Colombia human rights update March 2024

The month of March saw a continuation in the insecurity impacting many parts of Colombia despite recent government attempts to advance peace dialogues and strengthen human rights. Two trade unionists affiliated to the FECODE teacher federation were killed separately, while indigenous activists, former political candidates and community leaders were among those targeted. Former FARC guerrillas also continue to be killed at an alarming rate.

According to human rights organisations, between the start of 2024 and the end of January, 38 social activists and nine former guerrillas in the peace process were killed. There were also 15 massacres committed.

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

3 March – Four people were killed in the 13th massacre of 2024, committed in Quibdo, department of Chocó. Another three people were injured in the attack in the city’s La Palma neighbourhood. Several armed groups are active in Chocó, which has suffered historic high levels of conflict and state abandonment.

4 March – Indigenous activist Dairo Yovani Aquite was murdered in Paéz, Cauca, having previously denounced threats received from alleged armed groups. The 29-year-old practiced ancestral traditions and was a political leader of the Capicísco reservation, as well as an agricultural worker. Just days earlier, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued its annual report on Colombia in which it warned about the alarming levels of insecurity facing indigenous communities in Cauca.

5 March – Community leader Josué Castellanos Pérez was killed in Tame, Arauca, where he worked to strengthen JAC community councils in local districts. He also coordinated plantain cultivation projects to benefit local communities. Armed assailants abducted Josué from a meeting after disarming his bodyguards and killed him soon afterwards. It was the 27th murder of a social activist in 2024.

6 March – Public official Deivi Junco Hernández was shot dead in Lorica, Córdoba, where he worked for municipal authorities in the coordination of social programmes. He also participated in regional peacebuilding initiatives, which involved working closely with human rights organisations.

6 March – Several days of fighting between armed groups caused the mass displacement of around 2,500 families in the Magüí Payán zone of Nariño, as well as another 150 families in nearby Leiva. Local human rights groups called for urgent relief for the communities affected, with food, medicines, hygiene products and psychological support particularly needed.

7 March – Community leader Segundo Virgilio Imbachi was murdered in Balboa, Cauca. He was current president of the JAC community council for the district of Porvenir in Leiva, Nariño. Armed assailants abducted him and killed him soon afterwards.

9 March – Former FARC guerrilla Luis Carlos Pineda was killed in El Doncello, Caquetá, where he was transitioning to civilian life under the terms of the 2016 peace agreement. Luis was among a group of former FARC members breeding cattle to generate livelihoods. Luis was taken from his home by armed men and then killed. The National Ombudsman has issued warnings over the high levels of threat in El Doncello and surrounding zones, where armed groups threaten local communities and those in the peace process. In 2022, a JFC delegation met with former FARC members who had been displaced from El Doncello due to threats from armed groups.

11 March – A teacher trade unionist affiliated to the Federation of Colombian Education Workers (FECODE) was killed outside his home in Fundación, Magdalena. Guillermo Otero had worked for over 20 years at the Euclides Lizarazo school in nearby Retén. He was returning from work when attacked by an armed assailant riding a motorbike. Guillermo had previously survived an assassination attempt in 2019. In a statement, FECODE said ‘we repudiate this attack and demand prompt investigations from the authorities. We express our condolences to his family, his community and those close to him.’ FECODE has faced ongoing hostility from the political right in Colombia, while close to 40 teachers have been murdered since 2018. The killing came one week after armed assailants attacked teacher Juan Pablo Tofiño in Ciénaga, also in Magdalena department. Guillermo is the 30th social activist murdered in 2024.

11 March – Community leader and former political candidate Cristian Alberto Castrillón was murdered in Caldas, Antioquia. He had previously stood for the New Liberalism Party in the same municipality and was current president of the JAC community council in the district of Santa Cruz. Armed assailants attacked the 32-year-old in a public establishment.

11 March – Social activist José Luis Angulo was killed in Timbiquí, Cauca, which remains statistically the most violent regional department of Colombia. He was a member of the town’s Municipal Committee of Victims. At around 11pm, armed assailants took him from his home and killed him nearby.

12 March – The 14th massacre of 2024 claimed three lives in Lloró, department of Chocó. Two of the victims were African-Colombia and the third was indigenous.

17 March – The wave of violence impacting indigenous communities in north Cauca claimed its latest victim. Nasa indigenous leader and women’s rights activist Carmelina Yule Paví was killed in Toribío, one of the zones where armed groups have a strong presence. She belonged to the Kiwe Thegna community and was a renowned artisan and labour organiser. In 2019, she led a project entitled Women of the Toribío Territory which aimed to improve women’s access to decent work and their participation in decision-making processes. In March 2021, Carmelina’s son Ramiro Ascue Yul was murdered in the same area, while unconfirmed reports said that another son was killed last year. According to the latest reports, 52-year-old Carmelina was among a group of indigenous residents who intercepted members of the armed group as they transported a young victim of forced recruitment. When the vehicle’s two armed inhabitants threatened the residents, community members took them to a nearby community space. Soon afterwards, other armed assailants entered the area and opened fire on the people gathered there. At least one other person, named as Rodrigo UI Musicué, was injured. In response to the attack, the government announced a suspension of the ceasefire with the EMC armed group in the departments of Cauca, Valle del Cauca and Nariño. That same night, armed assailants believed to belong to the same group launched a raid in the villages of La Luz and Gallinaza, both located in Toribío. Local human rights groups said that members of the indigenous guard had come under fire.

17 March – Former FARC guerrilla Luis Alvaro Silva Macanilla was killed in Puerto Asís, Putumayo, the department in which he was carrying out his reincorporation to civilian life. Several armed groups are active in Puerto Asís where they compete for control of oil extraction and the cultivation of illicit crops. According to Colombia’s Peace Observatory (PAZES) organisation, Luis Alvaro is the 425th former guerrilla murdered since entering the peace process in 2016.

19 March – Two minors were forcibly recruited by an armed group in Paéz, Cauca, according to reports.

19 March – The bodies of a 30-year-old woman, identified as Nallely Sepúlveda, and a 14-year-old boy, Edinson David, were found by a group of teenagers as they walked home from school in San José de Apartadó in the Urabá region of Antioquia. The murdered victims lived in the globally renowned San José de Apartadó Peace Community, established in 1997 as a haven from conflict but which has faced violent persecution multiple times throughout its existence. Nallely was married to a prominent community leader, while Edinson was the man’s younger brother. Urabá is a stronghold of the Gulf Clan (aka AGC) paramilitary organisation, Colombia’s largest active armed group. Last November, the Peace Community warned that the Gulf Clan was very active in the vicinity.

19 March – Community leader Álvaro Javier Morales Flor was murdered in Cajibío, Cauca, where he was president of the JAC community council in the Ortega district. Armed assailants abducted him in the village of El Dinde before killing him.

22 March – Fighting between state security forces and the Gulf Clan armed group forcibly displaced around 300 families from their homes in Alto Baudo, Chocó. Six indigenous communities were affected, with the victims comprising 1,185 people in total, of whom 621 were children.

24 March – Social activist Yirleana Lorena Moreno Cuesta was murdered in Quibdó, the regional capital of Chocó. She belonged to a local human rights organisation, the Network for Mothers and Carers of Young Homicide Victims, set up to support relatives of those killed in the city and surrounding area, with around 160 young people having lost their lives to violence there last year. She was also a prominent peace campaigner and supported efforts to gain justice for families of victims. Yirleana is the 35th social activist murdered in 2024.

25 March – The ninth killing of a former FARC guerrilla in 2024 was committed in Arauca, capital of the department of the same name. Luis Alfredo Gaitán Hernández belonged to social organisations in the municipalities of Saravena and Fortul, having previously been based at the transitional zone Las Filipinas, visited by a JFC delegation in 2018. Armed assailants attacked him inside his home.

26 March – The month’s second murder of a FECODE-affiliated teacher trade unionist took place in La Apartada, Córdoba. Efrén Zapata Elorza worked at the town’s Maria Auxiliadora school and was a member of the Association of Córdoba Education Workers (ADEMACOR), a regional trade union. It follows the killing of another teacher trade unionist, Guillermo Otero, in Magdalena on 11 March.

27 March – Youth activist and political candidate Emerson David Silva Martínez was found dead in Saravena, Arauca, where he had stood for the Radical Change party in last October’s local elections. He had been missing since being abducted by armed assailants on 23 February. Saravana is subject to a National Ombudsman alert over risks to human rights defenders and community leaders.

29 March – Indigenous activist and guard Yoli Áchito Rojas was murdered in Alto Baudo, Chocó, where indigenous and African-Colombian communities face extreme threats from armed groups and historic state neglect. He was a student representative at the Ikaba de Puesto Indio educational institute.

30 March – Three women were killed in Bogota, the 15th massacre of the year so far. Following reports of an attack in the Usme district, one woman was found dead, with the two other victims discovered shortly afterwards around 500 metres away. A man was also found with injuries.

31 March – Rural leader and activist Graciel Mendoza was killed in Tame, Arauca, where he represented regional victims of conflict and human rights violations. He was abducted and killed by unidentified assailants.