Colombia human rights update April 2023

In response to Colombia’s insecurity crisis, the United Nations has welcomed the Petro government’s measures to address ongoing violence in many regions of the country. But ongoing killings and other human rights abuses emphasise that improving security is a long-term process that requires major investment and structural development.

As the UN has repeatedly stated, the most effective means of achieving this is through implementation of the 2016 peace agreement, which the Petro government has situated as a core component of its Total Peace policy. The UN has also welcomed Total Peace for its focus on entering dialogue with armed groups in order to reach negotiated settlements to end conflict.

Violence continued throughout April. More than 15 social activists were murdered, including four women, as well as five former FARC guerrillas in the peace process. There were also several massacres. According to the INDEPAZ human rights NGO, between the start of 2023 and the end of April, 56 social activists and ten former guerrillas were murdered, while 34 massacres were committed.

Here is JFC’s monthly update on the human rights crisis for April 2023.

N.B. This article does not provide a definitive list of all human rights violations committed in Colombia. Various others are likely to have been committed during the period. 

1 April – Four people were killed in the 28th massacre of 2023, which was committed in the Fontibón neighbourhood of Bogota. The perpetrator was reportedly a landlord who killed his tenant, before fatally attacking three other people as he fled. He was then killed by police.

2 April – Community leader Lenis Yaneth Salazar Vera was killed in Teorema, Norte de Santander, where she was a member of the community council in the San Pablo district. She also coordinated activities for women’s associations. She was a well-known promoter of traditional cultures, particularly as a member of a dance group based at the municipal cultural centre. 

3 April – Armed assailants killed two women and a man in an attack on a public establishment in Puerto Gaitán, Meta.

3 April – Community activist Jorge Pérez Lopera was killed in Ituango, Antioquia. He belonged to the local community council and ran a commercial enterprise. Armed assailants attacked him at a restaurant in the district of Quebrada del Medio. Several armed groups are active in Ituango, which has seen a high number of killings of social leaders and former FARC combatants since the 2016 peace agreement.

4 April – Environmental activist Jaime León López Carmona was murdered in Santa Bárbara, Antioquia, where he was director of the animal protection foundation Amores Callejeros (Street Loves). He was attacked in a public park in the town centre. According to INDEPAZ, Jaime is the 40th social activist murdered in 2023.

5 April – Community leader Herney Muñoz was murdered in Balboa, Cauca, the fourth killing of an activist in the first five days of April. He organised sporting and cultural activities, including intermunicipal football tournaments. He was also a member of the sporting committee in the district of La Plantada in Balboa. It was here that armed assailants forced 55-year-old Herney from his home, with his body later found in the neighbouring district of El Turbio.  

9 April – African-Colombian community activist Luis Alberto Quiñones Cortés was murdered in Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city. He had arrived in Cali recently after threats forced him to leave his home in Magüi Payán, Nariño, where he was legal representative for social organisation La Voz de los Negros (The Voice of Black People), which defends the rights of regional African-Colombian communities. He had reported the threats to the state-run National Protection Unit but was not under security measures at the time of his killing in Cali’s neighbourhood of La Paz.

9 April – Former FARC combatant Diego Mauricio Mejía Rojas was killed in Puerto Asís, Putumayo. He was a member of the departmental council for the Comunes political party, which was formed by former FARC guerrillas under the terms of the 2016 peace agreement. While INDEPAZ registered Diego’s death as the 354th killing of a former guerrilla since the 2016 peace agreement – and the sixth in 2023 – the United Nations registered 362 killed by the end of March 2023.

9 April – Rural organiser Rodolfo Holguín Martínez and a woman whose name was not released were murdered in Carmen de Viboral, Antioquia. Rodolfo’s death was the third killing of an activist or former guerrilla on the same day. He was a member of the community council in the San Vicente district.

9 April – 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. They had been reported missing on 31 March. On 8 April, a group of more than 80 people initiated a renewed search for their whereabouts. Their bodies were found the following day in the nearby community of Chigüero.  

10 April – Social activist Alfonso Medina was murdered in Valledupar, César, where he had organised communities for over 20 years. He was a community council member in the district of Villa Jaidith in the south of the city. The 75-year-old was entering his home when armed assailants shot him several times.

11 April – Three peasant farmers were killed in the 30th massacre of 2023, committed in El Tambo, Cauca. They were identified as Rubén Dario López Gutiérrez, Didier Estiven Montenegro and Marcos Elias Gutiérrez. Armed assailants forced the three men from their homes under the pretext that they wanted to speak to them and would then let them go. However, the three were killed shortly afterwards.

11 April – Community leader Diana Carolina Rodríguez Madrigal was murdered in San Cayetano, Norte de Santander. She belonged to the La Florida community council and was its main representative at regional level. She was also a renowned environmental defender and had led protests directed at the local mayor’s office. She was attacked in the village of Urimaco while travelling home. INDEPAZ registers her death as the 45th of a social activist this year.

11 April – On another particularly violent day, trade unionist Carlos Julio Tautiva Cruz was murdered in Sumapaz in the Bogota metropolitan region. He was a member of the Agricultural Workers of Sumapaz Trade Union (SINTRAPAZ) and the Colombian Communist Party. He was also a well-known musician. Armed assailants attacked him inside his home, with a woman also injured. Several armed groups are active in Sumapaz.

15 April – Four bodies were found by a road in Dibulla in Colombia’s northernmost department of La Guajira. They were gagged and wrapped in plastic. The discovery was made days after a regionalk paramilitary organisation distributed threatening pamphlets around Dibulla and other local communities.

14 April – Three men were found dead with signs of torture by a road in Nueva Granada, Magdalena. The victims were aged 26, 30 and 45 and worked as labourers and gardeners.

15 April – Social activist Luisa Isabel Moreno was murdered in her home in Bogota. The 70-year-old was president of the community council for Santo Domnigo, a district in Ciudad Bolívar. She had reported having received threats relating to the incursion of armed groups in the community.

16 April – Former political candidate Hernando Montoya Melo was killed in Puerto Rondón, Arauca, where he had stood in elections for the conservative Democratic Centre party. He was attacked at his home at around 1pm.

16 April – Former FARC guerrilla Carlos Cortés Henao was murdered in Puerto Leguízamo, Putumayo, where he was taking part in the reincorporation process. His death came a week after another former guerrilla, Diego Mauricio Mejía Rojas, was also killed in Putumayo.

17 April – Community leader Jairo Zuleta was killed in Nariño, Antioquia. He was a member of the community council in the district of Moro Azúl.

17 April – The 33rd massacre of 2023 killed four people in Río Quito, Chocó. One of them was a former FARC guerrilla in the peace process, named as Suil Bejarano Robledo.

17 April – Community organiser Sorelsi Johana Echavarria Cañas was murdered in Medellin, Colombia’s second city. She was reportedly attacked alongside another woman in a vehicle in which they were travelling. Sorelsi, who was 41, was affiliated to the community council in the district of Barrio Popular No. 2 and played an active community role there supporting young people.

18 April – Nasa indigenous activist José Isaías Quiguanás was murdered in Corinto, Cauca. He was a practitioner of traditional culture and medicine. He was attacked in the early hours on a road leading to Corinto from the nearby district of El Palo. Local communities warned that his death would have a detrimental impact on local healthcare and cultural activities.

21 April – Rural activist Gilberto Antonio Rivera López was killed in Abejoral, Antioquia. He was attacked alongside his brother-in-law as they left Gilberto’s home to go to work.

25 April – Indigenous community leader Mary Cruz Petro was killed in Ciénaga de Oro, Córdoba. She was treasurer for the Zenú Cantagallo indigenous council and also worked as a nurse in the municipality. She is the fourth woman activist murdered in April.

28 April – Human rights groups reported that environmental defender María Soto had survived an assassination attempt in Boyacá. She has campaigned to protect the Ocetá-Siscunsí biological zone.

28 April – Former FARC guerrilla Harol Chami Lana was killed in Nuevo Belén de Bajira, Chocó. He was based at the reincorporation zone Caracolí-Silver Vidal Mora.

29 April – Another massacre claimed three lives in Garzón, Huila. The three young victims – two men and one woman – were attacked in the early afternoon in a park in the Zuluaga district. A fourth person was taken to hospital.

30 April – Former FARC guerrilla Luis Antonio Piedrahita was murdered in Cali. He was attacked in the early hours before being taken to hospital, where he died.

30 April – Youth worker Carlos Andrés Torres Gutiérrez was murdered in Chaparral, Tolima. The 20-year-old worked with young people in local social organisations.