68 human rights defenders killed in the first four months of 2023
On 22nd May 2023, President Gustavo Petro announced the unilateral suspension of the ceasefire with Estado Mayor Central (EMC), a dissident group of the demobilised Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People's Army (FARC-EP). This decision came after the recruitment and murder of four minors, between ages 14 and 16, from the Murui indigenous community in the Putumayo department of the country. As reported by Mercopress, from January to May 2023, 63 cases of child recruitment by groups such as the Clan del Golfo, FARC dissidents, and ELN guerrillas have been reported.
On 7th August 2022, soon after taking office, Petro announced that he would implement a peace effort to end violence in Colombia. The Total Peace policy is a multifaceted effort that seeks to minimise violence, protect civilians, and dismantle the many armed groups operating in Colombia. Petro situated the implementation of the 2016 peace agreement as a core component of the policy and a dialogue process with the dissidents of the extinct FARC guerrilla.
As reported by civil society organisation Indepaz, 68 social activists and 14 peace signatories were murdered in the first four months of 2023. Among those targeted were indigenous leaders, trade unionists, LGBTQI+ activists and political campaigners. Several of the cases of murdered rights defenders, as well as members of political parties and trade unions, are detailed below:
On 17th January 2023, land rights leader Luz Marina Arteaga was found in La Esmeralda village in the Meta department. She was murdered despite having applied for protection from the National Protection Unit (UNP).
On 4th February, two social activists were murdered. Jorge Luis Jaraba Plata, who belonged to the Peasant Association for the Development of Alto Sinú, was murdered in Tierralta, Córdoba. The day's second murder was José Antonio Santiago Pérez in Tibu, Norte de Santander, where he was community council president for the district of Socuavo Norte.
On 10th February, indigenous activist Marcos López Enríquez was murdered in Mallama, Nariño. López represented Nariño for the Movement of Indigenous Authorities of Colombia (AICO) political party.
Various murders and attacks occurred between 18 and 20 February. Trade union leader Jorge Alejandro Chica Correa was murdered in Carepa, Antioquia, where he was a Colombian Association of Bank Employees (ACEB) leader. Milton Rocha Peña, a peasant leader and member of the progressive Colombia Humana political movement, was murdered in San Sebastián, Magdalena.
Transgender woman Shaina Vanessa Pretel, LGBTQI+ and anti-racist activist, was murdered in Cali's El Poblado II neighbourhood on 26th February. She belonged to the grassroots movement AfroResistence. On the same day, social activist Rosa Elena Celix Guañarita was murdered in San Pablo, Bolívar. She was vice president of the Victims' Association of Las Guayacanes, representing the rights of people affected by conflict and human rights abuses.
During March 2023, at least 20 social leaders and activists were killed or attacked. On 3rd March, 19-year-old Marlon Hernando García Pascal Awá indigenous activist, was killed in Tumaco, Nariño. He belonged to the indigenous guard and coordinated community activities in the Awá reservation El Gran Sábalo. On 9th March, Andrés Felipe Herrera Mosquera, an activist in the Comunes political party, was murdered in Buga, Valle del Cauca.
On 15th March, two other murders took place. Community leader Néstor Yesid Martínez Pinto was murdered in Riohacha, La Guajira. He campaigned to strengthen the rights of indigenous and African-Colombian residents in the northern region.
On 19th March, Weimar Possu Díaz, president of the Monte Oscuro Peasant and Palenque Community Council, was killed in Puerto Tejada, Cauca. Social leader José Eduardo Cardenas Sánchez was killed in Quibdó, Chocó.
On 21st March, Indigenous leader Alberto Camilo Mendoza Corzo, from the Kankuamos communities, was murdered in Valledupar, César department. The day's second murder was of a Nasa indigenous leader, Diego Jair Orbes, in Puerto Caicedo, Putumayo.
From 25th to 30th March, at least seven murders were reported. Social activist Gonzalo de Jesús Parra Forero was murdered in Maripí, Boyacá. He represented around 200 independent miners in the ASOMIPAZ organisation. Social leader and health activist Mariela Marínez Gaviria was killed in Tumaco, Nariño department. Two community activists, Jeider Omar Conda Pillimue and Flower Alfonso García Julicue, were murdered in Corinto, Cauca. In Tumaco Nariño, community activists Linder Stiven Sepúlveda and Mariela Marínez Gaviria were also murdered.
On 2nd April, Lenis Yaneth Salazar Vera, a community council member in the San Pablo district, was killed in Teorema, Norte de Santander. She also coordinated activities for women's associations. The next day armed assailants attacked and killed community activist Jorge Pérez Lopera in Ituango, Antioquia.
On the 4th and 5th April, environmental activist Jaime León López Carmona was murdered in Santa Bárbara, Antioquia, and community leader Herney Muñoz in Balboa, Cauca. Muñoz organised sporting and cultural activities, including inter-municipal football tournaments.
On 9th April, three community leaders were murdered. African-Colombian community activist Luis Alberto Quiñones Cortés was killed in Cali. He was the legal representative for social organisation La Voz de los Negros (Voice of Black People) and had just arrived in the city after threats forced him to leave his home in Magüi Payán, Nariño. Rural organiser Rodolfo Holguín Martínez and a woman whose name was not released were murdered in Carmen de Viboral, Antioquia. Holguín was a member of the community council in the San Vicente district. Two senior African-Colombian activists were killed in Guapi, Cauca. María Cecilia Cuenu and Juan Hilario Banguera Colorado were members of the Alto Guapi community council.
Social activist Alfonso Medina was murdered in Valledupar, César on 10th April. He was a community council member in the district of Villa Jaidith in the city's south. Diana Carolina Rodríguez Madrigal, La Florida community council member, was killed in San Cayetano, Norte de Santander, the next day. On 11th April, Carlos Julio Tautiva Cruz, a member of the Agricultural Workers of Sumapaz Trade Union and the Colombian Communist Party, was murdered in Bogota.
Social activist Luisa Isabel Moreno was murdered in her home in Bogota on 15th April. She was president of the community council for Santo Domingo, a district in Ciudad Bolívar. On 16th April, former political candidate Hernando Montoya Melo was killed in Puerto Rondón, Arauca, and on 17th April, Sorelsi Johana Echavarria Cañas was murdered in Medellin. Echavarria was affiliated with the community council in the district of Barrio Popular No. 2 and had an active community role there, supporting young people. On 18th April, Nasa indigenous activist José Isaías Quiguanás was murdered in Corinto, Cauca. He was a practitioner of traditional culture and medicine.
Attacks and murders continued during May. On 10th May, social leader Johan Marcelo Montaño was assassinated in Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca region. He organised activities with children, the elderly and young people. On 11th May, two activists died in two separate incidents. Gildardo Hoyos, a well-known political leader and former mayor of the municipality of Sucre in the department of Cauca, was killed by hired assassins. Dania Sharith Polo, an LGBTIQ+ human rights defender, died twelve days after being the victim of an attack in Carmen de Bolívar. On 20th May, gunmen killed Sergio Luis Castro, a prominent activist in the Tibú, Norte de Santander department and a candidate for the city council.
Dania Sharith Polo— INDEPAZ (@Indepaz) May 12, 2023
El Carmen de Bolívar, Bolívar
Dania Sharith Polo era una reconocida lideresa, defensora de DDHH y activista LGBTIQ+, quien impulsó el reconocimiento del colectivo en el municipio de El Carmen de Bolívar como sujeto de reparación colectiva. pic.twitter.com/TdqvoDI2On
Constitutional Court upholds the rights of the Waüipijíwi indigenous people
In a positive development, on 8th February 2023, the Constitutional Court resolved to "protect the rights to cultural identity, autonomy and self-determination, and ancestral and collective territory" of the Yajotja community (Waüipijiwi people).
This ruling protects the indigenous people who find themselves without their territory and in a situation of vulnerability in the municipality of La Primavera, Vichada. Women, adolescents, girls, and boys are the most affected. The most pressing problems are sexual violence, low nutrition, and poor health care.
The ruling urges the National Land Agency to adopt the necessary measures to respond to the petitions for the adjudication of the lands that make up the ancestral territory and to finalise the process of constituting the reservation. It also requests the Unit for the Attention and Integral Reparation of Victims (UARIV) to make a substantive decision on the registration of the members of the Yajotja community (Waüipijiwi people).
Mobilisations for and against Petro's social and economic reforms
On 14th February 2023, thousands took to the streets of Colombia's main cities to support the reforms President Gustavo Petro presented to Congress.
Some proposed measures include health reform, labour and pension reforms, programmes to guarantee free access to university education for students without money to pay for it, and subsidies for impoverished families and older people living in poverty.
According to the president, these policies will improve access to health care and protect people's rights.
The following day, on 15th February, thousands took to the streets to protest against the proposed social and economic reforms.
The Colombian opposition claims these reforms endanger the country's economic stability and could plunge it into chaos with increasing the level of poverty.
Both marches were peaceful.
A journalist was shot and killed in Ciénaga de Oro
On 9th May 2023, two gunmen shot and killed journalist Luis Gabriel Pereira while he was riding his motorcycle in Ciénaga de Oro, northern department of Córdoba.
Pereira was the founder and director of the local news outlet Notiorense, where he published stories on crime and public security in Ciénaga de Oro. According to news reports, the motive for the killing remains unclear.
Intimidation by criminal gangs against media outlets
As reported by the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA), the newspaper El Heraldo claimed that it had been subjected to "pressures and intimidations from illegal armed actors" to force it to publish their messages. On 27th March 2023, two armed men entered the newspaper building and demanded to speak with the director because they had a message from Digno Palomino, a gang leader, who demanded an interview with the newspaper.
Carlos Jonet, chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, urged the Colombian authorities to "address with urgency the issue and put a stop to the acts of illegal groups that violate the free practice of journalism and the right of citizens to be informed".
Demonstrators attack journalists in Cali
On 15th February 2023, at the end of a march, a group of demonstrators verbally attacked journalists Ingrid Johana Tovar with RCN TV, Erika Rebolledo with W Radio, and Sebastián Bedoya from CM&. The attackers pushed them from the park where the journalists were reporting. The Cali Journalists' Circle filed a public complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Attack on community radio station
On 24th May 2023, unknown persons attacked the premises of the community radio station La Mohana, located in Casa de la Mujer, Barrancabermeja. This is the historic headquarters of the Women's Popular Organisation ( Organización Femenina Popular) and also houses Casa Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres (Museum of Memory and the Rights of Women). According to reports, the door of the station was destroyed, leaving the radio and communications equipment exposed but nothing was stolen.
#ComunicadoFLIP | Rechazamos y lamentamos el asesinato de Luis Gabriel Pereira, director del medio Notiorense, en Ciénaga de Oro, Córdoba. Este ambiente violento para el periodismo exige una atención inmediata y urgente por parte del Gobierno. https://t.co/Ei9eeWmZod pic.twitter.com/ChFZjZ1isH— Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (FLIP) (@FLIP_org) May 11, 2023