Colombia human rights update February 2021

Colombia’s human rights crisis continues to impact communities in many different parts of the country, with indigenous leaders, environmental activists and trade unionists, along with former combatants in the peace process, among those violently targeted in February. Fighting involving state security forces and different armed groups also impacted heavily on civilians.

Also in February, the United Nations released its 2020 human rights report on Colombia.

Below is a summary of cases of human rights violations in February 2021.

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

1 February – The bodies of four young people who went missing in El Patía, department of Cauca, on 29 January were found in the Policarpa zone of Nariño. Cauca and Nariño are among the regions worst affected by Colombia’s human rights crisis. Relatives of the victims – named as Yulieth Mellizo, Julián David Ortiz Hoyo, Daniel Felipe Paz and Fabio Alejandro Navia – said they had planned to travel to Nariño to look for rural work. They were found in their vehicle which had been pushed from a precipice, with the victims having been killed earlier. It is already the eighth massacre of 2021. 

2 February – Three men were killed in an attack in Tarazá, department of Antioquia. According to the INDEPAZ human rights organisation, it was the tenth massacre of 2021, four of which had been carried out in Antioquia. 

2 February – Human rights defender Luis Chávez received death threats from the AGC paramilitary group ordering him to immediately leave the town of Arboleda Berruecos in Nariño, where he is based. 

2 February – The former mayor of Yarí in Antioquia, Óscar Mira, was killed after having survived two recent attacks and received multiple threats. The 59-year-old was shot dead outside his parents’ house. He had served as mayor of Yarí in 2001-2003 and again in 2008-2011. 

2 February – Trade unionist and human rights defender Yordan Eduardo Guetio was killed in Corinto, Cauca. Yordan belonged to the FENSUAGRO agricultural union, which has seen more than 35 members killed since the signing of the 2016 peace agreement, as well as the PUPSOC human rights organisation and the Patriotic March social organisation. He was travelling with his father by motorbike when they were intercepted by armed men who took Yordan away and killed him. INDEPAZ said he was the 20th social activist murdered in 2021. 

3 February – The 11th massacre of the year was committed in Argelia, Cauca, which has seen high levels of violence in recent weeks. Three men were found dead next to a road in the Plateado zone.  

3 February – Gunshots were fired at the home of rural leader Cervelion Cogollo, who was unharmed. Cervelion is president of the Córdoba-based ASODECAS peasant farmers’ association which coordinates voluntary crop substitution programmes under the terms of the peace agreement. 

6 February – Another massacre was carried out in Cauca, this time in the Inzá zone. The victims were named as 40-year-old Octavio Muñoz Salazar and his two children, Octavio Jr (15 years old) and Bertulfo (17). Armed assailants killed them at their home. It is Cauca’s third massacre of 2021 and the country’s 12th overall. 

8 February – 25-year-old Yecid Andrés Bolaño Morelo was murdered in the northern city of Barranquilla. He coached football in youth programmes designed to prevent forced recruitment of young people by armed groups. He is the 22nd social activist murdered in 2021.

9 February – A group of 121 new teachers were prevented from taking up their new positions in Ituango, Antioquia, after receiving threats from armed groups operating in the zone. The teachers were among more than 1,000 teachers selected to work in zones of Antioquia impacted by conflict.  

9 February – FARC former combatant Antonio Ricaurte Solarte Celón was murdered Puerto Asís, Putumayo. The 43-year-old was based at the reincorporation zone Heiler Mosquera. He is the seventh former combatant killed in 2021 and the 256th since the peace agreement was signed. 

10 February – Paramilitary group Comandos de la Frontera (CDF) ordered the breakup of a rural reservation zone, known as Perla Amazónica, and for all social organisations working in the zone to stay away. It also said it had support from military officials, politicians and an oil company seeking to exploit nearby oil reserves. The CDF is believed responsible for several murders, forced recruitment and threats in southern Colombia. 

10 February – Eight indigenous Nasa community members of the same family, including a child, were injured in fighting between the army and an armed group in Toribio, Cauca. The ONIC National Indigenous Organisation said that an explosive device landed on a home in which several people were sheltering. It was unclear which side had launched the explosive that struck the house. 

11 February – The Embera indigenous communities of Rio Murindó and Rio Chageradó launched mobilisations to denounce the presence of armed groups and high levels of state abandonment in the Murindó zone of Antioquia. The mobilisation will take place over 11-16 February. Other demands include environmental protections and an urgent state response to address human rights violations. Since the start of February, Embera communities in Murindó have faced an intensification in forced confinement and forced displacement amid conflict between paramilitary and other armed groups, as fighting and landmines have presented a major threat. 

12 February – At least one civilian, identified as a peasant farmer, was injured during fighting between the army and members of an armed group in Tumaco, Nariño. The army also detained two members of the community council, Germán Madroñero and Efraín Narváez. The community said that ‘the army has no justification to deprive them of liberty.’ 

12 February – The body of missing FARC former combatant Juan Carlos Correa Restrepo was found in San Andrés de Cuerquía, Antioquia, after he had been abducted on 23 January. He is the 257th former combatant killed since entering the peace process.  

13 February – Alerts were issued over the possible forced displacement of around 120 families in Ituango, Antioquia, due to paramilitary threats. 

13 February – The 258th murder of a FARC former combatant, and the ninth in 2021, was committed in Cañasgordas, Antioquia. Leonel Antonio Restrepo Arenas, who was 23 years old, had previously received threats. Armed assailants attacked Leonel as he travelled with a relative by motorbike, killing both.  

14 February – The Nasa indigenous community of Nasa Kiwnas Cxhab in Putumayo reported the unauthorised encroachment of 60 soldiers, in violation of legislation around indigenous territorial autonomy. It followed an incursion the previous day by soldiers from the XXVII de Selva Brigade in the Nasa community of Santa Rosa de Juanambú. Putumayo has seen human rights violations committed by state agents against indigenous communities, while forced eradication of illicit crops continues in the region despite the 2016 peace agreement’s focus on voluntary substitution. 

15 February – The mayor of Cartagena de Chairá, Edilberto Molina, received threats ordering him to leave the zone within three days or be killed. The municipality has seen high levels of recent violence. 

15 February – A young indigenous man, Orlando Manuel Chimá, was killed in confrontations between the army and an armed group in Cáceres, Antioquia. He was training to join the indigenous guard, indigenous community members who provide security but are unarmed other than with traditional wooden batons.  

17 February – Five people were killed in a massacre in Andes, Antioquia. The victims were reportedly coffee plantation workers who were asleep when the attackers entered their residence. At least one other person was injured but survived. It is the 12th massacre of 2021, five of which have taken place in Antioquia. 

17 February – Environmental organisations and politicians denounced threats made against anti-fracking activists in Puerto Wilches, Santander. Those targeted were members of the youth organisation AGUAWIL which belongs to the Colombia Libre de Fracking (Colombia Free from Fracking) alliance. In a letter, they also said that police were harassing environmental activists and were forcefully removing posters and other materials distributed in the town. Anti-fracking activists have also received threats in the cities of Barrancabermeja and San Martín. 

17 February – Indigenous leader Alejandro Manugama was murdered in Bagadó, Chocó. He practiced traditional medicine in the community of Tahamy del Alto Andágueda. According to INDEPAZ, he is the 24th social activist murdered in 2021 and the 1140th since the signing of the peace agreement.  

18 February – FARC former combatant José Berceli Paiva Virguez was murdered in Puerto Concordia, department of Meta. Armed assailants arrived at the home José shared with his partner and shot him several times. He is the 259th former combatant killed since entering the peace process. 

19 February – Embera indigenous activist Luz Ayda Conchave Lana, 22 years old, was killed in reported clashes between paramilitaries and other armed groups in Alto Baudó, Chocó. The fighting threatened to displace hundreds of people in the community of Dobidá Mohamía. 

20 February – Three people were killed as they worked in a cemetery in Maicao, La Guajira. Two of the victims were of Wayúu indigenous heritage and the third was Venezuelan. It is the 13th massacre of 2021. 

20 February – A regional president of Colombia’s main trade union confederation, the CUT, received death threats. The CUT said Javier Bermúdez, its regional president in the department of Atlántico, was leading programmes to provide accommodation to vulnerable children in the city of Barranquilla. In response to the threats, the CUT issued a statement calling on the government to provide ‘guarantees for the exercise of the constitutional right to trade union association’. 

21 February – Eight people were killed in a massacre – the 14th of the year – in the Puerto Rico zone of Tumaco, close to the southern border with Ecuador. Human rights groups said that at around 11am a group of armed paramilitaries attacked people gathered at a football pitch for a local tournament. Several people were injured. According to reports, the community informed the local military presence of the massacre and asked for protection but that this still had not arrived several hours later. 

22 February – Two teenagers, identified as 19-year-old Esneyder García and 18-year-old Milena Pérez, were murdered in Ituango, Antioquia. Another social activist was threatened. Human rights organisations also warned that armed groups had imposed an ‘armed strike’ on public transport in Ituango under which public transport was ordered to be suspended or else be deemed a military target. One bus was stopped and its driver threatened while travelling from the community of Guacharquero to Ituango. In addition, indigenous and peasant community members who had been displaced from rural zones to the centre of  Ituango began returning to their homes without any form of security guarantees. In response to the increasing instability in northern Antioquia, particularly in Ituango, human rights groups wrote to the United Nations urging it to address the crisis with the Colombian government. 

22 February – The José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective, which represents victims of human rights violations, reported that one of its members and his client had received threats. Lawyer Sebastián Ecobar received death threats via telephone. He is representing Juan Díaz Chamorro at the JEP peace court over the 2003 murder of his father, the former mayor of El Roble in Sucre. The threats came as Sucre’s former governor, Salvador Arana, who was found guilty of the murder, appeared before the JEP. 

24 February – Human rights groups denounced multiple violations committed by ESMAD riot police agents towards people participating in protests over state violence in Bogota. They reported that five people had been arbitrarily detained in Bogota, with at least two others injured. One person, later named as Gareth Sella, lost an eye to an ESMAD projectile. The protests saw a large gathering of students, families of victims of police violence and others, who were reportedly subjected to police intimidation and blocks. Further injuries were reported elsewhere in the protests. ESMAD agents also fired teargas and projectiles arbitrarily into crowds.  

24 February – Awá indigenous leader Jhon Albeiro Pai Pascal was murdered in the community of Piguambí Palangala, where he was the legal representative, in Tumaco, Nariño. According to INDEPAZ, it is the 27th murder of a social activist in 2021. 

25 February – Paramilitaries left threatening pamphlets around the community of El Morro, Casanare, ordering people to leave so that ‘we will avoid the spilling of blood.’ The pamphlets were distributed one day after police arrested a local social leader, Miguel Yesid, leading local organisations to denounce ‘a policy of political extermination through legal means of the social movement in Casanare’ and ‘clear territory so that oil companies can execute their policies without any opposition.’ 

26 February – An armed group abducted two indigenous men, Jaider Estiben Yume and Javier García Giraldo, from the community of López Adentro Caloto in Cauca. The community council urged international organisations to investigate the men’s abduction. 

27 February – A 13-year-old Embera indigenous boy, named as Plinio Dogarí Majoré, lost a leg after standing on a landmine in the community of Murindó in Antioquia. Several armed groups are active in the region, which has seen high levels of human rights violations. A teacher who was with Plinio was injured. On 11 February, residents of Murindó staged protests over violence in the zone.

28 February – Fighting between armed groups forced at least 155 people to leave their homes in Argelia, department of Cauca. One person was reportedly killed before their body was removed by one of the groups. People in the village of El Plateado were also confined to their homes by the fighting. The zone has seen widespread human rights violations due to the presence of paramilitary and other armed groups, which are competing over illicit economies.