number of signatories on it, sent shockwaves through Colombia. Shortly thereafter, in an interview in The Hill, Colombian President Iván Duque responded to congressional alarm by dismissing it as a product of U.S. electoral politics. His cavalier response underscored the point of the letter: Colombia’s peace is disintegrating because the Duque administration is failing to protect those working to sustain it.
The social leaders, Afro-Colombian and Indigenous activists, and human rights defenders doing the grassroots work of building peace in Colombia’s marginalized communities are being systematically targeted and assassinated. More than 400 social leaders have been killed since the signing of the peace accords, including 170 so far this year according to Colombian NGO Indepaz. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, whose data the Colombian government prefers, has identified a lower number of social leaders killed this year—but pending deaths that need verification, it notes a potential 70 percent increase in murders in the first half of 2020 compared to the first half of 2019.
Among those killed this year is Marco Rivadeneira. He was assassinated while promoting voluntary coca substitutions programs—a key facet of the peace accords and a shared goal of the United States and Colombia—in a community meeting. His relentless efforts to implement these programs in Putumayo, a region where cocaine trafficking groups dominate, earned him credible death threats. He requested help from Colombia’s National Protection Unit, an agency that protects threatened social leaders. He never received it.
Four months after Marco Rivadeneira’s murder, no one has been brought to justice. What’s more, the Duque administration has engaged in policies that undermine Mr. Rivadeneira’s work. Rather than protect and support the 99,097 Colombian families who have signed up for voluntary coca substitution programs, the Duque administration is trying to restart an ineffective aerial eradication program that could decimate the health and sustenance of entire communities. Many of these communities are earnestly interested in voluntary eradication, but live without basic services.
Marco Rivadeneira’s story is a microcosm of peace in Colombia today.
Social leaders are pushing for voluntary coca substitution programs in regions controlled by cocaine traffickers. They’re seeking land, labor, and environmental rights in communities where extractive industries like mining operate. They’re finding justice for the millions of human rights abuses committed during Colombia’s 52-year conflict. Every day, their work directly challenges the power of violent interests in Colombia.
The Duque administration can support the work of social leaders by prioritizing the full implementation of the 2016 peace deal. It can better protect them by bringing those responsible for ordering attacks against social leaders to justice. Instead, the Duque administration is undermining them.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, threatened social leaders have reported that their government-provided protective details have withdrawn, leaving them exposed to credible danger. Last year, the Colombian Attorney General’s Office launched 753 active investigations into threats against social leaders; only three resulted in convictions.
The Duque administration has also made social leaders’ work more difficult. Institutions tasked with uncovering human rights abuses during the Colombian conflict and guiding the truth and reconciliation process face drastic budget cuts. A critical development vehicle designed in conjunction with impacted communities—called Development Plans with a Territorial Focus—is operating at a fraction of its cost.
The reality on the ground is clear: since signing its historic peace accords, Colombia’s grasp on peace has never felt so tenuous.
The 94 members of Congress who signed the letter to Secretary Pompeo expressed legitimate alarm about peace in Colombia. The U.S. House of Representatives was right to act on that concern by generously funding peace implementation in the 2021 Foreign Operations appropriation, and by including amendments in the National Defense Authorization Act to defund aerial fumigation operations in Colombia and investigate reports of illegal surveillance by Colombian military forces.
It is critical that the United States Congress take a further step. It must proactively work with the Colombian government to aggressively protect social leaders, Afro-Colombian and Indigenous activists, and human rights defenders. Without their grassroots work securing land reform, labor rights, environmental rights, and justice, peace in Colombia is not possible.
July 31, 2020
Social leaders discuss this year’s increase in killings.
July 30, 2020
Outlines the current challenges of Colombia’s peace process, across the board, and makes recommendations for U.S. policy.
July 23, 2020
The Bogotá-based think tank counts 166 social leaders and 36 former FARC combatants murdered so far in 2020.
July 15, 2020
A discussion of the Kroc Institute’s June 16, 2020 report on implementation of the peace accord.
July 11, 2020
Examines how Colombian judicial authorities can improve their protection of human rights defenders and hold masterminds accountable.
July 10, 2020
Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez, the Colombian Presidency’s advisor for human rights, gives a presentation about killings of social leaders.
July 9, 2020
Finds a 55 percent increase in deaths from political violence during the first half of 2020, compared with the first half of 2019.
July 7, 2020
WASHINGTON, D.C., July 6, 2020 — Today, Representatives James P. McGovern (D-MA), Chairman of the House Rules Committee and Co-Chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, and Mark Pocan (D-WI), Co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, led a group of 94 Members of Congress urging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to press the Colombian government to commit to peace and stop the escalation of violence against Colombian human rights defenders.
Since a 2016 peace accord brought an end to decades of conflict in Colombia, over 400 human rights defenders have been murdered, including 153 in only the first six months of 2020. The Colombian government’s slowness in implementing the peace accords, its failure to bring the civilian state into the conflict zones, and its ongoing inability to prevent and prosecute attacks against defenders have allowed this tragedy to go unchecked.
“This is not the first time Congress has demanded the U.S. and Colombian governments protect human rights defenders and social leaders in Colombia. Yet the assassinations continue to mount, and the pandemic has made them even more vulnerable. Enough is enough. Whatever the Colombian government thinks it’s doing, it’s simply not getting the job done. It should spend less time downplaying the statistics, and more time providing protection and, more importantly, hunting down, arresting, prosecuting and imprisoning those who order, carry out, and benefit from these murders. That’s what the peace accord calls for, and nothing less will do,” said Congressman McGovern. “The brutal murders of those working for peace and basic human dignity in Colombia is not only a tragedy for Colombians, it hurts all people around the world who care about human rights. The United States has an obligation speak out and demand an end to this unrelenting violence.”
“Three years after a historic peace accord was signed, human rights defenders, union leaders, land rights activists and indigenous leaders continue to face violence as the Colombian government looks the other way,” said Congressman Pocan. “Over 400 human rights defenders have been murdered since the signing of these peace accords. Secretary Pompeo must condemn this violence and urge the Colombian government to safeguard the lives of these defenders, prosecute the intellectual authors of these attacks and dismantle the structures that benefit from this violence. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made these leaders more vulnerable to attack, and we must ensure U.S. assistance to Colombia is used to ensure these peace accords are implemented—not continue to allow these acts of violence to occur with impunity.”
Violence appears to have intensified as illegal armed groups take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic while the government fails to respond, further increasing the vulnerability of targeted rights defenders and local leaders who are being murdered in their homes and workplaces, out of the public eye and with impunity. Before the pandemic, large-scale demonstrations had taken place throughout the country demanding protection for human rights defenders and community leaders as Colombia confronts the greatest number of assaults and killings in a decade.
For example, on March 19, three armed men entered a meeting where farmers were discussing voluntary coca eradication agreements and killed community leader Marco Rivadeneira. He promoted peace and coca substitution efforts in his community, represented his region in the guarantees working group to protect human rights defenders, and was a member of the national human rights network Coordinación Colombia Europa Estados Unidos.
This letter follows on recent revelations of illegal surveillance by military intelligence of journalists, human rights defenders and judges; the rape of an indigenous girl by several Colombian soldiers, reflecting a pattern of abuses by the military; and an in-depth memorial by El Espectador daily newspaper citing the names of 442 human rights and social leaders murdered since the signing of the Peace Accord.
The Members’ letter was also backed by several prominent human rights organizations which advocate for peace and social justice in Colombia.
“The peace accords offer Colombia a roadmap out of a violent past into a more just future. But there are no shortcuts. The Colombian government and international community must recommit to full implementation. Not one more human rights defender should lose their life while peace founders,” said Lisa Haugaard, Co-Director of the Latin America Working Group.
“Social leaders are the most important people in bringing peace and democracy to Colombia. The United States, which is Colombia’s top donor, must do everything it can to stop the systematic killing of social leaders and ensure justice on cases of murdered activists. A consolidated peace in Colombia is in the best interest of the United States, and social leaders are how we achieve that peace,” said Gimena Sanchez, director for the Andes, at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).
Until the government of Colombia adopts a security policy that prioritizes the protection of the lives and rights of indigenous and community activists, particularly in the former conflict areas, the promise of the peace accords for peace and justice will remain illusory,” said Mark Schneider, Senior Advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
July 7, 2020
Social leaders and European diplomats discuss protection measures and the international community’s role.
July 3, 2020
A conversation with northern Cauca social leader Hector Marino Carabalí.
July 3, 2020
Community members in the village of Filoguamo, in Teorama municipality in Norte de Santander’s Catatumbo region, allege that Army soldiers killed social leader Salvador Jaimes Durán. The military’s Vulcano Task Force, which operates in Catatumbo, releases a photo of guerrillas insinuating that Durán was a member of the ELN. The ELN denies it and the guerrillas release a recording of the individual who appeared in the photo.
June 27, 2020
Assassins kill indigenous leader Luz Miriam Vargas Castaño at the Avirama reserve in Paez, Cauca. She is the third social leader killed in a 48-hour period in Colombia. Gunmen kidnapped and killed the indigenous governor of Agua Clara, Bajo Baudó, Chocó, and kill social leader Yoanny Yeffer Vanegas Cardona in San José del Guaviare, Guaviare.
June 26, 2020
Drawing from a June 2020 Comisión Colombiana de Juristas report on judicial bottlenecks faced by efforts to hold accountable the killers of social leaders, this discussion focuses on Chocó.
June 25, 2020
Drawing from a June 2020 Comisión Colombiana de Juristas report on judicial bottlenecks faced by efforts to hold accountable the killers of social leaders, this discussion focuses on Córdoba.
June 23, 2020
A report identifying bottlenecks faced by the Colombian judicial system in its efforts to hold accountable masterminds of crimes against human rights defenders.
June 19, 2020
An exchange between experts and female social leaders from rural areas about the challenges rural women face.
June 19, 2020
Drawing from a June 2020 Comisión Colombiana de Juristas report on judicial bottlenecks faced by efforts to hold accountable the killers of social leaders, this discussion focuses on Antioquia.
June 18, 2020
The Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) arrests social leader Yolanda González García in Arauca, accusing her of working with FARC dissidents. Soldiers wounded González, and killed her government-funded bodyguard, at a vehicle checkpoint on September 19, 2019, in an incident that remains under investigation. In a statement, Colombia’s national human rights platforms call González’s arrest a “setup” and an effort “to destroy her physically and morally.”
The Peace and Reconciliation Foundation denounces seven arrests of social leaders or demobilized combatants in Arauca in recent days, “for which they have been charged with a series of crimes without corroborating the facts.”
June 9, 2020
CERAC, a Bogotá-based think-tank with an extensive database of conflict information, finds a large increase in politically motivated killings during the first five months of 2020.
June 5, 2020
The non-governmental organization Somos Defensores counts 47 social leaders and human rights defenders murdered during the first three months of 2020, an 88 percent increase over the 25 murders during the first three months of 2019.
June 4, 2020
The 2019 report on attacks on social leaders and human rights defenders produced by Somos Defensores, a coalition of human rights groups.
May 25, 2020
An overview of conflict trends during the first four months of 2020. Notes some decrease in overall violence amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with armed groups enforcing restrictions and social leaders facing even more attacks.
May 24, 2020