Colombia human rights update July 2021

Many regions of Colombia are experiencing high levels of human rights violations. In 2021, up to the end of July, the Institute for Studies in Development and Peace (INDEPAZ), a Colombian human rights NGO, has registered the murders of 103 social activists and 31 FARC former combatants, as well as 61 massacres (single attacks in which at least three people are killed) which have claimed over 200 lives. 14 massacres were carried out in July alone.

The United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia has warned that, despite the violence, vital security programmes contained in the 2016 peace agreement have not been implemented. This has exacerbated the level of threat facing communities and individuals in many parts of the country.

Here is an overview of cases of human rights violations carried out in July 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 July – Fighting between armed groups in Corinto, in the southwestern department of Cauca, left at least one person injured and many others at risk.

1 July – Paramilitaries murdered indigenous leader Luis Picasio Carampaima in Alto Baudó in the eastern department of Chocó, where communities are facing extremely difficult conditions due to the lack of state presence and the activities of several armed groups. He was reportedly decapitated.

2 July – Three young people were murdered in Balboa, Cauca, in Colombia’s 47th massacre of 2021. Two of the victims, Yeison Benavides and Camilo Galíndez, were members of community organisations which were mobilising around recent National Strike protests.

3 July – Environmental activist and doctor Fernando Vela was shot dead by motorcycle-riding assailants in Florencia, department of Caquetá. Fernando was conducting extensive research into deforestation and river contamination in Colombia’s Amazon region and was working on a documentary in which to present his findings. His murder came just days after it was revealed that 44 environmental defenders had been murdered in Colombia in under ten months.

4 July – Three men were killed in Espinal, department of Tolima, where Ombudsman warnings had previously been issued over the activities of paramilitaries and other armed groups. Two of the unnamed victims were reportedly Venezuelan.

5 July – Embera indigenous guard Higinio Bailarín died in Dabeiba, Antioquia, after stepping on a landmine as he went to assist an injured woman. On 20 June, an Embera woman was killed by a landmine nearby. Several armed groups are present in the zone.

6 July – The bodies of four members of a team belonging to the Land Restitution Commission, a state entity responsible for returning appropriated land to displaced residents, were found in Mesetas, department of Meta, several weeks after they went missing on 27 May. The three female and one male victim were a commission official, two land claimants who had previously been forced from their homes and a driver. One of the women claimants had previously received threats over her legal activity. According to INDEPAZ, it is the 49th massacre of 2021 and the 193rd since President Iván Duque entered office in August 2018.

7 July – Social activist Derly Pastrana Yara was murdered in Neiva, department of Huila, where she advocated for conflict victims and women’s rights. Reports said it was the fourth attack against Derly, who was killed despite having been granted a security detail.

8 July – Colombia reached the grim milestone of 50 massacres committed in 2021, when four people were killed in the Ambalema zone of Tolima. Two men on a motorcycle were attacked and killed, along with an apparent witness and one other person. The victims were named as Pedro Pablo Silva, who was 32 years old, Uriel González Sánchez (51), Carlos Antonio Daza Pérez (28) and Leonardo González Tabares (30).

9 July – There were media reports of major fighting between rival armed groups in the zones of Morales and Santa Rosa, department of Bolívar, that could have killed up to 25 people, mainly members of the groups involved.

12 July – Three people, including a six-year-old boy, were killed in the 52nd massacre of 2021. The two men killed in the attack in Alcalá, Valle del Cauca, were named as Wilmar Antonio Mejia Morales and Wilder Salazar. The boy’s mother and two other people were injured.

12 July – Indigenous activist Wilson Ferney Rivera Pilcue was killed in Toribío, department of Cauca.

12 July – Nasa indigenous leader and agricultural worker Marcos Tenorio Soto was found dead in Ataco, Tolima, after he had gone missing on 25 June.

13 July – Community council leader Alexander Escobar Molina was murdered at his home in Sabanalarga in the northern department of Atlántico.

14 July – 32-year-old community councillor and activist Oscar Iván Suárez Riascos died from injuries sustained in an attack three days earlier in Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city. In 2020, he had been elected to represent the Comuna 15 district, where he worked as a locksmith and was a well-known community organiser. He had previously received threats related to his community activism.

14 July – Community activist Yeisi Campo was found murdered in the Morales zone of Cauca. The zone is subject to Ombudsman’s alerts over the presence of different armed groups.

15 July – City councillor Rubén Darío Melo Delgado was shot dead while visiting a neighbourhood in the city of Armenia, department of Quindío. One of his attackers was captured while attempting to escape. 43-year-old Rubén had been a councillor for the Independent Social Alliance Party since 2019.

17 July – An attack in Santander de Quilichao, Cauca, killed two people, named as Jhon Janer Vasquez and Willington José Larrahondo. A third person, 63-year-old teacher Gabriel Lasso Arara died of his injuries two days later. His wife was former president of the community council in the zone where the attack was committed. A staff member of the Attorney General’s Office was also injured.

18 July – A groups of at least ten armed men attacked a public establishment in Yolombó, Antioquia, and killed four people, including three members of one family. The victims were named as social activist Luis Castrillón, who was community council treasurer in the village of La Cruz, his wife María Piedad Ramírez, their son Esneyder and a youth with learning difficulties, Fray Zapata. There is a high paramilitary presence in the zone. INDEPAZ reported the attack as the 53rd massacre of 2021.

21 July – Three young men – Valmes García León and brothers John and Jesús Alberto Ascanio Bayona – were killed in an attack on a home in Ocaña in the northeast region of Norte de Santander.

21 July – FARC former combatant Jesús Danilo Mora Londoño was killed in Puerto Leguízamo, Putumayo, in southern Colombia. He and his wife were travelling by taxi when they were attacked. He is the 278th former combatant to be murdered since entering the peace process, and the 29th of 2021.

21 July – The first of at least 2,300 people to be displaced by armed groups arrived in the town of Ituango, Antioquia. Reports said that community leaders had received threats ordering residents to leave their homes. Ituango is extremely affected by violence, with fighting between several armed groups a constant danger to the local population.

23 July – Three people were killed in Montañita, department of Caquetá, in the 56th massacre of the year so far. Two men were found dead with several gunshot wounds, while a third died later in hospital.

23 July – On the same day as three people were killed in Montañita, social activist José Vianey Gaviria was killed in the same zone. He was legal representative for the community council of Union Peneya and worked with rural communities. According to INDEPAZ, he is the 101st social activist murdered in 2021 and the 1,217th since the peace agreement was signed in November 2016.

23 July – Social activist Jani Silva was forced to leave her home in Putumayo after details emerged that paramilitaries were planning to murder her. The Comandos de la Frontera group had compiled information on her work and social routines. Since last year, Jani has received threats over her activism around environmental protection and rural communities.

25 July – A police officer was remanded in custody over his alleged attempt to cover up the murder of 17-year-old indigenous activist Andrés Cordova Tamaniza, who was disappeared on 22 May and found dead in the River Cauca a week later. Following the shooting in Belacázar in the department of Caldas, the suspected killed, Victor Salinas, is alleged to have called police lieutenant Yeison Leandro Mejía, who told him to hide evidence of the crime to maintain the municipality’s record of zero murders. Salinas is then believed to have disposed of the victim’s body in the river.

25 July – The 57th massacre of 2021 claimed the lives of a woman, 32-year-old Rubiela Adrada, and two children, Brandon Mesa, 14, and Maikol Cabrera, who was just 11 and the nephew of the murdered woman. The attack was carried out in Balboa in Cauca. Brandon was a well-known speed bike racer.

25 July – Community leader Jean Carlos Rodríguez Díaz was murdered in the El Carmen zone of Norte de Santander, northeast Colombia. Several paramilitary and other armed groups are active in the region.

25 July – Yorbis Valencia Carabali was murdered in Buenos Aires, Cauca, the 279th FARC former combatant to be killed since entering the peace process. He was attacked as he arrived home from working on community projects.

25 July – Another FARC former combatant, Yeison Andrés Sarmiento, was killed in San José de Guaviare. Only 21 years old, he was a minor when the peace agreement was signed and was subject to special protective measures. His death was the 280th murder of a FARC member since the signing of the peace agreement.

25 July – Fighting between armed groups and extreme weather conditions caused the mass displacement of at least 2,311 people in rural zones near Ituango, Antioquia. Within two days, more than 3,700 people had arrived in the urban centre of Ituango in urgent need of shelter, food, clean water and medical attention.

25 July – On an extremely violent day, another massacre was carried out in San José de la Fragua in the department of Caquetá. Three men were killed in a night attack on a farm, one of whom was named as 42-year-old Jhon Fredy Lugo Franco.

26 July – Community activist Oswaldo Pérez was murdered in Montecristo, department of Bolívar, where he was president of the community council in the village of Mina Piojo. He was also a member of mine workers organisations and had previously received threats.

28 July – Around 85 families, totalling more than 180 people, arrived in the centres of Santander de Quilichao and Buenos Aires, two towns in north Cauca, after they were forced to leave their homes due to threats from armed groups. The National Ombudsman’s office attributed the forced displacement to fighting between the army and armed groups, as well as the murder of FARC former combatant Yorbis Valencia Carabali in Buenos Aires three days earlier.

28 July – In the eastern department of Arauca, three men belonging to the same family were murdered as they travelled close to the town of Puerto Rondón. They were named as José Nelson Ulejelo, Andrés Bustamante and Andrés Cabarca. INDEPAZ said it was the 59th massacre of 2021, with the total number of victims at 218.

28 July – Another massacre, the 60th of 2021, was committed in the Gran Yomasa neighbourhood of Bogota. An armed assailant shot two men inside a pharmacy and a taxi driver who was waiting outside. The victims were reportedly all aged between 18 and 25.

31 July – Three people were confirmed killed in the year’s 61st registered massacre, carried out in Armenia, the capital of the Quindío region, a week previously. The victims were 17-year-old Venezuelan national Enrique Díaz, 33-year-old Aries Pillimué Valencia and 42-year-old Paula Andrea Pulgarín Ramírez.