Colombia human rights update January 2024

While 2023 saw a 16 per cent drop in killings of social activists and a 12 per cent fall in killings of former FARC members in the peace process – attributed by the United Nations to the government’s advancement of its Total Peace policy to promote dialogue with armed groups – ongoing violence in the first month of 2024 illustrated the huge task ahead to end the human rights crisis. Insecurity remains the major threat to peace in Colombia, in large part due to the previous government’s chronic disregard for the peace process and its refusal to implement core components including security mechanisms.

In January, 13 social activists and four former FARC members were murdered, while seven massacres were also committed. Violence continues to be particularly concentrated in regions such as Cauca and Antioquia, where armed groups are vying for territorial control.

Here is JFC’s monthly update on the human rights crisis for January 2024.

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 January – The first day of the year saw its first murder of a former FARC member in the peace process. Giovanny Chávez Vega was attacked in Sucre, department of Cauca, one of the most violent regions in the country. He was based at a New Area of Reincorporation (NAR), the term for communities of former guerrillas established outside of the 2016 peace agreement, named Mari Álvarez in nearby El Bordo. More than 400 former FARC members have been killed since entering the peace process in late 2016.

2 January – Municipal council member-elect Eliecer Avila died of injuries sustained in an attack on 31 December in Tuluá, Valle del Cauca. The attack was carried out just hours before Eliecer was due to enter office as a Tuluá council member for the Conservative Party.

4 January – Community activist Luis Fernando Osorio was found dead with gunshot wounds, having been missing since 29 December in Andes, Antioquia, where he carried out social activities, including as a community nurse.

4 January – Former political candidate and community leader Emerson Pulgarín Sánchez was found dead in Amagá, Antioquia, two days after he was last seen leaving his home on a motorbike. In October, he ran unsuccessfully for the Amagá Council for the Liberal Party. It was the day’s second case of a community leader’s body being found in Antioquia, following that of Luis Fernando Osorio.

6 January – Former FARC guerrilla Juan Gabriel Hurtado was murdered in La Macarena, department of Meta. Armed assailants arrived at his home before forcing him outside and killing him in the zone of Caño Yamu.

7 January – Two people were killed in a roadside attack in Corinto, Cauca. Reports said that emergency services were then threatened as they attempted to attend to the victims.

8 January – Three people were killed in an attack in Valle del Guamuez, Putumayo, which INDEPAZ registered as the first massacre of 2024. Armed assailants attacked a group of men inside a public establishment. One of the victims was named as Deimer Rosario Cuadrado.

10 January – Community activist Geovanny Luna Cárdenas was murdered in Cúcuta, Norte de Santander. He was legal representative for the JAC community council in the Antonia Santos neighbourhood. He was attacked inside a public establishment. JAC members have been targeted at an alarming rate in recent years.

10 January – Youth worker and community activist Argemiro Mayo García was murdered in Mutatá, Antioquia, where he was director of the Casa Juvenil (House of Youth) social organisation. He belonged to the community council in the district of Pavarandocito and was registered in Colombia’s transitional justice system as a human rights defender for African-Colombian communities. Armed assailants attacked him as he drove through Mutatá with his brother.

12 January – The year’s second massacre claimed three lives in Toro, Valle del Cauca. The dead men were named as Andrés Giraldo, Luis Alfonso Ortiz and Álvaro Monsalve. 

14 January – Former FARC guerrilla José Roa and his two bodyguards had been attending a meeting in Pitalito, Huila, when armed assailants entered the area and abducted the three men. The two bodyguards, Luis Eduardo Sterling and Yilber Silva, who were employed by the state-run National Protection Unit, were subsequently found dead with torture marks. José’s body was found soon afterwards. Comunes politician Sergio Marín criticised comments made by a senior police official that José was posing as a member of a so-called ‘dissident’ group containing former FARC members who have not entered the peace process. In fact, José was fully involved in the peace process, participating in the CSIVI verification mechanism. He is at least the 411th former FARC member killed since signing the peace agreement in 2016, and the third in 2024.

15 January – Armed assailants opened fire from a moving vehicle at a wake in Candelaria, Valle del Cauca, killing three men and injuring six others. The dead victims were named as Breiner Steven Mina Rojas, Hermes Eduardo Brichez and Juan Diego Morales. It was the week’s second massacre in Valle del Cauca, and Colombia’s fourth of 2024.

15 January – Community leader Carlos Morales was forced to seek shelter in a local police station due to paramilitary threats in San Zenón, Magdalena, where he organises rural workers and fishers.

15 January – Community leader Libardo Roserio Tapia was murdered in Mocoa, Putumayo, where he was a member of the JAC community council in the San Antonio district. He was shot at around 7.30pm as he walked home. Libardo is the sixth social activist murdered in 2024.

16 January – Armed assailants killed community leader Higinio Bastos Marín at a service station in Tame, Arauca, where he was JAC community council president in the district of Puente Tabla.

17 January – The latest in a spate of murders of JAC community council members claimed the life of Fidel Antonio Hernández in Apartadó, Antioquia, where he was a JAC member in the Santa María district. His body was found in a canal, three days after going missing the previous Sunday.

18 January – For the fourth consecutive day, a JAC community council member was murdered. José Gregorio Naranjo was killed in San Carlos, Córdoba, where he was JAC president in the district of Carrizal. Armed assailants attacked him at his home.

18 January – The fifth murder of a JAC member in four days saw armed assailants target Billy Smith Salgado, who was only 22, as he walked home in Cartagena, Bolívar. As a member of the JAC community council in the city’s Candelaria district, he coordinated sports and recreational activities for children and young adults.

19 January – Indigenous activist and former FARC guerrilla José Alirio Chochué Molano was murdered in Caldono, Cauca. Armed assailants attacked him at his home at around 7am. He was also a spiritual authority in the Nasa indigenous community of Pueblo Nuevo. He is the fourth former FARC member killed in 2024.

21 January – The year’s fifth massacre killed three men in El Copey, Cesar, with the victims identified as Miguel Naizir Morales, Martin Lara Tovar and Edwin (no surname provided). Two other men, Andrés Suárez Orozco and Jaime Miranda, were injured. Armed assailants entered a home and attacked the people inside.

21 January – The second massacre in one day claimed the lives of two men and a woman in Morales, Bolívar. A minor was reportedly injured in the attack.

21 January – An extremely violent day saw its third massacre committed, this time in Pitalito, Huila. Armed assailants attacked a group of people in the Madelena neighbourhood, killing three. The victims were named as 25-year-old Andry González Reyes, Faiber Ricardo Callejas, who was 31, and Dubey Cardona Chavarro, 30. It was Pitalito’s second massacre in a little over a week, following the 14 January abduction and murder of former FARC member José Roa and his bodyguards Luis Eduardo Sterling and Yilber Silva.

25 January – An LGBTQ activist was found dead in Turbana, Bolívar, having been reported missing two days earlier. According to the Caribe Afirmativo human rights group, Jhonny Rafael Piña Pérez is the sixth LGBTQ person killed already in Colombia this year.

27 January – In Cauca, an armed group abducted six indigenous community members, including minors. Their immediate whereabouts were unknown.

29 January – The president of the JAC community council in Cachimbal, a district in the town of Vijes, Valle del Cauca, was killed alongside one other person in a shooting. Fernando Romero is the 12th social activist murdered so far in 2024.

30 January – For the second consecutive day, the president of a JAC community council was killed. Armed assailants attacked Fabián Castaño Serna in Tuluá, Valle del Cauca, where he had co-founded and presided over the council in the district of La Alejandría. The 48-year-old worked as a school bus driver and coordinated cultural and recreational activities for local communities. He was attacked while returning from the school that he serviced.

30 January – The OIPAC indigenous organisation which represents communities in Colombia’s Amazon region issued a statement calling for urgent dialogues and measures to uphold human rights in the department of Caquetá, which has a high presence of armed groups that are impacting local populations. While supporting the government’s initiative to seek negotiations with these groups, it emphasised the need for community participation. It also called on international organisations including the UN, Red Cross and Norwegian Refugee Council to monitor the situation.