Colombia human rights update February 2023

The human rights crisis continues to impact communities across the country. The first two months of 2023 saw 20 social activists murdered and 21 massacres committed. At least one former FARC guerrilla in the peace process was also killed. Among those targeted were indigenous leaders, trade unionists, LGBTQ activists and political campaigners. The crisis has been severely exacerbated by the previous government’s disregard for improving security in conflict-affected regions following the signing of the 2016 peace agreement.

The current government has taken important measures to address the situation since taking office last August, such as advancing the peace agreement’s security mechanisms and promoting dialogue with armed groups. But the scale of violence represents an enormous challenge that requires long-term strategies to overcome.

Here is JFC’s monthly update on the human rights crisis for February 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 February – A man and a boy, both of Awá indigenous heritage, were badly injured by landmines in the Piedra Sellada community in Tumaco, Nariño. 33-year-old Wilson Canticus and 13-year-old Jhon Alex Canticus Pai required emergency medical attention. In a statement, the Awá social organisation UNIPA said ‘it is no longer possible to travel along traditional routes in our territory, as the fear of stepping on a landmine is widespread given recent and recurring incidents.’ There have been a number of deaths and injuries in the region from landmines, with human rights warning that the early weeks of 2023 had seen five people affected, resulting in one of them killed and the others injured.

1 February – Community activist Rubiel Antonio Zapata Valencia was killed in Riosucio, Caldas, where he campaigned for the progressive Colombia Humana political movement. The 46-year-old had been aspiring to stand in local elections.

2 February – Four people were killed and at least one other injured in Ciénaga, Magdalena, in what was already the 13th massacre of 2023. At this rate, 2023 will significantly exceed last year’s number of massacres committed in Colombia. The victims were employed locally as miners based. Two were named as Eduar Vertel and 17-year-old Jesús Pérez Bohórquez.

4 February – Social activist Jorge Luis Jaraba Plata was murdered in Tierralta, Córdoba. He belonged to the Peasant Association for the Development of Alto Sinú and was taking part in voluntary crop substitution programmes under the terms of the 2016 peace agreement. He was reportedly tortured before being killed.

4 February – The day’s second murder of a social activist was also the 13th of the year so far.  José Antonio Santiago Pérez was killed in Tibu, Norte de Santander, where he was community council president for the district of Socuavo Norte. He was attacked close to the town centre while travelling to a community meeting. Although he had been granted a security detail due to previous threats, his armoured vehicle reportedly had been stolen.

6 February – Former FARC guerrilla César Augusto Ruiz Gómez was murdered in Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city. He was attacked while riding his motorbike in the Los Mangos neighbourhood. César worked at a regional branch of the Agency for Reincorporation and Normalisation, the government body which coordinates the transition of former combatants in the peace process to civilian life. César is the first former FARC guerrilla murdered in 2023 but the 356th since the peace agreement was signed in November 2016.

7 February – Three people were killed in the 14th massacre of 2023, which took place in Soledad, Atlántico. The victims were 38-year-old Oscar Hidalgo Ruiz, Elkin Fabián Mendoza Lechuga, who was 41, and Steven Araujo Márquez. Three other people were injured in the attack.

8 February – Three days of intense fighting between rival armed groups left two people injured and forced some 300 to flee their homes in Argelia, Cauca. Several families were taking refuge in a local sports hall. Press footage showed rapid bursts of gunfire passing just feet above homes in the district of Puerto Rico.

10 February – Indigenous activist Marcos López Enríquez was murdered in Mallama, Nariño, the latest violent targeting of the region’s indigenous population. Marcos was a former governor of the Gran Mallama reservation and a councillor for Mallama. At the time of his death, he represented Nariño for political party the Movement of Indigenous Authorities of Colombia (AICO). He was attacked while on route to the town of Ipiales to participate in a meeting between indigenous communities and representatives of the Interior Ministry. Marcos is the 15th social activist killed in 2023.

10 February – Three young people, including two under the age of 18, were killed in a drive-by shooting in the district of Ciudad Bolívar in Bogota. One victim was named as Erick Maicol Medina. It is the year’s 15th massacre.

10 February – Threatening pamphlets purporting to be from the AGC paramilitary organisation were distributed in Mercaderes, Cauca. Several social activists were ordered to leave the area with their families within 24 hours or be killed.

11 February – An armed group abducted a young man, Sandro Leonel Camayo, from a public establishment in Santander del Qulichao, Cauca. His whereabouts remained unknown several days later.

13 February – Police opened fire against a group of protesting peasant farmers, killing one person and injuring three others, according to the Peasants Association of South Córdoba (ASCSUCOR). The attack took place in the zone of Quebrada Seca, where peasant farmers were opposing police operations to forcibly remove coca crops rather than adhere to the 2016 peace agreement’s terms of voluntary substitution of illegal crop plantations. The dead man was named as Abraham Andrés Caret Morales. ASCSUCOR said that in 2019 the community had applied to be formally included in the peace agreement’s crop substitution programmes but that this was denied by the then-government of Iván Duque.

14 February – Three coffee plantation workers were killed in Ciudad Bolívar, Antioquia, in the 16th massacre of 2023.

16 February – Armed assailants killed three young people in El Cerrito, Valle del Cauca. The victims were named as 25-year-old Cristian Martínez, Jessica Hernández, who was 24, and Cristian Andrés Ulcue, 25. Several armed groups are active in the region.

18 February – Trade union leader Jorge Alejandro Chica Correa was murdered in Carepa, Antioquia, where he was a leader in the Colombian Association of Bank Employees (ACEB), a union for workers in the banking and financial sector. The AGC paramilitary organisation is believed responsible for a high number of murders in Carepa, leading to speculation that it was also behind Jorge’s death.

19 February – Political activist Milton Rocha Peña was murdered in San Sebastián, Magdalena. A peasant leader and member of the progressive Colombia Humana political movement, Milton had received a number of threats since 2021. The attack took place when armed assailants raided a Colombia Humana meeting at the house of activist and journalist Nelson Arnesto.

19 February – Three people were killed and four others injured in the 18th massacre of 2023, carried out in Soledad, Atlántico. A 15-year-old girl was among the dead, while the other victims were 60-year-old Noria Maritza Pérez and a male named as Armando José Escarai Lozada. The region has been impacted by paramilitary and other groups competing for control of the drugs trade and other illegal activities.

19 February – The well-known social activist, conflict victim and former Truth Commission member Leyner Palacios denounced threats made against him. In a tweet, Palacios, who has received previous threats, said ‘I am going to hide so that they don’t kill me. I don’t want my body seen in a coffin unjustly murdered.’ Reports said he had received messages warning him to leave his home region of Chocó within 12 hours, adding that one of his daughters had also been threatened. One of his bodyguards was murdered in Cali in 2020, shortly after Palacios had received a threat. In response to the latest case, Truth Commissioners issued a statement of support for Palacios and called on the United Nations and Colombian government to take steps to ensure his security.

20 February – A senior official in the Comunes political party, formed by former FARC guerrillas in the peace process, survived an assassination attempt in Tame, Arauca, when armed assailants opened fire at the vehicle in which the party official was travelling. Photos showed bullet marks on the reinforced bodywork.

21 February – Three people were killed in a massacre, the 19th of 2023, in Los Patios, Norte de Santander. Armed assailants dressed in black arrived at night and attacked a group of people as they socialised. Two men were killed and four injured in the initial assault, while a third person died four days later in hospital.

25 February – The year’s 20th massacre claimed the lives of four people in Cartago, Valle del Cauca. The attack took place as the victims were gathered inside a home. Two other people were injured.

26 February – A well-known LGBTQ and anti-racist activist was murdered in Cali’s El Poblado II neighbourhood. Shaina Vanessa Pretel was a transgender woman who belonged to the grassroots AfroResistence collective which campaigns for the rights of African-Colombian communities and other marginalised groups. She was shot multiple times. Colombia has seen a rise in attacks on LGBTQ people in recent years.

26 February – Social activist Rosa Elena Celix Guañarita was murdered in San Pablo, Bolívar. She was vice-president of the Victims’ Association of Las Guayacanes (ASOVIC), which represents the rights of people affected by conflict and human rights abuses. She was attacked inside a public establishment while with friends. Reports said a man entered the premises and shot her twice from behind.

27 February – Another massacre claimed three lives in Gachantivá, Boyacá. The victims were reportedly a woman, her son and a neighbour, who were attacked inside the woman’s home. One of the assailants was apprehended while the other managed to escape. Until now, the zone has seen relatively low levels of armed group activity.

27 February – The body of social activist Abelardo Duarte Moncada was found in Tame, Arauca, with several gunshot wounds. He had been abducted on 11 February. Abelardo was formerly community council president in the district of El Rosario.