The State of Human Rights in Colombia: Military Espionage, COVID-19, and Ongoing Abuses

(Cross-posted from

Since our last urgent action Colombia’s weekly magazine Semana revealed 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. We at WOLA find this to be completely unacceptable . On Tuesday, May 19 from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, WOLA is hosting, alongside other human rights organizations, a webinar with several of the persons targeted by this illegal espionage. We encourage you to join us to hear their perspectives and recommendations on what should be done to redress this. In this document, you will find summarized statements made by several civil society groups about this scandal. You can join the webinar by registering here.

Additionally, WOLA produced a short video about the violence faced by social leaders in Colombia. The video asks U.S. authorities to call on the Iván Duque administration to protect social leaders, prioritize investigations of the assassinations, and prioritize full implementation of the peace accords.

We also take this opportunity to update you on developments on the April 25 request to President Duque by Black, Afro-Colombian, Palenquero and Raizal persons asking for the creation of an Afro-Colombian Emergency Fund. The Ministry of Health announced that it will designate a person to manage the COVID-19 emergency in the Colombian Pacific. However, details of who this will be or how this person/office will function are not clear. CONPA and others are asking for that to be determined as soon as possible. It should be done in full consultation with Afro-Colombian authorities. Secondly, a special education plan is required for Afrodescendants living in areas with limited internet capacity. Virtual learning is not reaching most children in shantytowns and rural areas because they do not have computers and/or the technical capacity to access school in this manner. Lastly, CONPA insists that the government advance humanitarian accords with the ELN that provide protection to civilians and communities caught up in conflict. We were disappointed by last week’s developments that run counter to peace in Colombia. Please see our May 14 statement Inaccurate Trump Administration Charges Against Cuba Damage Prospects for Peace Talks in Colombia and Elsewhere.

The following are summaries of the human rights situations and cases we received that require action. We have divided them into three parts: military intelligence scandal, COVID-19 related concerns, and human rights abuses.

Military Intelligence Espionage

Illegal Military Surveillance Targeting Social Leaders

On May 10, the Inter-Ecclesial Commission for Justice and Peace (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz, CIJPcondemned the illicit surveillance carried out by the Colombian army’s intelligence units on social leaders Luz Marina Cuchumbe and Jani Rita Silva and CIJP staff Father Alberto Franco and Danilo Rueda. They make clear that strong measures must be taken to protect the whistleblowers in this case.

Over 124 organizations and communities supported a declaration thanking female activists for their work on Mother’s Day and to the whistleblowers that revealed the reports of the illegal military activities. The declaration notes that these witnesses sustain that many pieces of evidence against the intelligence units have since been moved or deleted. To redress this situation, these signers recommend that human rights supporters do as follows:

  1. Write to U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (VT) reiterating that U.S. taxpayer funds cannot be used to carry out human rights violations in Colombia. Senator Leahy should be encouraged to request from President Duque a report detailing the use of U.S. funding in intelligence operations from 2002 to the present that includes the names of all the individuals responsible for misusing funds.
  2. Write to the Colombian Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdición Especial para la Paz, JEP) and urge that they open a case on illicit intelligence operations that began before the ratification of the 2016 Peace Agreement with the FARC. The JEP should also request adequate protection for witnesses and their families and that all the information/evidence of the targets of these operations are made public. Full disclosure will help to prevent violence against the whistleblowers and impede that further evidence is destroyed or removed. Previous cases about illicit intelligence presented to the JEP have as of yet not produced sanctions.
  3. Write to the Colombian Truth Commission to ask that it uphold its duty to listen to the witnesses and to take all the measures within its scope to protect the witnesses and the evidence.

On May 4, CIJP put out a statement condemning the military’s recent surveillance and profiling of its staff, as well as of social leaders Luz Marina Cuchumbe and Jani Silva. These incidents form part of the now revealed military intelligence scandal where it developed dossiers on 130 individuals by following their social media and personal activities. According to CIJP, this operation partly targets persons (activists and others) who were involved in the negotiations and/or implementation of the 2016 peace agreement. We remind readers that, CIJP received WOLA’s Human Rights Award in 2015 for its outstanding work in advancing peace and human rights in Colombia.

International Groups Deeply Concerned about Military Intelligence Scandal

On May 6, the Cooperation Space for Peace (Espacio de Cooperación para la Paz), which is made up of 26 international civil society organizations who work in Colombia including WOLA, put out a statement expressing solidarity with the 130 individuals targeted by military intelligence. On May 1, the Colombian weekly news magazine Semana revealed the illicit operations carried out by the military’s intelligence agencies, which included actions by high-ranked officials in the Duque administration. International groups strongly condemn that the military is utilizing its resources to crackdown on civil society members who advance peace and democracy and particularly during the country’s fragile post-conflict security situation. The groups demand that the Colombian government resources go to protecting the lives of social leaders and human rights defenders. They point out at political persecution amid a global health crisis is endangering peace consolidation in Colombia and that “intelligence resources should respect, not throttle, human rights.”

Lawyers Group Demands Sanctions Against Colombian Military 

On May 2, the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo, CCAJAR) called for maximum sanctions against members of Colombia’s military intelligence agencies implicated in the illicit surveillance that took place from February to December 2019. They express concern about the resurgence of extrajudicial killingsand the subsequent persecution of the military members who reported the abuses. As one of the organizations targeted by the State security apparatus since the 1990s, the CCAJAR stresses that a comprehensive investigation needs to be carried out to reveal the depth of corruption in this scandal. CCAJAR notes that Military Commander Nicacio de Jesús Martínez Espinel’s resignation is connected to this recent series of illicit operations. The CCAJAR urges that all the information available on the military members involved be made available and that victims are allowed to fully participate in the investigations. Further, effective sanctions are needed to stop these anti-democratic practices.

Groups Point to Security Forces Committing Abuses Amidst the Pandemic (Middle Magdalena)

On May 5, the Regional Corporation for Human Rights (La Corporación Regional para los Derechos Humanos, CREDHOS) expressed concern that the State security apparatus is abusing, rather than upholding human rights during the pandemic. CREDHOS reports that State actors continue to carry out practices utilizing the Democratic Security doctrine that is undermining the implementation of the 2016 Peace Accords. These activities are aggravating social and environmental conflicts, deteriorating labor rights, and lead to the killings of social leaders and demobilized FARC combatants. CREDHOS asserts that COVID-19 containment measures are serving as an excuse to dismiss the much-needed protection of social leaders. Rather than using intelligence resources to protect social leaders, CREDHOS is dismayed about the revelations of the Colombian military’s illegal espionage on several sectors of civil society. The organization states that the government continues to see reformers and the free press as the enemy of economic and political interests. CREDHOS calls on the international community to denounce this anti-democratic behavior.


Government Fails to Support Indigenous Peoples During COVID-19 Pandemic 

On May 5, Colombia’s National Indigenous Organization (Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia, ONICpublished a statement detailing the national government’s unfulfilled commitments to support indigenous peoples during the COVID-19 crisis. The government had promised to distribute 480,600 food boxes and approximately 57,000 biosecurity kits to indigenous persons throughout the country. A month later, 80% of the indigenous territories have not received this assistance. Colombia’s indigenous authorities have requested support from the national government to prevent outbreaks in their communities. Indigenous communities are disproportionately vulnerable due to their lack of access to health care and their reliance on traditional economies to survive. The ONIC believes that the government is failing to recognize these ethnic groups’ situations and that it is not acting appropriately, risking a possible ethnocide.

International Organization Urge Government to Protect Indigenous Community (Meta)

On May 4, Amnesty International issued an urgent action directed to Colombia’s Attorney General urging him to investigate a series of incidents targeting the indigenous community of Aseimpome, Puerto Gaitán municipality (Meta). Since the COVID-19 quarantine started, locals have spotted armed men prowling around the community. On April 24, an unknown individual entered the community and set fire to some of the community’s houses.

Bojayá in Need of Urgent Protection from COVID-19 (Chocó)

On May 2, the Committee for the Rights of Victims of Bojayá (Comité por los Derechos de las Víctimas de Bojayá) and the Pacific Region’s Inter-Ethnic Commission for Truth (Comisión Interétnica de la Verdad del Pacifico, CIVP) issued a protection SOS for residents of Bojayá so it can protect itself from the COVID-19 pandemic. This municipality suffered one of the armed conflict’s deadliest FARC massacres in 2002. It is currently experiencing a wave of overwhelming violence aggravated by permanent state abandonment. To reach the closest hospital, which has most of the department’s confirmed COVID-19 cases, residents have to travel hours on the river. Most of Bojayá’s residents lack potable water and internet connectivity making it impossible for them to fully comply with the stay-at-home order. Bojayá’s vulnerability is especially concerning considering the state prioritized this municipality for the implementation of the 2016 Peace Accord’s comprehensive rural reform.

Social Organization Demands a Ceasefire to Protect Vulnerable Communities (Chocó)

On April 29, Chocó’s Interethnic Solidarity Forum (Foro Interétnico Solidaridad Chocó, FISCH) released a statement urging armed actors to cease all hostilities given the socio-economic and health crisis locals in the department face as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Forum demands that the National Liberation Army (Ejercito de Liberación Nacional, ELN) continue the ceasefire that the group ended on April 27 and that the government advance peace agreement negotiations with the ELN. The Forum urges all armed actors to respect Chocó’s Humanitarian Accord Now!. All the groups must immediately stop forced recruitment, generating internal displacements, forced confinements, and other acts of violence against the civilian population.

Civil Society Condemns the ELN’s Announcement to End its Ceasefire

On April 28, over 95 Colombian civil society organizations and individuals condemned the announcement from the ELN that it will end the unilateral ceasefire it put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The groups state that unilateral ceasefire should be continued exclusively for humanitarian purposes to respond to the pandemic. The ceasefire opened a window for exploratory dialogues and relieved communities that typically endure constant armed conflict; by a return to using weapons, the ELN eliminates this progress. The organizations plead with the ELN to make the security of civilians a priority by maintaining the ceasefire.

False COVID-19 Rumors Stigmatizes U’wa Indigenous People (North Santander)

On April 26, the Association of U’wa Traditional Authorities and Councils (Asociación de Autoridades Tradicionales y Cabildos U’wa, ASOU’WA) stated that rumors of U’wa community members infected with COVID-19 defying social distancing measures are not true. A woman with U’wa ancestry from North Santander did contract the virus, however, she is not part of any U’wa community. These rumors only help to stigmatize this indigenous group who, despite the lack of support from the national government to combat the pandemic, have closely followed preventive procedures.

Indigenous Communities in Need of Urgent Assistance from the Government

On April 17, Amnesty International reported on the lack of governmental support for indigenous communities in Colombia during the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the state of emergency, President Iván Duque stated that the authorities would deliver food and money to the country’s most vulnerable people. However, three weeks after the national quarantine was imposed, and despite experiencing dire health, water, and food shortages, indigenous communities in the departments of Casanare, Vichada, and Meta have received no support. Many of the indigenous peoples in these three departments are believed to be on the brink of cultural and physical extinction and require urgent assistance.

Labor Union Calls for Better Protection Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

On April 14, the National Union of Workers of the Food-Processing System (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores del Sistema Agroalimentario, SINALTRAINAL) sent letters to four companies: Seatech INC, its labor outsourcing contractor Atiempo Servicios S.A.S, Industrial Nacional de Gaseosas, and Taghleef Latin America S.A. asking that they better protect workers from the virus. In these letters, SINALTRAINAL notes that measures taken by the companies to address the health risks are insufficient or inappropriate. For example, Taghleef is using the same transportation company in charge of transporting medical personnel to transport workers. It has not fully revealed the measures taken to prevent contagion. According to SINALTRAINAL, the other three companies are continuing operations despite the fact that some employees have tested positive for the virus. SINALTRAINAL proposes a scheduled halt to operations and the provision of psychological support for the families of infected employees.

Social Organizations Insist on a Humanitarian Accord Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

On April 30, CIJP published a letter from multiple ethnic and territorial organizations urging the government to implement a Global Humanitarian Accord by putting in place ceasefires, stopping forced eradication, and exercising proper territorial control to prevent the free movement of irregular groups. These measures, according to the letter, would serve to protect vulnerable rural communities amid the security and health crisis consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the third time these organizations address the government with such a request.

National Police Kills Indigenous Person During Forced Eradication (Nariño)

The Indigenous Unit of the Awá Peoples (Unidad Indígena del Pueblo Awá, UNIPA) urges the national government to suspend forced eradication in their territories during the COVID-19 pandemic and to bring to justice those responsible for the killing that took place on April 22. That day, the National Police entered the Awá Inda Sabaleta Indigenous Reservation, Tumaco municipality (Nariño) to eradicate coca crops. When locals confronted them, the officers opened fire, killing one indigenous person and injuring at least three others.

Afro-Colombians Seek Help from the Government During COVID-19 Pandemic 

The National Afro-Colombian Peace Council (Consejo Nacional de Paz Afrocolombiano, CONPA) urges governmental authorities to support the Afro-Colombian community during the COVID-19 pandemic as they continue to suffer structural violence, racism, and other threats to their livelihood. In Valle del Cauca, Chocó, Magdalena, Nariño, Bolivar, and Cauca Afro-Colombians have been the victims of internal displacements, threats, selective assassinations, forced disappearances, drug trafficking, and dire shortages of food and essential hygiene items. In the Patía area (Nariño), four individuals were killed, and others displaced as a result of fighting between the FARC-EP Oliver Sinisterra Front and other dissidents. Social distancing measures, combined with the effects of the dry season, are severely impacting these communities’ ability to produce and commercialize their products. In the Sitio Nuevo town (Magdalena), a social leader was insulted and called racial slurs when she left her house to find food for her community. Other Afro-Colombians in Cauca, Bolivar, and Valle del Cauca are experiencing an increase in domestic and sexual violence.

Rural Community Fears Increased Military Presence (Cauca)

On April 21, the National Coordinator of Coca, Poppy, and Marihuana Growers (Coordinadora Nacional de Cultivadores de Coca, Amapola, y Marihuana, COCCAM) reported increased military presence and harassment in the Suarez municipality (Cauca). Soldiers at the Agua Bonita, Guadualito, Bella Vista, El Amparo, and La Estrella hamlets are intimidating locals and using their homes to camp, which creates the risk that civilians will be caught in armed confrontations and be displaced. Locals (aware of the recent COVID-19 contagions inside the military) fear soldiers will spread the virus in their communities. They are concerned that the increased military presence will result in a new wave of forced coca eradication operations, breaching the voluntary substitution agreements that coca growers had negotiated with the government after the peace agreement.

Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon at Risk of Ethnocide During COVID-19 Pandemic  

On April 20, Amazon Watch along with numerous other organizations including WOLA released a public statement echoing calls from indigenous organizations of the Amazon requesting culturally adequate State responses to the COVID-19 crisis. Indigenous peoples in the Amazon are especially vulnerable to externally induced diseases because they lack access to sanitary facilities, potable water, as well as, timely accurate information about COVID-19 in their native languages. To prevent a possible ethnocide, the signers recommend (among other things) that a moratorium is placed on activities that allow foreign persons to enter indigenous territories at this time. Such activities include extractive practices and operations against organized crime in and around such territories. Further, they point out that indigenous persons should be guaranteed access to culturally appropriate health services.

Forced Eradication Continues During COVID-19 Pandemic (Chocó)

As reported by Periferia, on April 20, anti-narcotics officers carried out forced eradication operations at the Pingaza town, Nóvita municipality (Chocó). In addition to spraying coca crops, officers also sprayed glyphosate on residents’ plantain and lulo crops. When the community tried to react, the officers responded by firing rubber bullets and teargas. One social leader and multiple other residents, including minors, were injured. Previously, on April 15 and 18, the San Jerónimo and Playa del Rosario communities at the Irabubu town also faced forced eradications. Community representatives maintain that such unexpected operations violate their right to prior consultation and also ignore their willingness to implement voluntary substitution projects through the Comprehensive Program for the Substitution of Illicit Crops (Programa Nacional Integral de Sustitución de Cultivos de Uso Ilícito, PNIS).

Civil Society Concerned About Government Violating Ethnic Rights

On April 15, ethnic organizations, NGOs, and environmental defenders sent a letter to the government urging it to abstain from implementing emergency measures to boost the economy that would violate ethnic peoples’ fundamental rights. The letter explains why a series of economic recommendations from the Hernán Echavarría Olózaga Institute of Political Science to the government are regressive in terms of human and environmental rights. In times of crisis, the Colombian government has national and international legal obligations to uphold, not abrogate. The letter also condemns the decision by the Ministry of Interior to allow virtual prior consultations, pointing out that this decision overlooks the socio-economic realities of ethnic communities.

COVID-19 Pandemic Used as Excuse to Weaken Right to A Previous Consultation

On April 14, the National Commission of Indigenous Territories (Comisión Nacional de Territorios Indígenas, CNTIdemanded that the government nullify the guidelines contained in the Ministry of Interior’s CIR2020-29-DMI-1000 memo. This memo, released on March 27, allows for government officials to carry out virtual consultation processes with ethnic peoples during the national quarantine. This violates ethnic peoples’ fundamental right to a free and informed prior consultation. Ethnic peoples lack access to the information and communication technology necessary to actively participate in such a process. Many ethnic leaders are facing security and humanitarian crises as a consequence of the restrictions imposed due to the pandemic and the actions of armed groups.

Confined Afro-Colombian Communities Facing Food and Health Crisis (Valle del Cauca)

On April 12, CIJP reported on the food shortage facing Afro-Colombians located in the Lower San Juan, Buenaventura municipality (Valle del Cauca). The residents of Cabeceras (approx. 130 people including some 40 children) are afraid to fish in the river. Armed groups recently killed and harassed fellow community members there. Confined by such incidents and also by social distancing measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, some locals are suffering colds, stomach aches, fever, and skin infection.

Unions Call for Government to Protect Medical Personnel During COVID-19 Pandemic  

On April 12, multiple unions and associations representing Colombia’s medical personnel categorically rejected Decree 538 of 2020, which guides the health sector’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The decree does not strengthen labor guarantees for medical personnel and inappropriately addresses the sector’s need for biosecurity equipment. It also fails to exclude medical trainees and other individuals without proper medical qualifications from the response to the pandemic. Hours before the government released the decree, two doctors and one ambulance driver died from the virus. The organizations urge President Iván Duque to protect the labor rights of those in the frontlines in the fight against the virus.

Alarming Human Rights Situation in Putumayo 

In this and previous Urgent Action documents, we have reported the recent killings of social leaders and the continuation of forced coca eradication in Putumayo during the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 8, Colombian and international human rights NGOs denounced the violations taking place in this department. At the end of March, the “La Mafia” armed group placed checkpoints along the highways and killed at least three individuals, including two Venezuelans. This rapidly deteriorating security crisis in Puerto Asís is taking place in a highly militarized area where both the Military’s XXVII Jungle Brigade and Southern Naval Force are present. To address it, human rights NGOs urge the government to adopt the Global Humanitarian Accord proposed by communities and organizations from all across the country, as well as the implementation of security protocols contained in the 2016 Peace Accords. They ask that forced eradication operations are halted at this time.

On April 12, CIJP reported the murder of Miguel Ángel Álvarez Lazo in Puerto Asís’ Tequendama neighborhood. The murder was apparently some kind of score-settling between Miguel Ángel, a seller of coca base, and the “La Mafia” armed group who killed him. This is the twelfth assassination to take place in Putumayo since social distancing measures were put in place to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 16, ICJPreported the killing of Alexis Riascos Castro in the Puerto Vega Teteyé area of Puerto Asís. At that time nine people had been murdered in Puerto Asís since the quarantine went into effect, with five of them taking place in Puerto Vega Teteyé.

On May 4, the National Organization of Colombia’s Indigenous Peoples from the Amazon (Organización Nacional de los Pueblos Indígenas de la Amazonia Colombiana, OPIAC) sent a letter to the government asking that action be taken in relation to an April 26 incident at the Siona people’s Lower Santa Elena community, Puerto Asís municipality (Putumayo). That day, Nasly Milena Payoguaje (the community’s governor) and other locals ran into troops from the military’s General Manuel Castro Bayona Engineers Battalion #27. When the indigenous guard inquired about the military’s presence in the territory, the soldiers proceeded to push Nasly and striked an indigenous woman. They also threatened to open fire against a member of the indigenous guard.

Colombia’s Major Oil Company Urged to Protect Employees from COVID-19 (Middle Magdalena)

The organizations Poder y Unidad Popular and Congreso de los Pueblos reported that Ecopetrol acted slowly and irresponsibly when implementing COVID-19 prevention measures inside its facilities. On April 8, a worker at the company’s Barrancabermeja oil refinery (Santander) died. Juan Manuel Fonseca became sick after attending a training session led by Italian professionals. He informed Ecopetrol of his condition, but the company failed to respond promptly. Other individuals at this refinery are also exhibiting symptoms and raising concerns about an emerging outbreak. Barrancabermeja, however, does not have the adequate health infrastructure to treat the growing number of potential COVID-19 patients: the city only has around 25 intensive care units. Thus, to prevent a health crisis, the political organizations urge Ecopetrol to put a halt to its operations, test all employees for the virus, and allow them to stay home during the national quarantine.

Afro-Colombian Organization Calls for Differentiated COVID-19 Measures (Nariño) 

The National Afro-descendant Unit (Unidad Nacional Afrodescendiente, UNAFRO) calls for the implementation of COVID-19 prevention measures that meet the differentiated needs of Nariño’s communities. Afro-Colombian communities in the Telembí and Sanquiagna subregions are vulnerable to the actions of armed groups who heavily regulate their mobility and threaten their leaders. With the national stay-at-home order, practices that people rely on to survive including agriculture and mining are impeded. This is generating additional economic and food insecurity strains on already precarious communities. The quarantine is also restricting access to education since the basic technology and internet connection necessary for virtual schooling does not exist in these areas. The current preventive measures overlook the communities’ need for medical equipment, trained medical personnel, and medicine to deal with a potential surge in contagions. In the case of an outbreak, transferring patients to cities in Nariño with better health infrastructure presents multiple risks. On April 4, a medical mission transferring a patient from Barnacoas to Tumaco was violently attacked. The patient and the driver were killed and burned. But even if a safe transfer were possible, the overflow of patients could collapse these cities’ hospitals.

State Urged to Protect Displaced Individuals During COVID-19 Pandemic

On March 31, the Commission Monitoring Public Policy on Displacement (Comisión de Seguimiento a la Política Pública de Desplazamientorequested that the Constitutional Court adopt measures to protect displaced populations during the COVID-19 pandemic. These measures include providing displaced individuals with a basic emergency income and developing differentiated policies for regions with higher socio-economic vulnerability. According to the Commission, Colombia lacks effective public policies to ensure appropriate standards of living for displaced individuals, who represent 13% of the country’s population. Thus, their precarious living conditions, coupled with their reliance on the informal economy, puts them at imminent risk to the negative effects of the pandemic. Such risks are higher in parts of Antioquia, Cordoba, and the Catatumbo and Pacific regions facing humanitarian crises. Recently, the Commission recorded massive displacements in Nariño and Chocó.

Human Rights Abuses

Social Leader from Bajo Cauca Killed in His Home (Antioquia)

On May 12, Caracol Radio News reported that a 47-year-old man, a social leader from Puerto Bélgica in Bajo Cauca, Antioquia, was killed by two assassins who shot at him multiple times in his own home. The social leader was the owner of a local shop and the president of the community action board for the Cantaleta neighborhood in Cáceres municipality. Police believe the criminal group, the Caparros, who are at war with the Gulf Clan illegal armed group also present in this region, were responsible for the killing.

Social Leader Killed (Cauca)

On May 1, Blu Radio reported that hitmen killed social leader Uben Guerrero at the Curacas hamlet, Mercaderes municipality (Cauca). He had formerly served as president of the hamlet’s Community Action Board (Junta de Acción Comunal, JAC).

School Principal Found Dead (Antioquia)

On April 27, Jairo de Jesús Jiménez was found dead inside his house, Contagio Radio reports. He was the principal of the Zoila Duque Baena School at the Chagualal hamlet, Abejorral municipality (Antioquia). At least 20 educators have received death threats in Antioquia since the beginning of the year.

Rural Farmers Killed (Cauca)

On April 26, the Process of Black Communities (Proceso de Comunidades Negras, PCN) reported the killing of two rural farmers known by the nicknames “Yegua Zarca” and “Carroloco.” Their bodies were found at the Cañadas hamlet, Micay’s canyon area (Cauca).

Social Leader Killed (Magdalena)

On April 24, El Espectador reported the killing of social and political leader Alejandro Llinás inside his farm at the Calabazo hamlet, Santa Marta (Magdalena). He was an environmental and territorial rights defender, member of Colombia Humana political party. Alejandro had recently sent a letter to Magdalena’s governor warning about the presence of paramilitaries in the region.

FARC Dissidents Kill Social Leaders (Cauca)

On April 22, community leaders from the Agua Clara hamlet, El Tambo municipality (Cauca), met to discuss the recent killings in the area and coordinate security measures. Then, as La W Radio reports, armed men busted into the meeting, dragged out two individuals, and killed them. The victims, Jesús Albeiro Riascos and Sabino Angulo were members of the local Afro Reborn Community Council (Consejo Comunitario Afro Renacer). The perpetrators are dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC), now members of the Carlos Patino front.

Social Leader Killed (Cauca)

On April 22, the Southwestern Colombian Human Rights Network “Francisco Isaías Cifuentes” (Red de Derechos Humanos del Suroccidente Colombiano “Francisco Isaías Cifuentes,” reddhfic) reported the killing of social leader Hugo de Jesús Giraldo López. Earlier that day, two assailants arrived at Hugo’s house in the San Pedro hamlet, Santander de Quilichao (Cauca), and shot him to death. Hugo defended individuals dispossessed of their lands and was a member of Buenos Aires municipality’s Association of Agricultural Workers and Small Producers (Asociación de Trabajadores y Pequeños Productores Agropecuarios, ASTCAP). He was internally displaced after representing victims of El Naya massacre.

FARC Dissidents Kill Social Leader (Cauca)

On April 17, dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC) killed social leader Teodomiro Sotelo Anacona at the Betania hamlet, El Tambo municipality (Cauca). According to the National Agrarian Coordinator (Coordinador Nacional Agrario, CNA), members of the Carlos Patino and Jaime Martínez fronts arrived at Teodomiro’s house early in the day and killed him in front of his family. Teodomiro served in the Afro Reborn Community Council (Consejo Comunitario Afro Renacer) and led coca crop substitution efforts.

Social Leader Killed (Cauca)

On April 16, Contagio Radio reported the killing of social leader Mario Chilhueso at the Los Robles hamlet, Buenos Aires municipality (Cauca). Mario served as president of Naya’s Association of Agricultural Workers and Small Producers (Asociación de Trabajadores y Pequeños Productores Agropecuarios, ASTCAP) and had worked to protect rural farmers’ rights. He survived El Naya’s massacre in April 2001.

Fighting Between the Military and FARC Dissidents Kills Innocent Indigenous Minor (Cauca)

On April 14, the Association of Northern Cauca’s Indigenous Councils (Asociación de Cabildos Indígenas del Norte del Cauca, ACIN) reported the death of 14-year-old Yilber Andres Yatacué Méndez in Santander de Quilichao municipality (Cauca). During recent armed combat between the military and FARC dissidents, a lost bullet hit Yilber Andres in the head while he was inside his house. He died as a consequence of the injury.

Security Forces Shoot and Torture Civilians (Antioquia)

Security forces injured two residents of Nechi municipality (Antioquia), Prensa Rural reports. On March 27, a man and his daughter were playing outside their house at the Nuevo Centro neighborhood when approximately 8 military officers approached them. The soldiers were shooting indiscriminately. After rushing his child inside the house, the victim tried to find cover but was shot in the leg before he could hide. On April 8, officers from the national police arrested and tortured a teenager who had left his house during the stay-at-home order. They put a bag over his head and brutally beat him. A lawyer had to intervene to secure his release.

Social Leader Under Threat (Valle del Cauca)

On May 8, Buenaventura’s Civic Strike Committee (Comité de Paro Cívico de Buenaventura) sent a letter to the government and the United Nations informing them of the dire security situation faced by social leader Yolanda Echeverri Gómez. Since 2020, Yolanda (the Committee’s executive secretary) has received multiple threatening phone calls. She has been followed by unknown individuals on 15 different occasions. On May 6, her family’s vehicle was vandalized.

Forced Coca Eradication Continues Despite Voluntary Substitution Agreements (Antioquia)

On April 24, the Network of Social and Rural Farming Organizations from Northern and Lower Cauca (Red de Organizaciones Sociales y Campesinas de Norte y Bajo Cauca) released a public statement warning of potential security and health-related problems resulting from the government’s forced eradication operations. Since April 18, the government has carried out forced eradication at the Biogui hamlet—Toledo Norte municipality (Antioquia)—threatening families who rely heavily on planting coca for their subsistence during the national quarantine. These operations could lead to clashes between the military and local communities resulting, as recently occurred, in rural farmers being injured or killed. Such an increase in forced eradication operations comes as a surprise to many of these communities who signed voluntary substitution agreements with the government through the Comprehensive Program for the Substitution of Illicit Crops (Programa Nacional Integral de Sustitución de Cultivos de Uso Ilícito, PNIS).

In the Absence of Governmental Support, Rural Communities Have Started to Replant Coca Crops (North Santander)

In 2017, more than 3,000 families from the Catatumbo region (North Santander) signed voluntary substitution agreements through the PNIS and subsequently eradicated 95% of their crops. However, the government’s failure to support these families in their transition to the legal economy, as agreed upon in the 2016 peace agreement, is forcing them to replant coca; Prensa Rural reports. At the same time, the government is increasingly concentrating its efforts on forced eradication operations; a decision which contravenes the 2016 peace accord’s stipulations and presents a security and health risk to targeted communities.

Rural Residents Displaced (Cauca)

On May 6, the Coordination of Community Councils and Base Organizations of Cauca’s Pacific Coast Black Peoples (Coordinación de Consejos Comunitarios y Organizaciones de Base del Pueblo Negro de la Costa Pacífica del Cauca, COCOCAUCAreported the internal displacement of approximately 60 residents from the Santa Ana and the Robles communities, Guapi municipality (Cauca). Days earlier, these individuals heard loud explosions in a nearby mountain. They fear a potential armed confrontation between the ELN who had recently harassed the local population, and dissidents of the FARC.

Indigenous Persons Harassed (Valle del Cauca)

As reported by the Inter-Ecclesial Commission for Justice and Peace (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz), on May 3, a group of men followed and intimidated five Wounaan Nonams when the indigenous persons went fishing. The victims are members of the Unión Agua Clara community, Buenaventura municipality (Valle del Cauca).

Indigenous Person Killed (Nariño)

On May 6, the Indigenous Unit of the Awá Peoples (Unidad Indígena del Pueblo Awá, UNIPA) reported the killing of indigenous person Deiro Alexander Pérez Bisbicús at the Buenavista town, Barbacoas municipality (Nariño). Hitmen shot Deiro just 600 meters away from a group of military officers. The victim was a member of the Pipalta Palví Yaguapí Reservation.

Individuals in Southwestern Colombia Face an Escalation in Violence 

On May 4, El Espectador reported the recent escalation in violence in the country’s Southern Pacific region. On April 23, five individuals were killed at the San Juan de la Costa town, Tumaco municipality (Nariño). Six days later, social leader Álvaro Narváez Daza was killed at the Mojarras town, Mercaderes municipality (Cauca), along with his wife, son, and granddaughter.

Massacre Targeting Innocent Civilians (Cauca)

On April 27, TeleSur reported that members of an irregular armed group killed three individuals and injured four others at a public park in the Honduras town, Buenos Aires municipality (Cauca). Apparently, the perpetrators attacked the victims for violating the national stay-at-home order.

Ombudsman Raises Alarms About Ongoing Threats to Vulnerable Communities 

On April 27, Colombia’s Ombudsman’s Office warned of an ongoing “violent onslaught” against vulnerable communities, El Tiempo reports. Since the government implemented the national stay-at-home order, the Office has documented at least 40 intimidating actions by irregular armed groups in Cauca, Nariño’s Pacific region, lower Putumayo, Western Antioquia, and Chocó’s Atrato region. Such actions include selective killings, death threats, and restrictions to free mobility.

Violence Against Social Leaders Cause Internal Displacement (Cauca)

On April 22, the Network for the Life and Human Rights in Cauca (Red por la Vida y los Derechos Humanos del Cauca) released a statement reporting the systemic violence seen during the past weeks at El Tambo municipality (Cauca). Dissidents of the FARC have deployed an assault on social leaders, members of the Cimarrona Guard, the Afro Reborn Community Council, and the Network. On April 18, they killed Andrés Cansimance Burbano (husband of a social leader) at the Honduras hamlet, San Juan de Micay town. This and prior killings caused the internal displacement of more than 100 locals.

Police Harasses Indigenous and Social Leaders (Meta)

On April 30, the organization Communities Building Peace in Colombia (Comunidades Construyendo Paz en Colombia, CONPAZ)reportedthat officers of the National Police harassed indigenous leader David Parra and social leader William Aljure at the Jiw community, Mapiripán municipality (Meta). The officers, who were not wearing masks or any other biosafety equipment, approached and insulted the leaders.

Civilian Suffers Death Threat and Attack (Santander)

In a public statement, CREDHOS and the Association of Community Boards (Asociación de Juntas Comunales, ASOJUNTAS) urge the government to protect social leaders at the Third Commune, Barrancabermeja (Santander). On April 29, Jose Andrés Perez, president of San Judas’ neighborhood’s Community Action Board (Junta de Acción Comunal, JAC), heard gunshots aimed at his house. When he went outside, Jose saw that one shot had pierced through his front door. Jose’s family was inside the house at the time. Four days earlier, he received a text message showing a funeral wreath with a caption that read “now we know where you live.”

Social Leader Suffers Increased Harassment (Cundinamarca)

Since joining Santa Catalina neighborhood’s Workers Concentration Table in January 2019, social leader José Pompilio Advíncula has been the victim of death threats, forced disappearance attempts, and physical aggressions. He is a resident of the Kennedy neighborhood (Bogotá, D.C.). At the Table, José defends labor rights and advocates to prevent the displacement of residents whose properties stand in the way of the highway Alsacia Tintal project. As the organization Communities Building Peace in Colombia (Comunidades Construyendo Paz en Colombia, CONPAZ)reports, on May 3, José spotted a suspicious man in a motorcycle when the leader was walking home from his store. The man quickly left after seeing José. Fifteen minutes later, the leader heard gunshots. The next day, he found a graffiti on the door of his store which said “Pompilio Swindler.”

Paramilitaries Displace Indigenous Families (Antioquia)

Antioquia’s Indigenous Organization (Organización Indígena de Antioquia, OIA) requests humanitarian support for the approximately 700 indigenous persons internally displaced from the Majoré Reservation, Urrao municipality (Antioquia). On April 24, these 70 families traveled to the San Jacinto community seeking to escape the increasing harassment and intimidation by the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia, AGC).

University Professor Reprimanded Over Alleged Racism 

On April 13, the Deputy Procurator for Ethnic Matters released a statement that reprimanded Moisés Wasserman Lerner, professor at the National University of Colombia, in response to complaints from civil society alleging the professor posted a racist tweet targeting Colombia’s Minister of Culture, Science, Technology, and Innovation. In the tweet, Professor Wasserman commended the Ministry for approving a series of projects and wrote he hoped the agency was starting to move past the “Black Cloud.” According to members of the Afro-Colombian community, the term “Black Cloud” was a racist reference to Minister Mabel Gisela Torres, an Afro-Colombian herself.

ELN Continues Threatening and Harassing Civilians After Ceasefire (Bolívar)

On April 2, the Héroes de Santa Rosa front of the ELN posted a statement banning the circulation of “non-authorized vehicles” in and around the Patio Bonito hamlet, San Pablo municipality (Bolívar), and ordering a daily curfew. In the message, the group threatens to burn the vehicle of any individual that disobeys the ban. As Prensa Rural reports, the ELN continues to harass residents and exercise territorial control in San Pablo, despite having declared a ceasefire on March 30.

On a positive note:

Special Jurisdiction for Peace Accredits Thousands of Afro-Colombians as Victims of the Armed Conflict  

On May 8, the JEP accredited more than 20,000 Afro-Colombians as victims in Case 004; reports. Through Case 004, the JEP is investigating armed conflict-related crimes that took place in Antioquia and Chocó between 1986 and 2016. These include cases of massacres, internal displacements, illegal land takings, and sexual violence. The accredited victims are represented in the following Community Councils (Consejos Comunitarios): Los Manatíes, Puerto Girón, and La Larga Tumaradó (Antioquia), and Río Curvaradó (Chocó).

Tags: Human Rights, Human Rights Defenders, Public Health, Security Deterioration

May 19, 2020

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