Colombia human rights update August 2023

Trade unionists, indigenous leaders, LGBTQ activists and former guerrillas in the peace process were among the victims of violence during August, as the long-running insecurity crisis continues impacting many parts of the country. While overall 2023 has seen a slight drop in killings compared with the same period last year, by the end of August 117 social activists and 28 former guerrillas had been killed, according to the INDEPAZ human rights NGO. There have also been multiple cases of forced displacement and confinement as armed groups compete for territorial control.

The United Nations has welcomed the steps taken by the Petro government to improve security and address the presence of armed groups, but the scale of violence demonstrates the size of the task.

Here is JFC’s monthly update on the human rights crisis for August 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 August – Colombian LGBTQ rights organisation Caribe Afirmativo reported the murder of activist Luis Felipe Rolón in the northern city of Barranquilla, Atlántico. The 24-year-old was attacked in the El Ferry neighbourhood and is the tenth LGBTQ person murdered in Atlántico in 2023.

1 August – Following the massacre of three Awá indigenous youths on 30 July, armed assailants interrupted the funeral of one of the victims, threatening attendees and ordering them to leave the zone. 14 families were displaced during the incident and, according to the UNIPA Awá rights organisation, in urgent need of humanitarian attention. The attackers’ presence was also increasing the risk of forced confinement for local residents, said UNIPA.

2 August – Political candidate Jorge Saúl Cruz Pardo, 49 years old, was murdered in Barrancabermeja, Santander, where he was standing for the Creemos party.

3 August – Human rights groups reported the abduction of two community leaders in Bajo San Juan, Chocó. The first victim, Geiler Andrés Lizalda Torres is a prominent African-Colombian activist, while the other, Alexis Chocho is an indigenous activist based in Buenaventura. The ACADESAN social organisation, to which Geiler belongs, called for the men’s safe return.

3 August – Heavy gunfire, purportedly from an armed group, forced residents of Tadó, department of Chocó, to abandon their homes and seek shelter in nearby mountains. The indigenous community also denounced the apparent disappearance of two young males.

4 August – Nasa indigenous leader Eduardo Timaná was killed in Pradera, Valle del Cauca, where he was a former authority in the Kwet Wala community. He was a member of the legal team for the Cauca Regional Indigenous Council (CRIC) which was providing evidence to the transitional justice court on violence against local communities during the armed conflict. He was also a law student at a school run by the Association of Indigenous Councils of North Cauca (ACIN).

4 August – Colombia’s 57th massacre of 2023 claimed three lives in the city of Cucuta, close to the northeast border with Venezuela. An armed assailant on a motorbike opened fire on two men and a woman who were transported to a hospital where none could be saved. The victims were named as Elexer García Wilches, José Ramón Suárez Parada and Heidy Marcela Suárez Rodríguez.

9 August – Armed assailants murdered council candidate Leandro Sánchez Reyes at his home in Honda, Tolima, where he was standing for the Creemos party. His murder came one week after another Creemos candidate, Jorge Saúl Cruz Pardo, was killed in Barrancabermeja.

9 August – Teacher trade unionist José Armando Sánchez Ávila was murdered in Tunja, Boyacá, where he worked at the Plinio Mendoza Education Institute. He was a committee member for the Boyacá-based education union SINDIMAESTROS. He was attacked inside his home in the morning.

10 August – Human rights groups warned of the forced displacement of 17 people following an attack on the Community Council of Playón in López de Micay, Cauca. Armed assailants opened fire at two homes in the area.

11 August – Human rights groups denounced the reported abduction of social leader Over Jesús Rengifo Bolaños on 1 August. Over is president of the JAC community council for the district of San Alfonso in Balboa, Cauca.

11 August – Community leader José Luis Arzuaga was murdered in La Jagua del Pilar, department of La Guajira. He was campaigning in upcoming mayoral elections in the town for the Independent Social Alliance party (ASI), which represents indigenous interests. He had recently denounced alleged voting irregularities. Armed assailants on a motorbike attacked him while he was in his vehicle.

11 August – Three men were killed in Colombia’s latest massacre, carried out in Tumaco, Nariño. The victims were named as Camilo Galíndez Navia, who was 35 years old, Eduardo Marín García, 23, and 24-year-old Jeferson Aguilar.  

12 August – Amid ongoing violence against political candidates and organisers, Ronald Gómez of the progressive Movement of Indigenous Authorities of Colombia (AICO) was killed in the city of Cartagena, Bolívar. He was a council member in the district of Tolu in neighbouring Sucre department. He was attacked while with his family. Another social activist, Luis Carlos Melendez, was badly injured.

13 August – Social leader José Rubiel Guetia was murdered in Caldono, Cauca, which statistically is the most violent department in the country. He was a former JAC community council president for the district of Jardin. He is the 105th activist killed this year.

13 August – Political activist Herney Arrieta Meza, was found murdered in Montecristo, Bolívar, after three armed assailants had abducted him from his home the previous night. 33-year-old Herney was active in the Historic Pact, the progressive coalition that won last year’s presidential election under Gustavo Petro, and a well-known community organiser who promoted cultural and sporting activities. He was also a member of the JAC community council in the Pueblo Lindo district.

16 August – Community activist Martín Darys Escobar Barón was killed in Zona Bananera, Magdalena, where he was president of the Zona Bananera Peasant Association. In 2020, he had requested security measures after surviving an attack, but at the time of his death, these were not in place. He was shot dead inside a home in the district of Guacamayal.

16 August – The department of Magdalena saw the day’s second killing of a social activist when armed assailants shot dead Wilinton Tovar Gil in the district of San Zenón, where he was standing as a candidate for upcoming council elections. Wilinton was also an organiser in the mayoral election campaign for Ricardo Rodríguez of the Broad Democratic Alliance party (ADA). His attackers intercepted and attacked Wilinton as he travelled through San Zenón.

17 August – Former FARC guerrilla José Manuel Rivas Medina was killed in Pasto, Nariño. He was working as a bodyguard affiliated to the state-run National Protection Unit, under which he provided security to other former guerrillas in the peace process. He was also a committee member in the National Trade Union for Professional Bodyguards (SINESPRO). According to INDEPAZ, he is the 381st former guerrilla killed since the 2016 peace agreement, and the 25th in 2023.

20 August – Musician and social activist Lisandro Vallecilla Riascos was killed in Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city. He belonged to the internationally renowned folklore group Canelón de Timbiquí who were in the city for its famous Petronio Alvarez music festival. The group come from the coastal Guapi region of Cauca and are known for merging traditional African-Colombian rhythms with socially conscious messaging.

20 August – Another former FARC guerrilla was killed, taking the total to 382 such murders since the 2016 peace deal. Julio Cesar Guetoto Cayapu was attacked in Caldono, Cauca, where he was based at a local indigenous reserve. He was also involved in a productive project known as COOMEP. He had two children.

21 August – Peasant leader Marcos Fidel Jiménez Bohórquez was abducted and murdered in Segovia, Antioquia. He was an organiser in the Peasant Reservation Zone, a legally recognised territory in Valle del Río Cimitarra. He was aon the conciliation committee for the JAC community council in the Cantagallo district and also belonged to the Peasant Association of Valle del Río Cimitarra-Agroecological Network Nal (ACVC-RAN).

23 August – Community leader Yorladis Ayala Moreno was killed in Cúcuta, Norte de Santander. She was secretary general of the JAC community council in the neighbourhood of Sabana Verde, located in the city’s Comuna 8. She was attacked while arriving at her home, with some reports that the motive was robbery of her motorcycle.

23 August – Rural activist Ferley Fernández Rojas was murdered in Florencia, Caquetá. He was president of the Association of the Peasant Reservation Zone La Victoria (AZORCAVI). Last April, he requested security measures from the National Protection Unit although it is unclear whether these had been granted.

23 August – Former FARC guerrilla Neftali Orobio Venté was murdered in Santa Bárbara de Iscuandé, Nariño. He was participating in a fish farming productive project under the terms of the peace process.

24 August – Armed assailants killed Blanca Libia Marín Barrio in La Plata, Huila. She was married to mayoral candidate Eduardo Hoyos Gamba of the Historic Pact progressive coalition.

24 August – The 60th massacre of 2023 was carried out in Cáceres, Antioquia. Among the four male victims was Luis Miguel Echavarría, who was president of the Association of Boaters of San Pablo. Several armed groups are active in the region.

24 August – Social activist Jhon Kevin Taicus Guanga was murdered in Tumaco, Nariño. He belonged to the Agricultural Workers’ Association of La Guayacana.

25 August – Another massacre took place in San Onofre, Sucre, with two women and one man killed. All three were workers at a farm called La Fe in the district of El Peñón. Two children reportedly witnessed the attack.

25 August – The third massacre in two days – and the 62nd of 2023 – claimed four lives in Mocoa, Putumayo. The Office of the High Commissioner for Peace condemned what it said was a form of ‘social cleansing’, a term used to describe organised attacks that execute specific people.

25 August – Three elderly people were killed in the day’s third massacre, the fourth since one day earlier, which was carried out in Santa Rosa de Cabal, Risaralda. The victims were identified as 82-year-old Bernardo Giraldo, 81-year-old Mélida Gónzalez López and María Isabel Giraldo, who was 75. It was initially unclear why they were targeted.

25 August – Former FARC guerrilla Erminsul Carvajal Ocampo died one day after being shot in Mesetas, Meta. He had been based at the formal reincorporation zone Georgina Ortiz. Former combatants based at the nearby Mariana Paéz reincorporation zone recently were forced to leave the zone due to high levels of threat.

25 August – The National Ombudsman’s Office condemned what it said were death threats made against Leonardo González Perafan of the INDEPAZ human rights NGO.

26 August – Armed assailants killed community leader Claudia Ordoñez and injured her husband as they carried out communal work outside the prison in Jamundí, Valle del Cauca. Claudia was an organiser in the neighbourhood of El Guabal and was standing as a candidate for the Jamundí council in upcoming elections. She is the 114th activist murdered in 2023.

26 August – Social activist Edwin Tapia was murdered in Tierralta, Córdoba. He represented land claims by victims of forced displacement. The Cordoberxia human rights organisation said he was the second land claimant murdered in Córdoba recently.

26 August – Human rights lawyer and trade unionist Willian Alberto Álvarez Domínguez was murdered in Puerto Libertador, Córdoba. He was an official at the regional department of the National Ombudsman and belonged to the main trade union representing the institution’s employees, the Trade Union for Human Rights Defenders of the National Ombudsman of Colombia (SINDHEP). Reports said he was attacked while carrying out ‘humanitarian labour’.

30 August – Former FARC guerrilla Marino Molina Cruz was unhurt in Bogota when armed assailants opened fire at his security detail in the early hours. However, two bodyguards affiliated to the National Protection Unit (UNP), Flor Lozano and Uberley Mendoza, were injured. Marino belongs to the UNP’s Committee for Security and Protection, where he focuses on the safety of former guerrillas in the peace process. In a statement condemning the attack, the Comunes political party (formerly the FARC party), said that ‘it was known beforehand that men, days earlier, conducted intelligence activities into Marino Molina and his family at their place of residence.’