Colombia human rights update March 2022

Colombia experienced high levels of violence in many regions throughout March.

According to the INDEPAZ human rights organisation, the first three months of 2022 saw a rise in killings of social activists and massacres. From 1 January to 31 March, there were 48 murders of social activists and 27 massacres, compared with 42 and 23 respectively in 2021. There was a slight decline in the number of former FARC combatants murdered, from 14 in January-March 2021 to 11 this year. The scale of violence reflects the lack of a non-military state presence in many parts of the country and the expansion of paramilitaries and other armed groups.

The government of Iván Duque still has not properly implemented security mechanisms contained in the 2016 peace agreement even though the United Nations has repeatedly said these are urgently required to address the violence.

Below is JFC’s monthly summary of human rights violations 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. 

1 March – Colombia’s 20th massacre of 2022 claimed the lives of three people in Maicao in the northern region of La Guajira. The three victims, one of whom was named as Alex Chacin, were attacked inside the home of one of them. A number of armed groups are active in the zone, which is situated close to the border with Venezuela.

2 March – Colombia’s national indigenous organisation, the ONIC, condemned the attempted abduction of Zemú indigenous community leader Eder Espitia in the town of Tuchin, department of Córdoba.

3 March – A former FARC combatant was murdered in San José de Guaviare, department of Guaviare. According to INDEPAZ, José Alexis Baéz Mesa is the 307th former combatant murdered since entering the peace process in late 2016, although other sources have put the figure slightly higher. 56-year-old José was killed close to the formal transition zone Jaime Pardo Leal where he was based. There are high security risks at a number of transition zones as armed groups are highly active and authorities have not provided sufficient protective measures.

5 March – Two teenagers, identified as 17-year-old Jhon Edwin Bomba Chate and 14-year-old Jenifer Liseth Campo Campo, were murdered in Caldono, department of Cauca.

5 March – Community organisations denounced a military raid in which soldiers burned homes and attacked residents in the communities of El Triunfo and La Esperanza in San Vicente del Caguán, department of Caquetá. Witnesses said that soldiers launched explosives and destroyed infrastructure after arriving in helicopters.

5 March – Community leader Eduardo Emilio Vanegas Mendoza was murdered in Barranco de Lobo, department of Bolívar. He was president of the community council in nearby Pueblito Mejía. Armed assailants attacked Eduardo and three companions at around 6pm as they made their way through the town. Eduardo died and the others were injured.

6 March – Community leader Luciano Alvino Ortiz Pineda was killed in Planadas, department of Tolima, where he was president of the community council in the village of La Armenia. Local residents found his body after he had been forcibly taken away by armed men. 

7 March – Paramilitary threats signed by a group calling itself the Black Eagles targeted several human rights organisations and activists, labelling them as ‘military targets.’ The organisations named included INDEPAZ and the Cauca-based indigenous organisations CRIC and ACIN. The individuals named included indigenous senator Feliciano Valencia and the well-known human rights defender and political candidate Francia Márquez, as well as indigenous leaders Hermes Pete, senate candidate Aida Quilcue, Eduin Capaz Lectamo, Ovidio Hurtado, Juan Manuel Camayo, Nora Taquinas and several others.

8 March – More threats from the self-naming Black Eagles targeted the Constitutional Court judges who recently ruled to decriminalise abortion in Colombia. ‘We have identified you, your location, the time you arrive and leave work, the colour and registration of your vehicles, yours and your family’s home address, we will pursue you and we declare you and your families military targets,’ it reportedly said. On 21 February, judges Diana Fajardo, Antonio José Lizarazo, José Fernando Reyes, Alberto Rojas and Julio Ossa voted to allow abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy.

9 March – An armed group abducted at least four underage youths in Caloto, Cauca, seemingly to forcibly recruit them into its ranks. They were taken from their school and reportedly forced to travel to Cauca’s southern area. Indigenous organisations launched search parties and called for the youngsters to be returned safely.

9 March – Community leader Marcos Morales was murdered in La Montañita, Caquetá.

9 March – Social activist Gustavo Guerrero Ramírez was murdered in Villa Garzón, Putumayo, where he was president of a local community council. Armed assailants attacked the 58-year-old as he carried out agricultural work.

10 March – Social organisation Indigenous Unity for the Awá People (UNIPA) warned that fighting between armed groups had displaced 90 families, totalling 281 people, more than 80 of whom are children, from the community of Pipalta Palbí Yaguapí community in Barbacoas, Nariño. UNIPA said the families urgently required medical assistance, as well as non-perishable foods, hygiene products, sleeping materials and clothing, among other material necessities. It warned that since 2010 the community has been facing intense repression, including killings, threats, displacements and forced confinements and called on national and local authorities to attend to the needs of victims.

10 March – Members of the AGC paramilitary group killed four people during an attack in Banco de Arena zone of Cucutá, northeast Colombia. The victims were a local community council president, identified as Virgilio, evangelical priest Santiago Rivero, a small-scale farmer and his assistant. INDEPAZ said it is the 21st massacre of 2022. Several people were confined to their homes due to the high risks of violence in the area.

11 March – Three people were killed in the 22nd massacre of 2022, which was carried out in Santa Marta, northern Colombia. The victims were two brothers, 29-year-old Yeison Yesid Cano Gutiérrez and 26-year-old Estiben Jiménez Gutiérrez, and their stepfather, Enedil Alfonso López Mendoza, who was 65. Several paramilitary groups are active in the area.

11 March – The former mayor of López de Micay, Cauca, was murdered there. Two armed assailants shot Federico Torres Perlaza at least three times as he walked through the town, where he served as mayor in 2002.

11 March – Former FARC combatant Guillermo Manuel Pepinosa Muñoz was killed in Cumbal, Nariño. The attack was committed close to the formal transition zone Arial Aldana de la Variante, where he had been based since entering the peace process. According to INDEPAZ, the 28-year-old is the 307th former combatant murdered in that time.

14 March – Musician and activist Fabián Pérez Hooker was killed on the Caribbean island of San Andrés, where he was recognised as a cultural ambassador for African-Colombian ‘raizal’ island culture. Known as Hety, he formed one half of the hip hop group Hety y Zambo which focuses on promoting raizal traditions and culture. He was shot while socialising with friends in his apartment. His death sparked protests across the island.

14 March – Another former FARC combatant, 37-year-old Jhon Kennedy Vargas Aros was murdered in Pitalito, Huila.

14 March – Nasa indigenous leader Miller Correa was killed in Popayán, the regional capital of Cauca. He lived in the Tacueyó community and was a senior official in the ACIN regional indigenous organisation. He was also a council member in the town of Toribío. He was reportedly intercepted while driving to the nearby town of Santander de Quilichao and then killed. Eight days earlier, he had been named alongside other activists in a threat signed by a group identifying itself as the Black Eagles. Miller had given testimony to Colombia’s Truth Commission on violence suffered by indigenous communities during the armed conflict. In a statement condemning the murder, the Commission said that ACIN had publicly opposed the forced recruitment by armed groups of children in Cauca, which had increased the threat to the organisation. According to INDEPAZ, since the agreement was signed in November 2016, 363 indigenous leaders and activists have been killed.

16 March – Following the murder of Miller Correa, new death threats were sent to Nasa indigenous leaders in Cauca. Emanating from a group identifying itself as the Black Eagles, the threat said ‘we are now fulfilling our previous communique and starting to cleanse indigenous and social leaders.’ It referenced Miller’s killing and warned that ‘we are going to commit collective massacres.’ The threat named indigenous leaders Edwin Capaz, Adelmo Valencia, Germán Campo, Albeiro Bastos, Juan Carlos Zamboni, Carlos Ulcue, Jesús Yule and Cristian Cardenas.

16 March – The 23rd massacre of the year so far was committed in Venecia, department of Antioquia. The victims were two teenagers aged 14 and 15 and a 24-year-old. All three were Venezuelan.

17 March – LGBT activist and artist Luis Carlos Bustamante was murdered on the small island of San Andrés, just four days after musician and activist Fabián Pérez Hooker was also killed there. 40-year-old Luis, who was nicknamed ‘Luchín,’ was from Cartagena and belonged to national dance organisations, while he also led dance activities in hotels on the island, a popular tourist destination.

18 March – More threats from a group calling itself the Black Eagles named several social activists, including indigenous leaders, who it falsely said were ‘at service of drugs trafficking and the left’. Those targeted included Wilson Maca, Eider Zambrano, Nilson Sauca, Wilman Manquillo, Simón Caldon, Roiber Melenje, Brayan Ruz and Leonardo Valencia.

20 March – Social activist Richard Betancourt was murdered in Argelia, Cauca, where he was community council president in the village of Santa Clara. He also worked in support of victims of forced displacement.

21 March – Former FARC combatant Domingo Mancilla Cundumí was murdered in Guapi, Cauca. He had been based at the formal reincorporation zone Aldemar Galán in Policarpa, Nariño. INDEPAZ said he was the 309th former combatant killed since entering the peace process and the tenth of 2022 so far.

22 March – A massacre was committed in Medellin, Colombia’s second city, which left three people dead. They were named as Venezuelan nationals Edinson Noel Pineda, who was 20 years old, Darwin Alejandro Ochoa Batista, 21, and 48-year-old Victor Hugo Echeverri Moreno. Several paramilitary and other armed groups are active in the city. It is the 24th massacre of the year so far.

23 March – Former FARC combatant Jorge Canchi Ramos was murdered in El Tambo, Cauca, the second such killing in the region in three days. The 42-year-old was of indigenous heritage and managed a small farm in the area as part of his reincorporation process.

24 March – Armed assailants shot dead 50-year-old social activist Freddy Enrique Pallares Amaya in front of his family in their home in the city of Cucutá, Norte de Santander. He was a transport inspector who had reported abuses carried out by other officials within the system.

24 March – Yet another ‘Black Eagles’ death threat targeted members of the Historic Pact progressive coalition which is performing strongly ahead of May’s presidential election. The pamphlet falsely accused them of links to armed groups and criminal networks, while it also named human rights organisations INDEPAZ, ACONC and ACIN as ‘military objectives.’ Several indigenous politicians and activists were targeted, including Feliciano Valencia, Aida Quilcue, Hermes Pete, Nifer Díaz, Ovidio Hurtado, Janet Mosquera, Juan Carlos Samboni and others. The group warned that anyone who intervened in its plans would be ‘eradicated from the map.’

25 March – One day after the Medellin massacre, another was committed in Bogota, the 25th of the year. Two men and a woman were shot dead in a home in the Compostela neighbourhood.

25 March – The 25th massacre of 2022 claimed four lives in El Águila, Valle del Cauca. Two of the victims were believed to be a couple killed inside their home.

25 March – Environmental defender Alcibíades Moreno Moreno was murdered in Muzo, department of Boyacá. He acted as a political representative for small-scale and independent emerald miners. Armed assailants killed him at his home.

27 March – Social activist Carmenza Torres Caldarón received a death threat at her home in the municipality of El Castillo, department of Meta, where she has led community campaigns over the environment, human rights and peace. The package contained dead flies and a note which warned her about her role in political organising. Carmenza has campaigned for the Historic Pact coalition. Social organisations called on authorities to guarantee her safety.

28 March – Another massacre was committed, this time in Buga, Valle del Cauca. The three men shot dead were identified as Gabriel León Arritia, who was 38-years-old, Jesús Rafael Merentes Castillo, 20, and Darwin Portales, 25.

28 March – The army killed 11 people during a raid in Puerto Leguizamo, Putumayo, before falsely reporting the victims as members of an armed group active in the region, according to social organisations based in the region. The raid claimed the lives of an indigenous governor, a community council president and his wife, as well as a 16-year-old boy, among others. The reports have stoked concerns over new cases of ‘False Positives,’ the phrase used to describe killings by security forces that target innocent victims and subsequently misrepresent them as armed combatants. Read more here.

29 March – Indigenous leader Sarcelino Lana was killed in Medio Atrato, department of Chocó. Paramilitaries reportedly abducted the 25-year-old four days prior to his body being discovered in the Atrato River. He was governor of the indigenous reservation Tamandó.