Colombia human rights update January 2022

The violence which has inflicted many parts of Colombia in recent years is continuing into 2022. The first month of the year saw 14 social activists and three former FARC combatants murdered, in addition to 13 massacres. At least two environmental activists, one of whom was just 14 years old, and a trade unionist were among the activists killed.

The unstable situation in Arauca, eastern Colombia, escalated to extremely alarming levels, with a series of alarming incidents. Fighting between armed groups killed 27 people, including civilians, at the start of the month. A car bomb also targeted human rights and trade union organisations in the region, while a number of killings were committed in the region.

Ahead of this year’s elections, the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia has warned of the need to implement security mechanisms contained in the 2016 peace agreement to address the potential for an escalation in violence. However, the government has given little indication that it is preparing to adopt new policies aimed at addressing the human rights crisis across the country.

Below is JFC’s monthly update on human rights abuses in Colombia.

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. 

2 January – Fighting between rival armed groups in Arauca, eastern Colombia, left 27 people dead, some of whom belonged to the groups involved. Victims also reportedly included civilians who had been forced from their homes and killed. At least 52 families were forcibly displaced by the situation. Opposition congress members and human rights organisations called for an urgent humanitarian response to the security crisis.

3 January – After Colombia registered 96 massacres in 2021, the first of 2022 claimed the lives of three Venezuelan nationals in Jamundí, department of Valle del Cauca. The men were construction workers who had lived in the area for around five years. According to Colombian senator Gustavo Bolívar, it is the 241st massacre committed in Colombia since President Iván Duque took office in August 2018.

6 January – The year’s second massacre was carried out in Maní in the department of Casanare. The victims were identified as Vicente Soto Berrío, his 17-year-old son Gustavo Soto Chaparro and Alfonso Sandoval. Armed assailants entered the Soto family home and, without saying anything, attacked the inhabitants. A fourth person was injured.

8 January – Three people, including a pregnant woman and a teenager, were killed in the third massacre of 2022, carried out in the Zona Bananera in northern Colombia’s Magdalena region. Armed assailants arrived at a home in the village of El Salón and attacked those inside. The victims were named as Jorge Hernández, Patricia de Armas Gallardo, who was pregnant, and 17-year-old William Hernández. The National Ombudsman previously issued a warning for the Zona Bananera over threats to environmental activists campaigning against river pollution and land erosion, as well as pressure on local residents to sell their homes.

8 January – The day’s second massacre, and the fourth of 2022, was carried out in Colón Genova in Nariño, southern Colombia. In the village of Villanueva, three people were killed in the central park after armed assailants entered the area and began shooting indiscriminately. At least four others were injured. The young victims were named as Ricardo Andrade Bravo, 22 years old, Arnold Montero Gallardo, 19, and Esteban Castillo Ordoñez, 21.

10 January – Community leader Nilson Antonio Velásquez Gil was murdered in Medio San Juan in Chocó. An armed group aggressively entered the community and took away a group of people, including 51-year-old Nilson whose body was found four days later in the village of San Miguel. He had been tortured. Communities in Chocó are at extreme risk from paramilitaries and other armed groups.

12 January – The National Indigenous Organisation of Colombia (ONIC), the country’s largest indigenous body, warned that the Sikuani and Amorúa communities in the Vichada region, close to the border with Venezuela, were at grave risk due to fighting between rival armed groups. Several families had already arrived in urban centres to seek sanctuary, while there was a strong possibility of major displacements of local populations. The ONIC called on the government to quickly provide relief to those at risk, who were in urgent need of clean water, food, healthcare and shelter. It also called on the international community to pressure the Colombian government to address the humanitarian emergency.

14 January – At least three people were killed in the sixth massacre of 2022, which was committed in the Miranda zone of Cauca. One of the victims was identified as Neider Andrés Collazos Gutiérrez, 21 years old, who was killed alongside an unnamed woman. Another man was killed nearby. Reports said it was possible that the three victims were homeless and that they had been targeted in a so-called ‘social cleansing’, a long-running practice in Colombia whereby paramilitaries target the homeless, addicts and others deemed ‘undesirables’.

14 January – Fresh violence against indigenous communities in southwest Colombia resulted in the murders of ethnic Nasa indigenous guards Breiner David Cucuñame López, who was just 14, and Guillermo Chicame. Another activist, Luis Fabián Camayo Guetio, was injured in the incident. They all lived in the indigenous reservation Las Delicias in the Buenos Aires zone of Cauca. Despite his young age, Breiner was known as a committed environmental and indigenous rights activist. Reports said that Guillermo was killed and Luis injured after they were among a group of indigenous guards who told members of an armed group to leave the zone. Later, as community members attempted to take the injured to hospital, they were attacked again and Breiner killed. Cauca’s main indigenous organisation, the CRIC, said that Breiner ‘was a carer for Mother Earth, a child protector of life and a Nasa of collective actions and grand dreams.’ The British embassy in Colombia tweeted ‘[t]he tragic news of the death of the young environmentalist, Breiner David Cucuñame López of only 14 years of age, fills us with sadness … we call for there to be a rigorous investigation.’

14 January – Community leader Miguel Carrillo was murdered in the town of Arauquita in Arauca. He was a well-known cultural educator and artisan who taught workshops in a local cultural centre. He was attacked while travelling by motorbike with his wife.

15 January – A ten-year-old girl, Valeria Murillo, was killed when paramilitaries opened fire indiscriminately in the village of Dipurdú del Guasimo in the western Chocó region. Reports said Valeria and her mother were sheltering inside their home when bullets passed through the wall and hit her. She died in hospital soon afterwards. Last August, paramilitaries forcibly displaced around 1,150 people, mainly of African-Colombian heritage, from the village.

17 January – The body of social activist Luz Marina Arteaga was found in the River Meta in the Puerto Gaitán zone of Meta, five days after she had gone missing. Luz Marina was a doctor and human rights defender who represented land claims for conflict victims. She had reportedly submitted a request for security measures due to threats but these still had not been granted when she was killed, even though several months had passed. Human rights organisations with which Luz Marina was involved called on authorities to ensure a swift and transparent investigation into her murder, as well as provide protection for other social activists. She worked principally with displaced families in the zone of Porvenir, where she coordinated demands for land restitution.

17 January – The seventh massacre of 2022 claimed the lives of three men and a woman, who reportedly belonged to the same family. They were attacked in Santo Domingo in Antioquia.

17 January – The day’s second massacre – and 2022’s eighth – was committed in Puerto Guzmán, where armed assailants dragged three men from their homes and murdered them. The victims were Jesús Yohani Betancur Moncada, Yamid Zapata Barrero and Wilson Costez Molano, who was president of the community council in the community of El Paraíso. At least 14 people were forced to leave the area because of the killings.  

17 January – Teacher and environmental defender, Mario Jonathan Palomino Salcedo, 35 years old, was murdered in El Carmen de Viboral in Antioquia. He coordinated protection of natural resources and taught agriculture at the local Monseñor Arcila college. He was attacked while riding his motorbike. He is the sixth social activist murdered in 2022. Close to 40 teachers have been murdered since the start of 2018.

19 January – Human rights defender José Avelino Pérez Ortiz was killed while travelling to the city of Arauca. He was an activist in the Joel Sierra Human Rights Foundation based in nearby Tame. Social organisations had previously warned of legal persecution against José which had seen him imprisoned for five months after a gun was allegedly planted in his home during a police raid. On 16 February 2021, José’s nephew Wilinton Gabriel Pérez Ortiz was murdered in Tame. He is the eighth social activist murdered in 20211, according to INDEPAZ.

19 January – One person was killed and five injured when a car bomb exploded outside the offices of human rights organisations and the regional branch of the CUT trade union confederation in Saravena, Arauca. Reports said that local residents had been alerted to the presence of armed men attempting to detonate the vehicle and that their reaction had prevented further potential damage and deaths. The assailants reportedly opened fire as they fled although fortunately nobody was hurt. At least six other buildings were impacted. The People’s Congress movement, one of the organisations based in the building, called on authorities to ensure security and identify the perpetrators. It also urged the National Ombudsman to activate measures to protect the lives of social activists.

20 January – African-Colombian community leader Libardo Castillo Ortiz was murdered in San Miguel de Ñambí, a village in the southern department of Nariño. He was a member of the local community council and a motorbike taxi driver. He is the first social activist murdered in Nariño in 2022.

20 January – The tenth massacre of 2022 – an average of one every two days – was committed in Ocaña, Norte de Santander. The three male victims all belonged to the same family and were named as Danuil Manzano Martínez, Jannel, Said Manzano Bayona and Deymer Martínez.

22 January – An armed group reportedly abducted at least six men in Tame, Arauca, although later reports put the number at four. A group of armed men entered the area of Vereda Botalon and forced the men onto a pickup truck before departing despite attempts by their relatives to stop the vehicle. Community members reported that security forces in the vicinity had done nothing to intervene. The men were subsequently released unharmed.

21 January – An explosive device was discovered in a restaurant run by former FARC combatants close to the Comunes (formerly FARC) political party offices in Bogota. The restaurant, Casa Alternativa, is a productive project to provide former combatants with livelihoods. A bottle packed with over a kilo of explosives was left in the restaurant’s bathroom. Staff noticed the package and evacuated the premises before alerting police, who confirmed it was explosives. The previous day, the restaurant had hosted a campaign meeting of the Pacto Histórico (Historic Pact) coalition of progressive parties formed ahead of this year’s elections.

21 January – Security forces attacked a humanitarian community on the border of the Meta and Guaviare departments. The Peasant Humanitarian Zone of Guayabero warned that soldiers and police officers had raided a school as children aged between eight months and 11 were inside, before opening fire towards residents with gunfire, teargas and stun devices. Community leaders said that no warrant had been produced or order issued to legitimise the raid. The following morning, community members discovered a woman’s body with gunshot wounds, although it was unconfirmed whether this was connected to the raid.

24 January – Following the double murder of Guillermo Chicame and 14-year-old Breiner David Cucuñame López on 14 January, a third member of their community’s indigenous guard in Cauca was killed. Albeiro Camayo was a former coordinator of the kiwe thegna in Las Delicias, a reservation in Buenos Aires, Cauca. Witnesses said that armed men entered the community at around 3.15pm and forced its members to hold a meeting. Indigenous authorities arrived and ordered the armed men to respect the community. At around 5.30pm, the men opened fire, striking Albeiro. In a statement, the Cauca-based indigenous organisation ACIN said there was ‘maximum alert in all indigenous territories in Cauca and to sister organisations to accompany the Camayo Güetio family and the community of Las Delicias in these moments of horror and death.’ Las Delicias leaders have warned that outsiders have been amassing land in the area to grow coca, the base ingredient of cocaine, with 2020 figures registering 500 hectares of coca in Buenos Aires.

24 January – Community leader Pedronel Sánchez Gallego was murdered in Puerto Guzmán, Putumayo. He was active in the community council in the district of Las Perlas, where his wife was also the council secretary. At around 6.40am, armed assailants arrived at his home and shot him dead.

25 January – Three men aged between 28 and 38 were killed in Cucutá, northeast Colombia. The attack took place in the neighbourhood of El Viejo Escobal de Cúcuta, close to the Venezuelan border. INDEPAZ registered it as the 11th massacre this month.

25 January – Another community council member was murdered in Tame, Arauca. Álvaro Peña Barragán was president of the council in the district of La Unión, Saravena, the same municipality where a car bomb killed one person and injured five others on 19 January. He is the 12th social activist murdered in 2022.  

26 January – In a brutal attack, armed assailants killed Rosalba Carmenza Tarazona, the widow of Álvaro Peña Barragán, murdered the previous day in Tamé, Arauca. She was attacked while mourning her husband at her sister-in-law’s house.

26 January – New threats signed by a group calling itself the Black Eagles targeted the pro-peace opposition senators Gustavo Petro, who is polling strongly ahead of this year’s presidential election, and Iván Cepeda, as well as judges at the JEP transitional justice court and the leader of the Comunes/FARC political party, Rodrigo Londoño. The threat said ‘we will find you wherever you hide in any part of national territory and it doesn’t matter how many bodyguards you have, no protection scheme will help you.’ The threat also named the former governor of Córdoba, Benito Osorio, and convicted paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso, both of whom are providing testimony to the JEP over historic collusion between business leaders and paramilitaries. The latest threat comes two months after another Black Eagles missive named Cepeda and other senators, human rights defenders and trade unionists, which was condemned by the TUC and other groups.

27 January – The United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia denounced an attack on one of its teams, which saw two official UN vehicles burned in San José de Guaviare zone of Guaviare. Along with representatives from the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the team was travelling to meetings with local communities when it was intercepted by assailants who incinerated two of the three vehicles. Nobody was hurt.

27 January – A family was almost wiped out in the year’s 12th massacre, carried out in Buenos Aires, Cauca. The three victims were married couple Arbey Gómez and Elsy Mina Carabali and their son José David Gómez. Their young daughter, who was under ten years old, was injured.

28 January – Cauca’s second massacre in consecutive days took place in the Timbiquí zone, leaving four men dead.

29 January – Community leader Deisy Sotelo Anacona was murdered in Argelia, Cauca. She was a member of the community council in the village of El Plateado. Armed assailants abducted 31-year-old Deisy and her husband from their home. Her body was found a few hours later, while her husband remained missing. Deisy is the fourth social activist murdered in Cauca, and the 13th nationwide, in 2022.

29 January 2022 ’s first killing of a former FARC combatant was committed in Santa Marta, northern Colombia. Jhon Jairo Villar Vargas was attacked in a rural area close to the city, where he had been involved in the government-run Agency for Reincorporation and Normalisation which oversees the transition of former guerrillas to civilian society.

30 January – The second killing of a former FARC guerrilla on consecutive days was committed in Saravena, Arauca, which has been heavily impacted by violence in recent weeks. Juvenal Ballén Gómez died in hospital from injuries sustained in an attack. He was based at the reincorporation camp Filipinas, which was visited by a JFC delegation in 2018. In a statement, the Comunes (formerly FARC) political party said ‘we reject this act and demand the national government guarantee security for signatories of peace.’

30 January – After no killings of former FARC members were registered in the first four weeks of the year, a third death was confirmed in the space of two days. Leonardo Martínez Muñoz was shot dead in a bar in San José del Fragua, Caquetá. In its most recent report on the peace process, dated 27 December 2021, the UN reported 303 former FARC guerrillas killed since entering the peace process.

31 January – Rural leader and organiser José Euclides González Marín was killed in Caloto, Cauca, after armed assailants attacked him at around 4pm. José was a trade unionist in the FENSUAGRO agricultural union, which partners with Unite the Union and has seen close to 40 of its members murdered since the signing of the peace agreement in late 2016. He was vice-president of the ASTRAZONACAR peasant farmers association in Caloto and a member of the PUPSOC human rights organisation, both of which have previously met with JFC delegations to Cauca.