Killing of human rights defenders worsens in 2016
Colombian civil society organisations face numerous threats and the situation for human rights defenders and social movements continues to be hostile. In 2015, 63 human rights defenders were assassinated, a 13 percent increase on the figure for 2014. Veeduria Social, a grouping made up of diverse civil society organisations, highlights that five social leaders were assassinated in just one week in March 2016. Many of the targets were part of civil society, community groups and progressive organisations. At least 16 social activists, human rights defenders, Afro-Colombians, indigenous activists, and rural farmer leaders were killed since the beginning of 2016. Many of these murders were carried out by neo-paramilitary groups. On March 28, the “Black Eagles”, a neo-paramilitary group, openly declared that reporters and activists in Cauca province were military targets. They accused journalists of betraying the country by being just puppets of President Santos who, according to the Black Eagles, is handing over the country to narco-terrorism through the peace process. On March 31 a neo-paramilitary group known as the “Urabeños” or Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces, ordered a so-called “armed strike” in northern Colombia and the Caribbean and Pacific coast. Paramilitaries circulated pamphlets stating that anyone who does not follow their orders would suffer the consequences, including the immediate shut down of commercial and other activities.
Since May 30, a national strike known as the Minga Nacional Agraria, Campesina, Étnica y Popular (National, Agrarian, Peasant, Ethnic and Popular Movement) expanded throughout Colombia. This movement rejects the neoliberal economic model of development and opposes free trade agreements which the protestors consider to be vehicles for the sale of strategic natural resources, public enterprises, strategic goods and water, as well as the intensification of an unequal distribution of wealth. The current social upheaval came about in response to the government’s lack of action on commitments made after a similar wave of demonstrations in 2013 which were driven by the same social demands being reiterated today. Minga participants have faced violent repression by the national police and been the targets of false statements and accusations by local authorities; two indigenous leaders were assassinated. The authorities also took photos of demonstrators in certain places, in a clear attempt to intimidate members of the movement.
During the first five months of 2016, more than 68 violations of the freedom of expression were documented. Local civil society group Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa states that suspects include not only criminal gangs but also the security forces and politicians. On May 21st, 2016, Salud Hernández-Mora, a journalist from the newspaper El Tiempo and correspondent for El Mundo of Madrid, was reported missing in the region of Catatumbo, on the border with Venezuela. Three reporters, Diego Velosa, Diego D’Pablos and Carlos Melo, from Caracol TV and RCN television channels and another from the EFE press agency, travelled to the area on Monday, May 23 to cover the incident. They were detained, allegedly by guerrillas from the National Liberation Army (ELN). Salud Hernández-Mora was released by the guerrilla group Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) on May 27, six days after the kidnapping. The reporters were released some hours later on the same day.