Ongoing armed conflict puts activists at even greater risk
Colombian citizens, human rights defenders and indigenous rights' activists have been caught in the crossfire as the armed conflict between the Colombian government and the FARC continues, despite the two parties signing peace accords in November 2016. Activists work in regions of the country where the conflict is still rife and where human rights abuses abound. They are on the front lines in fighting for human rights, and therefore face even greater dangers and threats to their lives.
Most recently, avid human rights defender Bernardo Cuero Bravo was shot and killed by unknown assailants at his home on 7th June. Bravo was active in many causes, including advocating for the rights of the Afrocolombian community that has been impacted by the ongoing conflict in the country. Bravo also served as president of Junta de Acción and was a member of the Mesa de Víctimas de Malambo y del Atlántico and Asociación Nacional de Afrocolombianos Desplazados. Bravo had previously survived an attack on his life and was subsequently given state protection for a temporary period of time. Even though he had requested state protection again, his request went unanswered, leaving him vulnerable to another attempt on his life.
In April 2017 alone, six indigenous people from the Wounan, Nasa and Awá communities were killed under different circumstances. Indigenous community leader Gerson Acosta Salazar was shot while leaving a local meeting. He had been a beneficiary of the government's protection programme due to the level and number of threats he had received as a human rights defenders.
Amnesty International issued a strong statement on the situation for indigenous communities and their leaders, as the danger and persecution they face “raise[s] doubts about the effective implementation of measures to advance with the peace process”.
Asociación de Cabildos Indígenas del Norte del Cauca-Cxhab Wala Kiwe (Colombia’s Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca - ACIN) issued a press release on the death of community member, Daniel Felipe Castro Basto, who was killed by police during an indigenous community gathering on the “Liberation of Mother Earth” in Corinto municipality. Since October 2014, ACIN has organised “Liberation of Mother Earth” actions to protest the lack of an agrarian policy in Colombia and to defend the rights of indigenous people and their ancestral lands.
In a separate incident, communities from Choco and Buenaventura protested on 10th May and 16th May, respectively, to demand that the government fulfill its agreement made a few months ago to improve the living conditions in the communities. Protesters reported police repression of the demonstrations using tear gas. Several people, including children, were reportedly injured by the tear gas.
Colombia continues to be a dangerous country for journalists and media professionals. In fact, Fundación Para la Libertad de Prensa (Foundation for Freedom of the Press - FLIP) documented 87 attacks against the media in the first quarter of 2017.
FLIP and Reporters without Borders have also condemned journalists' unfair working conditions in the Transitional Zones and disarmament camps that were set up as part of the peace accords between the government and the FARC-EP. Journalists have faced restrictions on accessing these areas, as well as intimidation from security forces and difficulties in obtaining interviews from FARC leaders.
In a separate incident on 11th May, journalist Jefferson Beltran's house was broken into and his personal computer and hard drives stolen. Beltran, Deputy Director of the radio program “La noche de RCN”, reported that he had sensitive information stored on his electronic devices pertaining to cases of extortion by the National Liberation Army and dissidents from FARC in Guaviare and Caquetá.
In another incident, Ricardo Ruidiaz, a journalist with Colmundo Radio was threatened while he broadcasting a live program - “Rompecabezas arma corazones”. During the program, the journalist was threatened over the phone to stop investigative reporting and leave the city within the next 24 hours.