Alarming wave of attacks against human rights defenders and journalists
According to the Colombian organisation Somos Defensores, 106 human rights defenders were killed in Colombia in 2017, a 32.5 percent increase from 2016. In January 2018 alone, the organisation documented 18 human rights defenders killed. Although this number differs depending on the source, the reality is that Colombian social leaders, activists and human right defenders, particularly community activists from rural areas, are threatened, intimidated and in some instances, killed. Such cases from the start of 2018 are documented as follows:
On 13th January 2018, human rights defender Blanca Nubia Diaz, founder of Movimiento de Víctimas de Crímenes de Estado (Movement of Victims of State Crimes) was kidnapped in Bogota. According to reports, Diaz was sedated by the abductors who proceeded to cut off her hair. They later left her in front of Bogota’s Center for Memory, Peace, and Reconciliation. For the past 16 years, Blanca has demanded justice for the disappearance, rape and murder of her daughter. She has received multiple death threats due to her demands for justice.
On 17th January, Victor Morato was murdered by unidentified men in front of his home. Morato was president of the Community Action Board and member of the Municipal Services Committee of Yondó and was known for defending the rights of the indigenous community.
Human rights organisations in Valle Del Cauca reported on 20th December that Jose Wilson Giraldo Barrera had survived a second assassination attempt. Barrera is a key witness in the 2006 murder of Jose Orlando Giraldo Barrera, killed by members of the Colombian armed forces who falsely reported that he was part of the FARC guerrilla group. The Barrera family is connected to the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes
On 22nd January, José Olmedo Obando, a community leader in the Nueva Esperanza Community Council, was shot seven times and killed in the Sucumbíos municipality of Nariño.
On 23rd January, while driving in the town of Buenos Aires, Cauca province, Fares Carabalí and Diego Fernando Castillo were attacked and killed by unknown assailants using explosives and weapons. The others two passengers Álvaro Arará Rodallega and Carlos Mina were wounded. The murdered and wounded individuals are connected to an Afro-Colombian mining cooperative in Santander de Quilichao.
On 26th and 28th January, two prominent social leaders, Eleazar Tequía Vitucay and Temistocles Machado, were killed by unidentified perpetrators. Vitucay of the Embera Katio peoples was a ten-year veteran of the indigenous guard in the Chocó Department, while Machado was instrumental in defending the rights of persons in the port city of Buenaventura. Both were part of the Comisión Étnica por la Paz (Ethnic Commission for Peace), a platform that has represented the interests of Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities since the inception of the peace negotiations. Their murders caused such a strong reaction that the Prosecutions' Office declared that it will give priority to the investigation and a team of special prosecutors has been assigned to the case.
On 2nd February, social leader and human rights defender, Yolanda Maturana was killed by hooded men in the Municipality of Pueblo Rico in the centre of Colombia. Maturana was well known in the departments of Risaraldo and Chocó for having denounced illegal mining and pollution of rivers.
On 9th February, in La Soledad, Municipality of Guapi (Cauca), social leaders Jesús Orlando Grueso and Jonathan Cundumi were murdered. Both of them were part of the Movimiento Étnico y Popular del Pácifico (Ethnic and Popular Movement of the Pacific). They were campaigning for the newly-created political party - Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común - FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) ahead of the parliamentary elections in the region.
In the Municipality of Tibú, Sandra Yaneth Luna's body was found with four bullet holes. Luna had been missing since September 2017 when she was abducted from her house. Luna was president of the Communal Action Board in the locality of Totumito Carboneras. Before being abducted she had reported receiving several threats.
#Colombia: Juez condena a 58 años de cárcel a Yean Arlex Buenaventura, autor material del asesinato del periodista Luis Peralta Cuellar y de Sofía Quintero, su esposa, en 2015. Debería seguir con la investigación para identificar a los autores intelectuales. #NoALaImpunidad https://t.co/Tp8Ro85mgn— CPJ Américas (@CPJAmericas) February 1, 2018
In a positive development, a court recently sentenced Yean Arlex Buenaventura to 58 years and three months in prison for the murder of journalist Luis Peralta Cuellar and his wife, Sofía Quintero, in 2015. According to Fundación Para la Libertad de Prensa (Foundation for Press Freedom - FLIP), "this is the highest sentence ever handed down in the country for a crime against freedom of expression".
Despite the court's sentencing in the above-mentioned case, attacks against the media and media workers still continue, many times with impunity. On 23rd December 2017, in Cartagena, Carlos Figueroa Díaz was threatened while he was with friends in a public place. Two men confronted him about a report he had published in Ideas Políticas about one of the men´s wife, a local representative, Angélica Hogde who is implicated in a corruption case.
A team of journalists with La Lupa Araucana TV channel reported that they were obstructed from reporting at the José Antonio Paéz Bridge on the Venezuelan border. According to Caracol Noticias correspondent, Carlos Pérez, a security guard restrained the cameraman when he arrived at the bridge to prevent him from filming. Later, the police informed the team that filming was not allowed and asked for their IDs.
Community radio Sarare FM in the Arauca region denounced the abuse of authority when a police officer entered the radio station and tried to force radio reporter Jadaniel Vanegas to leave the place. That morning the radio had reported that the police had beaten two young boys.
Federación Colombiana de Periodistas (Federation of Colombian Journalists) is worried about the constant police abuse of media workers. According to the Federation, in 2017, 25 percent of the abusers were public officials or members of the police force.
In December 2017, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court decision that forced the media company Publicaciones Semana to reveal the source of one of its publications. In response, Asociación Colombiana de Medios de Información (Colombian Media Association) and Fundación Para la Libertad de Prensa (FLIP) rejected the Supreme Court’s ruling, asserting that the right to source confidentiality and professional secrecy should be protected by law. According to FLIP this is not an isolated event. In 2017, six similar cases were documented in which independent journalists received requests from judicial entities to reveal their sources.
In a separate incident, FLIP condemned the process by which the Ministry of Interior developed a policy on freedom of expression. In 2012, the cabinet announced the policy development, and in November 2017, a draft was sent to civil society organisations for consideration, but a few days after Minister Guillermo Rivero announced that the policy would not go forward as it had been sent to organisations without his consent. FLIP believes that civil society was not consulted enough in the five-year process of developing the policy.