Colombia human rights update December 2022

Despite the important steps taken by Colombia’s government under President Gustavo Petro, violence continued impacting many parts of the country throughout December. Petro has reached out to armed groups for negotiations and activated security mechanisms contained in the 2016 peace agreement that were neglected by the previous administration. Nevertheless, community leaders, trade unionists and former FARC guerrillas are still coming under frequent attack.

According to the INDEPAZ human rights institute, 2023 saw 189 social activists and 43 former guerrillas murdered, while massacres also increased compared with the previous year. The scale of violence demonstrates the massive task facing Petro’s government as it attempts to tackle conflict and strengthen peace in Colombia. The National Ombudsman announced recently that more activists had been murdered in 2022 than any other year since the peace agreement’s signing in November 2016.

Here is JFC’s monthly update on Colombia’s human rights crisis for December 2022.

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 December – Former FARC guerrilla José Reinel Cano Medina was murdered in Caloto, Cauca, where he belonged to the Caloto Multiactive Cooperative formed by former guerrillas in the peace process. He is the 38th former guerrilla murdered in 2022 and the 343rd since the peace agreement was signed in November 2016.

1 December – The Awá indigenous organisation UNIPA issued an alert over the impact that armed groups are having on Awá communities in Nariño. UNIPA said the reservations of Hojal la Turbia, El Gran Sábalo, Santa Rosita and Quejuambi Feliciana were exposed to major human rights violations including forced displacement, forced confinement, threats and restricted mobility. It warned that combat between armed groups was placing communities in severe danger and called on authorities to respond urgently to the growing humanitarian crisis.

2 December – The body of indigenous community leader Ariel Danilo Majin Jiménez was found in Policarpa, Nariño, after he had gone missing on 24 November. He was a coordinator of the indigenous guard in the Cabildo Tulpaz district, based in Sotorá, Cauca. Indigenous communities in Nariño and Cauca have experienced ongoing high levels of violence.

2 December – Human rights groups warned of a potential mass displacement of families in El Charco, a municipality on the Nariño coast. They said clashes between armed groups were generating panic among local residents and threatening their safety, livelihoods and homes.

4 December – Confirmation arrived of the killings of three men on 18 November in an attack close to the Venezuelan border in Cúcuta, Norte de Santander. The victims were reportedly at work loading bricks into a lorry when two armed men arrived to interrogate them on their presence in the zone. While two men, 18-year-old Brandon Stiwar Ortiz Santander and 32-year-old Manuel Jesús Quintana Vergel, were killed immediately, the third, Jesús Gabriel Reyes, died in hospital weeks later. His death converted the incident into Colombia’s 92nd massacre of 2022.

5 December – An Awá indigenous man, named as 39-year-old Alirio Pai García, died after stepping on a landmine as he returned home from work in the sector of El Gran Sábalo, Nariño. Several recent alerts have warned that fighting between armed groups has put indigenous communities in Nariño at extreme risk. In a statement, UNIPA said ‘[t]his humanitarian crisis demonstrates the physical and cultural extermination of our Awá people. There are no guarantees of mobility in the territory. It is not possible to carry out daily labours for our sustenance … Survivors are obliged to confine themselves or displace themselves in search of new horizons.’ Nariño has seen several targeted killings of indigenous activists, as well as forced displacements, threats and abductions, in recent months. UNIPA requested an urgent meeting with Gustavo Petro’s government.

6 December – The body of trade unionist Ricardo Osorio was identified in Medellin, three days after he had been reported missing by his family. He had been stabbed repeatedly. The 38-year-old sat on the executive of SINTRAPINTUCOL, which represents workers at the Pintuco printing company. He is the 180th social activist murdered in 2022 and the 1400th since the signing of the 2016 peace agreement. ‘We strongly reject the latest crime to have occurred here in the city, regarding a trade unionist who was found dead,’ said Óscar Yesid Zapata of human rights group the Sumapaz Foundation. He added that 25 of the year’s killings had been committed in the department of Antioquia.

6 December – Social activist Filadelfo Anzola was killed in San Pablo, Bolívar. He belonged to the Regional Corporation for the Defence of Human Rights (CREDHOS), a human rights organisation, as well as the local council’s human rights committee. He was also the sitting community council president for the district of Comfenalco and was in the process of leading land claims for victims of forced displacement. He stood for election to the San Pablo council in 2015.

6 December – Human rights organisation the Interchurch Commission for Justice and Peace, which has worked closely with JFC over the years, contacted the National Ombudsman over the severe humanitarian situation facing Embera indigenous communities in Alto Baudo, Chocó, due to fighting between rival armed groups. It warned that dead bodies had been left in public spaces, traumatising children and posing major health risks. In addition to threatening and attacking residents, members of armed groups were stealing food, livestock and other goods.

7 December – Former FARC guerrilla William Ferney Jiménez was murdered in Mutatá, Antioquia. He had been based at the reincorporation zone Llano Grande, which was visited by a JFC delegation in 2018. He was attacked in an indigenous reservation known as La Zabaleta. The killing takes the number of former FARC guerrillas killed since entering the peace process to 344, with 39 of those cases coming in 2022.

8 December – An activist for the progressive Historic Pact coalition, Luis Peña, was murdered in Magangué, Bolívar, where he been an electoral candidate for the council in 2012. He was sitting community council president in the district of Dos de Noviembre. Armed assailants attacked him outside his home in the evening.

8 December – Peasant leader Pedro Alirio Guerrero was murdered in San José del Guaviare, Guaviare. He was the former president for the community council in the district of Nuevo Milenio and coordinated crop substitution programmes under the terms of the 2016 peace agreement. Armed assailants attacked him outside his home.

9 December – Former FARC guerrilla Carlos Alberto Durango was killed in Rioblanco, Tolima. He is the 40th former guerrilla murdered in 2022 and the 345th in total since the signing of the agreement. He was attacked shortly after participating in a reincorporation meeting.

10 December – Two days after the killing of political activist Luis Peña in Mangangué, his lawyer and friend Juan Bautista Navarro was also murdered. Like Luis, Juan was a campaigner for the Historic Pact coalition, whose candidate, Gustavo Petro, won the presidential election in June. Also like Luis, he was attacked outside his home during the evening.

13 December – Five people were killed and one injured when armed men entered a house and opened fire at the inhabitants in Orito, Putumayo. It is the 93rd massacre of 2022.

13 December – The day’s second massacre, and 94th of the year, was committed in Puerto Gaitán, Meta. The victims were three young men named as Juan Felipe Sarmiento, Angelo Marmolejo and Steven Fandiño.

13 December – Social activist Jesús María Mora was murdered in Dolores, Tolima, where he was a councillor and also organised community recreational activities. Armed assailants shot the 59-year-old as he sat in a public establishment.  

14 December – Vicente Otero, who is the mayor of Caldono, Cauca, was forced to leave the zone after receiving threats form an armed group. Three members of the Cauca Regional Indigenous Council (CRIC) were also threatened. Indigenous organisations warned that members of an armed group had opened fire at the home of indigenous leader Lucio Guetio Campo.

14 December – Rural activist Javier Gámez Hinojosa was murdered in San Juan del César, La Guajira. He worked in the local town council and was president of the ASOFIQUE peasant farmers’ association formed of over 300 people to promote sustainable agriculture. He also provided assistance to former FARC guerrillas as they transition to civilian life.

17 December – Former FARC guerrilla Manuel Antonio Torres Varela was found dead in Norosí, Bolívar, three days after armed assailants abducted him from his home in Aguachica, César. His body showed signs of torture. He is the 41st former guerrilla murdered in 2023 and the 346th since the signing of the peace agreement.

20 December – An explosive device injured three people in Timbio, Cauca.

21 December – Community activist José Ricaurte Quintero Marín was murdered in Armenia, Quindío. He was a leader in the Survivors of Maná Foundation, a human rights group that represents families of victims of forced disappearance. Armed assailants attacked José, who was 56, close to his home as he accompanied his 17-year-old son, who was injured in the incident.

21 December – Former FARC combatant Rafael Navarro Salgado was murdered in Simití, Bolívar, four days after another former guerrilla, Manuel Antonio Torres Varela, was found dead in the same region.

23 December – Another former guerrilla in the peace process, Jhon Janer Velasco Palacios, was killed in Corinto, Cauca, the third confirmed such killing in under a week. His death takes the total killed to 43 this year and 348 in just over six years since the peace agreement was signed.

29 December – A popular and highly-regarded community leader, Oscar Roberto Rodríguez Tovar, was murdered in Linares, Nariño. He was president of the Linares Peasant Workers Association (ASTRACAL) and an activist in the UPAZSUR peasant farmers organisation, as well as a spokesperson for local farming communities and a councillor in Linares.

29 December – Community leader Óscar Baena was killed in Villagarzón, Putumayo, where he was president of the community council in the district of El Desierto. He is the 189th activist murdered since the start of 2023.

31 December – The UNIPA indigenous organisation warned that Awá people had suffered 93 acts of violence in 2022, including 22 murders, ten cases of mass forced displacement and eight of an individual nature, seven cases of forced disappearance, five armed confrontations, five cases of mass confinement, five landmine incidents and two massacres. Indigenous communities face highly disproportionate levels of violence, often due to their presence in areas of natural resources and where armed groups carry out illicit activities such as drugs trafficking and illegal mining.