Colombia human rights update June 2023

Colombia’s human rights crisis continued in June 2023, despite the government’s ongoing attempts to negotiate peace settlements with a number of armed groups that are believed responsible for much of the violence. Among those targeted were several indigenous activists, JAC community council members and former FARC guerrillas in the peace process. According to the INDEPAZ human rights NGO, 1,491 social activists and 374 former FARC guerrillas were murdered between the signing of the peace agreement in November 2016 and the end of June this year.

Here is JFC’s monthly update on the human rights crisis for June 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 June – The teenage son of a well-known social leader was murdered in Palmarito, near the city of Cucutá on Colombia’s border with Venezuela. 19-year-old Kevin Fabián Grimaldo was a rural activist like his father, Wilfredo Grimaldo, who is president of a local cacao farmers association.

2 June – Social leader Guido Idelber Gómez Hoyos was murdered in La Vega, Cauca, taking the number of such killings in 2023 to 70. He was president of the JAC community council for the district of Villa Nueva Paraíso and a committed environmental defender. He was attacked on the road linking La Vega with neighbouring Piedra Sentada.

2 June – Two young people were killed by the AGC paramilitary group in San Juan del Cesar, La Guajira. Reports suggested the attack was a so-called ‘limpieza’ (cleansing), a paramilitary practice of targeting specific members of a community. 

3 June – Fighting between rival armed groups was placing local Nasa indigenous communities in grave danger in the zone of Asnenga, Cauca. The department’s indigenous population, particularly in northern zones, has been exposed to extremely high levels of violence, leading to multiple killings and other abuses since the 2016 peace agreement.

3 June – An Awá indigenous activist, identified as Luis Mastacuas Pai, 27 years old, was badly injured after activating a landmine while attending an event to commemorate 33 years of the UNIPA indigenous rights organisation in the Gran Sábalo community in Barbacoas, Nariño. He was taken to hospital to receive urgent medical attention. It was the latest serious attack affecting Gran Sábalo and surrounding communities, with UNIPA reporting that seven indigenous residents have been victims of landmines this year alone. Hundreds of delegates from UNIPA’s 32 affiliated communities were attending the commemoration.

4 June – The month’s first massacre, and the 41st of 2023, claimed three lives in San José de Guaviare, department of Guaviare. The victims were a man, a woman and a child, who were attacked by assailants who arrived at the scene by motorbike.

4 June – Three people were killed in the second massacre of the day, carried out in Villagarzón, Putumayo. Armed assailants attacked the men in a bar in the town centre. The victims were named as Jefferson Cruz Salamanca, who was 27 years old, Diego Túquerres Diaz, 32, and 27-year-old Charles Vélez Calderón. Two of the victims worked at the local airport.

5 June – Teacher trade unionist and activist Jairo Enrique Tombe and his wife Leonora González were murdered in El Tambo, Cauca, where he worked in a public school. The couple had been reported missing on 31 May, prompting fears over their safety, with their bodies found five days later. Jairo belonged to the ASOINCA Cauca education union and was also legal representative for the AFRONTAC social organisation. In a statement, ASOINCA said Jairo was known for his activism ‘in defence of public and popular education, the struggle for the right to dignified health and the defence of human rights, contributing to the consolidation of processes of unity, critical reflection and resistance among students and education workers in Cauca.’

5 June – Social activist Néider de Jesús Alzate Correa was murdered in Puerto Libertador, Córdoba.

6 June – Three people were killed in the 43rd massacre of 2023, carried out in Piendamó, Cauca. The victims were a father, Beimar Zamir Astudillo, and his two sons, Daniel and Miguel Astudillo Castillo.

6 June – The day’s second massacre was committed in Tamalameque, Cesar, in which two men and a woman died. A fourth person was injured. The dead victims were named as 47-year-old Carlos Alberto Martínez Parra, Enith Johana Romero Quintero and Yoiner Salcedo Campuzano, who was 22.

10 June – Rural activist Marcelino Martinez Cuadros was killed in Tame, Arauca, where he was a prominent leader who defended access to land and social rights. He was a founder of the Arauca-based ANUC peasant rights organisation. According to INDEPAZ, his murder is the 75th of a social activist in 2023.

12 June – The body of land rights activist Emiro Nel Sánchez Medrano was found in San Pelayo, Córdoba, three days after a group of armed men abducted him while as he travelled with a bodyguard assigned by the National Protection Unit, the state body responsible for providing security to people under threat. Emiro represented families who had been victims of forced displacement in Córdoba and Antioquia, coordinating their claims for land restitution.

12 June – Five people were abducted by an armed group in the south Bolívar region, according to an alert from the South Bolívar Agro-Mining Federation. Four of those taken were employees at the municipality of Santa Rosa del Sur, while the fifth person was a student at the University of Pamplona. The organisation called for their safe return and urged armed groups to end actions targeting local communities.

12 June – Nasa indigenous elder Marcelino Dagua Baicue, 51 years old, and his wife Rosalia Quiguanas Dagua, who was 48, were murdered in Jambaló, Cauca, the latest attack in the wave of violence impacting indigenous communities in the department. The couple were attacked at around 2am. Marcelino was a renowned ancestral authority at the Sat Tama Kiwe community located in Jambaló. INDEPAZ said he is the fifth indigenous ancestral elder assassinated in Cauca so far this year.

12 June – On a particularly violent day, a married couple and one other person were murdered as they socialised with friends and family members in a bar in Ansermanuevo, Valle del Cauca. The married victims were named as Leidy Johana Catañao Rodríguez, who was pregnant, and her husband Gustavo Alberto Ramírez Rodríguez.

15 June – Former FARC guerrilla Eduardo Sánchez Álvarez was killed in Calamar, Guaviare, where he was based at the reincorporation zone Jaime Pardo Leal. According to INDEPAZ he is the 15th former guerrilla in the peace process murdered in 2023 and the 371st overall since the signing of the peace agreement in November 2016. However, the United Nations has put the figure higher.

16 June – The Association of Indigenous Councils of North Cauca (ACIN) warned that fighting between armed groups was generating a severe emergency situation in the zones of La Cilia and La Calera, Cauca. Fighting was impacting communities in the area, with many people forcibly confined due to the high risks. ACIN called on international organisations to take action to guarantee the safety of those affected.

17 June – Ongoing conflict between rival armed groups forcibly displaced several people and confined others in Ricaurte, Nariño.

17 June – Armed men entered a home and attacked those inside, killing three men, in Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca.

18 June – A trade unionist in the Memoria Viva union, which represents bodyguards providing security to former guerrillas in the peace process, was murdered in La Plata, Huila. Like the majority of the union’s members, Hover Hernán Esquivel Tapicero was himself a former FARC guerrilla and is the tenth Memoria Viva member killed since the union was founded in 2017. He was 42 years old. Despite court orders issued last August for the National Protection Unit (UNP) to implement special protective measures for Memoria Viva and its members, these have not been put into place. British trade unions ASLEF and the POA have contacted the UNP over the issue yet little action has been taken. Justice for Colombia delegates have met with Memoria Viva on delegations to Colombia.

18 June – Former FARC guerrilla Elder Alexander Daza Ordoñez was killed in Balboa, Cauca, the day’s second murder of a signatory to the 2016 peace agreement following that of Hover Hernán Esquivel Tapicero in Huila. Elder had been freed from prison under the terms of the peace agreement and was based at the La Fila reincorporation zone. The Comunes political party said he had previously raised warnings about the dangerous situation in the zone.

19 June – Yet another indigenous activist was murdered in North Cauca. Alexander Chocué Peña was a traditional authority in La Laguna Sibera, a reservation located in the municipality of Caldono. He was attacked during a family gathering, with another indigenous guard, Jhon Jairo Velasco Guetio, injured. On 24 August last year, Alexander was named in threatening pamphlets distributed by an armed group in the zone.

19 June – Social activist Temístocles Beltrán was murdered in El Copey, Cesar. He organised conflict victims and peasant communities and had previously stood in local council elections. An armed assailant dressed in military fatigues entered Temístocles’ home and shot him dead.

20 June – The National Ombudsman issued an alert over the wellbeing of 357 people, comprising 102 families, who had been forcibly displaced from their homes in the western department of Chocó due to fighting reportedly between the AGC paramilitary group and the ELN guerrillas. The victims were from the villages of Barranconcito, Buenas Brisas and San Agustín. ‘We reiterate the call to these illegal armed groups to respect international humanitarian law and human rights and make sure their military activity does not impact the communities that inhabit this area,’ said Ombudsman Carlos Camargo Asís. It is the fourth documented humanitarian emergency to impact the local population in 2023.

22 June – Indigenous leader Ferley Quintero survived an assassination attempt in La Vega, Cauca. He is standing as a candidate for the left-wing MAIS party, which focuses on indigenous and rural issues, in upcoming local elections.

23 June – An Awá indigenous man, Mauro Canticus, died and five other people were injured after a landmine was activated in Ricaurte, Nariño. The group had been displaced due to fighting between armed groups, as reported on 17 June.

23 June – Community leader and former council member Armando Mosquera Trujillo was killed in Tello, Huila, where he was president of the JAC community council for the Mesa Redonda district.

25 June – The 80th murder of a social activist in 2023 was committed in Ituango, Antioquia, a zone which has seen very high levels of violence since the 2016 peace agreement. Erasmo Antonio Pino Giraldo was a well-known rural organiser who was affiliated to the JAC community council. Armed assailants killed him in his home before assembling local residents to inform them they had laid landmines in the surrounding vicinity.

26 June – Social activist Nelson Medina Muñoz was killed in Gigante, Huila, where he was a member of the ASOQUIMBO association which represents communities impacted by a hydroelectric project at the El Quimbo dam. He had taken part in a protest against the dam in March. He also belonged to the Association of Fishermen of Puerto Seco.

26 June – Social leader Pablo Enrique Rodríguez and a friend, Cielo Ramírez, were murdered in Tello, Huila, where Pablo was JAC community council president for the district of Anacleto García.  

27 June – The National Ombudsman warned that fighting between rival paramilitary groups, the Gaitanist Self-Defence Forces (AGC), aka the Gulf Clan, and the Conqueror Self-Defence Forces of the Sierra Nevada (ACSN), aka Los Pachencos, had placed communities in Riohacha and Dibulla in Colombia’s northernmost department of la Guajira. The Ombudsman said this had driven a rise in murders, threats and extorsions in the region, as the AGC was attempting to muscle in on territory considered under ACSN control. La Guajira is a major contraband route due to its proximity to the sea and the Venezuelan border, as well as the weak state presence that has produced appalling social conditions for indigenous communities there. Since mid-February, there have been 14 murders and three massacres in Riohacha and Dibulla, said the Ombudsman.

27 June – Three people were killed inside a home in Cucutá, Norte de Santander. The victims were named as Edinson Daniel Montañez, Deisimar Montañez and Maurilaudir Montañez, who appeared to be members of the same family.

28 June – Human rights groups issued an alert over the disappearance of former FARC guerrilla and political prisoner Luis Alfredo Mejía, who was last seen at an assembly of former guerrillas held over 8-10 June. Luis is a member of the directorate for the Comunes party in Bogota.

28 June – Former FARC guerrilla Ángel Miguel Ariza Rojas was murdered in Tame, Arauca, where he was based at the department’s Filipinas formal transition zone. In 2018, a JFC delegation visited Filipinas to meet inhabitants and learn about the challenges they faced in the peace process. According to INDEPAZ, Ángel Miguel is the 374th former FARC member killed since entering the peace process and the 18th case in 2023.

28 June – In a statement condemning the murder of Ángel Miguel Ariza Rojas, the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace, Colombia’s government body responsible for managing the area of peacebuilding, reported that another former guerrilla in the peace process, Diana Quiroga, had gone missing in Bogota three days earlier.

29 June – A father and two sons were murdered in the Barranquilla neighbourhood of Puerto Colombia, Atlántico. They were attacked inside their home.

29 June – The day’s second massacre claimed three lives in Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city. The victims were all aged between 18 and 20.

29 June – According to the Association of Indigenous Councils of North Cauca (ACIN), an armed group raided a family home in Santander del Quilichao, where they tied up brothers Alejandro and César Trochez Chocué. They took César with them when they left, with his whereabouts still unknown. A search party was formed the following day, with ACIN calling on the United Nations and National Ombudsman, among others, to provide support for the search.  

30 June – Former FARC guerrilla Luis Aníbal Martínez Higuita was killed in Dabeiba, Antioquia. The 41-year-old was transitioning to civilian life at the Román Ruiz reincorporation zone in Ituango.