Hostilities toward social activists grow, leading to at least three recent deaths

Association

The environment for activists and human rights defenders in Colombia continues to grow more hostile. During June and July 2017, at least three activists were killed.

On 1st July 2017, union leader and president of Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Industria Agropecuaria (Union of Agricultural Workers), Alberto Román Acosta, was killed in the town of Guacari, while he was watching his son play football. The local organisation Corporación Colectivo de Abogados "José Alvear Restrepo" reported that he was killed by two men who shot him from a motorcycle. His union activities involved working with sugar labourers in the region, and according to the Solidary Center, “sugar workers and their unions have faced extreme violence in response to organizing efforts and their demands to end informal employment, which deprives workers of social protection and rights”. The Labour Minister condemned the murder, declaring that such criminal activities undermine the social consensus that must prevail in the post-conflict environment.  

On 14th July 2017, Afro-Colombian social leader, Hector William Mina, was shot by four men as he was having breakfast at a restaurant in the town of Caloto. Mina defended the rights of members of the Afro-descendant community and was a member of the Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos de Marcha Patriótica (National Commission on Human Rights of Marcha Patriotica). He also led the Red de Derechos Humanos “Francisco Isaías Cifuentes” (Human Rights Network “Francisco Isaías Cifuentes”). 

On 16th July, the body of Ezequiel Rangel was found in the rural área of Catatumbo on the border with Venezuela. It was reported that he had been shot several times. Rangel led the Asociación Campesina del Catatumbo (Peasants' Association of Catatumbo), which works with small farmers to defend their rights and ensure the proper implementation of the peace accords, a sensitive issue in the region.

The president of Junta de Acción Comunal de la Vereda El Loro (Community Action Committée) in the local government of San Martín and member of Corporación Defensora del Agua, Territorio y Ecosistemas (Association for the Defense of Water, Territory and Ecosystems), Crisóstomo Mancilla, was victim of an attempted murder. On 20th July, Mancilla was shot and had to be assisted to a hospital where he is currently recovering. He is a well-known leader in the region, on account of his work in defence of the territory and ecosystems that are being threatened by mining developing projects.

The critical situation for social leaders in Colombia was highlighted by the Ombudsmen, who stated that during 2017, 52 social leaders and human rights defenders were killed in Colombia. Further,more he said that most of these killing were committed in regions where the FARC used to operate. 

Expression

Journalists continue to be victims of intimidation and harassment in Colombia. On 13th June 2017, a Municipal Court authorised a search of the Facebook account associated with investigative journalist William Solano. This decision was made by request of the public prosecutor who is investigating Solano for the crime of libel and wanted to be able to access the journalist´s sources. 

Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (FLIP) (Press Freedom Foundation) strongly condemned the decision made as a violation of press freedom, as well as the confidentiality of sources and the journalistic right to privacy. FLIP and Karisma Foundation initiated legal actions to revoke the judge`s decision.

On 17th June 2017, a team from a Dutch television programme were kidnapped by the National Liberation Front, a guerrilla movement. Reporter Derk Bolt and cameraman Eugenio Follender disappeared in the northern region of Catatumbo, close to the border with Venezuela. Later on 24th June, the journalists were released

On 1st July 2017, a journalist from news agency Colombia Informa, María Montiel, was illegally detained while covering demonstrations by La Mata community in Ayacucho against the Ecopetrol Corporation. Anti-riot security forces prevented the protests from continuing, and confiscated Montiel´s camera, beat her repeatedly on the face and held her in detention for 31 hours.