Colombia human rights update November 2022

Violence remains an everyday reality for communities in many parts of Colombia, emphasising the scale of the challenge facing the country’s recently elected government as it seeks to address the human rights crisis.

According to the INDEPAZ human rights NGO, the first 11 months of this year saw 171 social activists murdered in Colombia, with those targeted in November including indigenous leaders, trade unionists and environmental defenders. More than 340 former FARC guerrillas have also been killed since entering the peace process six years ago. Furthermore, mid-November saw the number of massacres recorded this year exceed 2021’s entire total.

In response to the crisis, the government of Gustavo Petro has moved to implement security mechanisms created in the 2016 peace agreement that were neglected under the previous administration of Iván Duque. Under its ‘Total Peace’ strategy, the Petro government has proposed dialogue with armed groups aimed at securing an end to violence in return for potential legal benefits. Yet it will take time for the results of these steps to be felt, as violence remains particularly concentrated in zones historically impacted by conflict and state abandonment.

Here is JFC’s monthly update on human rights abuses, including targeted killings and massacres, for November 2022.

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 November – Human rights defender Gabriel Quintero survived an apparent assassination attempt in Ocaña, Norte de Santander. He belongs to the REDEPAZ organisation which represents conflict victims.

2 November – The Justicia y Paz (Justice and Peace) human rights organisation, which works with JFC, warned of ongoing threats against communities from paramilitary group Comandos de la Frontera in the Ipiales zone of Nariño, southwest Colombia. In August, paramilitaries abducted and killed six indigenous men nearby and have continued to threaten to kill residents if they report their activities to authorities. The warning comes three days after two African-Colombian community leaders, Faustino Carabalí and Jonas Carabalí, were killed in Ipiales.

4 November – Three armed men murdered José Pascue Medina, who was of indigenous heritage, in his home in Salado, Cauca. His son was also seriously injured in the attack before the perpetrators fled on foot.

4 November – Armed assailants abducted former FARC combatant Winston Arroyo Caicedo in Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca, according to a district mayor’s office and the regional branch of the Comunes (formerly FARC) political party. They called for his safe return.

5 November – Former FARC guerrilla Jose Alirio Quitumbo Cayapú was murdered in Caloto, Cauca, where he was based at the Carlos Perdomo reincorporation zone. He worked as a bodyguard for other former guerrillas and belonged to the Memoria Viva trade union which is formed largely of former FARC guerrillas. In June 2022, a JFC delegation met with Memoria Viva leaders to learn about the difficulties faced by the union and its members.

8 November – Social activist Edgar José Ayala was murdered in Cucutá, Norte de Santander. He was attacked alongside his son, who was injured, in the car park of the building where they lived. They were taken to hospital where Edgar died soon afterwards. He was president of the community council in the district of Ciudad Rodeo.

9 November – A Kokonuko indigenous activist, Juvencio Cerquera Manquillo, was killed during protests over land claims by communities against Smurfit Kappa in Sotorá, Cauca. Local communities have long accused the company of appropriating their ancestral land.  Juvencio was an indigenous guard and traditional healer in the Paletará reservation. The Cauca Regional Indigenous Council (CRIC) said that he was struck by a projectile fired by masked men who arrived at the site to attack protesters. Other reports said that company employees and others had sought to prevent protesters from accessing the land, provoking clashes in which Juvencio was struck. A Smurfit Kappa employee and seven other people were reportedly injured. A CRIC statement said that ‘for several weeks [Kokonuko communities] have been advancing on properties in the municipality of Sotará that today are occupied by the multinational company Smurfit Kappa Carton of Colombia.’ It added that indigenous protesters had faced weeks of intimidations and threats and called on the Colombian state and human rights defenders ‘to protect and safeguard the life and integrity of the Kokonuko indigenous community.’ 

9 November – Fighting between rival armed groups saw one young person killed in crossfire and others abducted for several hours in the zone of Bajo Mira y Frontera, Nariño, according to local human rights organisation the Process of Black Communities. All the victims were of African-Colombian heritage, with the dead 21-year-old described as having a ‘special condition.’ The organisation called on authorities to attend urgently to the ‘humanitarian crisis’ impacting local communities.

9 November – Environmental activist Armando Hanipe Cabrera was murdered in Nuquí, Chocó. He promoted Embera indigenous rights and traditional music. He was reportedly injured while intervening to break up an altercation and died soon afterwards. He belonged to the CAMIZCOP social organisation based in Nuquí.

11 November – Human rights defender and teacher Guillermo Andrés Mosquera survived an attack when armed assailants opened fire at him outside a college in El Tambo, Cauca. On Twitter, he warned that his life was in danger and that he was unable to leave the area safely without assistance.

11 November – Armed assailants killed one young man and wounded another in an attack in Granada, Antioquia, according to regional human rights group the Committee of Human Rights and Humanitarian Attention in Eastern Antioquia. The dead youth was named as John Edwar Idárraga Hernández, while Brayan Alexis Giraldo Aguirre was taken to hospital. The Committee said ‘young people in Antioquia are being recruited, excluded, threatened, stigmatised, persecuted and, as can be seen, murdered.’

11 November – Social leader Dositeo Ojeda Mena was killed in Taminango, Nariño, where he was president of the community council for the district of Guayacanal. He was also an activist in the Historic Pact, the coalition of Gustavo Petro and Francia Marquez, who were elected to government in June. He was attacked by armed assailants who entered his home at around 10.45pm.

11 November – Two indigenous guard members were murdered when armed assailants entered the home of one of them and attacked its inhabitants in Quibdó, Chocó. Carlitos Urágama Cano, 23 years old, and Francisco Sarco Pipicay, who was 29, were guards for the Embera community of Playa Bonita. Their deaths take the number of social activists murdered in 2022 to 162, according to INDEPAZ.

12 November – Indigenous activist Homero Cortés was murdered in Tumaco, Nariño. He lived at the Awá reservation Quejuambi Feliciana. He is the fifth indigenous activist murdered already in November.

13 November – The Joel Sierra Human Rights Foundation, a social organisation based in eastern Colombia, warned that an armed group had threatened up to 300 people, including social activists and small business owners, in the zones of Saravena and Fortul, Arauca. At around 3am, the home of social activist Yonny Omar Díaz was struck by a grenade, while a hardware shop and the office of a livestock-owners committee were attacked nearby. The organisation said that social activist Sandra Gaitán Castillo had also survived an attack three days earlier.  

13 November – A group identifying itself as the AGC paramilitary organisation distributed threatening pamphlets in urban zones of eastern Antioquia. The pamphlet declared as a ‘military objective … all those who are against our social, political and military interests.’ It also named several men and women as specific targets.

14 November – Social activist Carlos Andrés Posada was murdered in Ituango, Antioquia. He had previously been community council president for the district of Mandarinos but was forced to step down and leave the area because of threats made against him. In July last year, he coordinated the return of 4,000 residents of Ituango after they had been forcibly displaced by armed groups. He was shot dead by armed assailants inside his home.

16 November – Community leaders in El Tambo, Cauca, called on authorities to intervene after threats from armed groups had paralysed public transport in the zone for almost a week, generating severe economic repercussions and impeding local residents from accessing essential goods and services. Pamphlets warned that any vehicles not obeying the orders would be torched.

17 November – Community leader Mario Óscar Solarte was murdered in Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca. He belonged to the Peasant Workers Association of Valle del Cauca (ASTRACAVA) and coordinated programmes on voluntary substitution of illegal crops. He was attacked in the district of Bajo Calima in the morning.          

18 November – The 88th massacre of 2022 was carried out in Puerto Rondon, Arauca. The bodies of four still-unidentified young people were left alongside a road. The attack means the number of massacres recorded in Colombia this year has already surpassed the figure for the whole of 2021.

18 November – Two social activists, Jhony Rodríguez and Querubín Mendoza, were confirmed killed after they went missing after attending a community meeting on 23 October in San José de Guaviare, Guaviare. Multiple armed groups are present in the area.

18 November – Indigenous activist Juan Alberto Guejia Peteche, 67 years old, and his wife were abducted and murdered in Silvia, Cauca. Their 16-year-old daughter reportedly escaped while a seven-year-old granddaughter was released by the abductors. Juan Alberto was a traditional authority at the Nasa de Pitayo reservation.

19 November – Fighting between armed groups killed two people and injured two others in the zone of El Águila, Norte de Santander, close to the border with Venezuela. Armed assailants arrived by jeep and killed 32-year-old Manuel Jesus Quintana Verjel and 18-year-old Brandon Stiward Ortiz Santander after forcing them to kneel. The injured men were named as Jesus Gabriel Reyes Ramírez, 34, and Jairo Enrique Valderrama Sandoval, 42.

19 November – Unidentified assailants launched explosive devices at the offices of local community council organisations in Arauquita and a Chamber of Commerce in Saravena, towns in the eastern region of Arauca.  

19 November – Human rights organisations denounced threats against community activist Suli Vergara in Piendamó, Cauca.

19 November – An activist in the Historic Pact, Wilson Durango Ibarra, was reported missing in Salgar, Antioquia.

19 November – An armed group reportedly killed a 15-year-old in Tame, Arauca.

19 November – Fighting between armed groups left 18 armed combatants dead and several others injured in Puerto Guzmán, Putumayo, according to reports. One of the groups involved was believed to be paramilitary organisation Comandos de la Frontera. Local residents took several bodies abandoned by the armed groups to a local cemetery in the hope that authorities would swiftly visit the scene to provide security and launch an investigation. At least 15 local families were forced from their homes because of the fighting. Human rights groups called on authorities to ensure protection for local residents.

20 November – Three people were killed in Cajibio, Cauca. Armed assailants entered a restaurant and opened fire at people inside. One of the victims was named as Alberto Quina, community council president for the district of La Diana. It is the year’s 89th massacre.

20 November – Indigenous leader Julian Eduardo Baltazar Medina was murdered in the Kweth Kina las Mercedes reservation in Caldono, Cauca. It came after the disappearance of his brother several months previously.

21 November – Armed assailants torched six lorries transporting goods on the road connecting Ocaña with Sardinata in Norte de Santander.

21 November – The 90th massacre of 2022 claimed the lives of three men and one woman in Puerto Asís, Putumayo. Another three people were injured. In May this year, a JFC delegation visited Puerto Asís to meet with local communities impacted by human rights abuses.

25 November – Awá indigenous communities are facing extreme risks from armed groups operating in their territories in Nariño, the UNIPA indigenous organisation warned. In addition to openly threatening families, armed groups have been laying landmines which has prevented residents moving around and forcibly displaced a number of families from their homes. At least 130 families, totalling over 150 children, were also confined to their homes in the districts of Salví, Cabecera Sonadora and El Hojal. Other communities affected were Panelero, Albicito, Guisa Sábalo, El Verde, Mero, Matarroso, Cuchila Albi, Aguaclara and Sabaleta Sábalo.  

25 November – Social activist Oswaldo Eliecer Duglas Bula was murdered in Montería, Córdoba, where he had represented market traders facing eviction. He was attacked during the evening in the district of El Recuerdo.

26 November – Community activist Efrain Sánchez Durán was murdered in the city of Barrancabermeja, Santander. He was director of the Fundación Manos Amigas which provided care for elderly people. In the evening, Efrain was attacked by four armed assailants in the district of Polaca. He is the 170th social activist murdered in 2022.

26 November – Retired trade unionist Nicodemus Luna Mosquera was murdered in Dibuja, La Guajira, along with his nephew Edinson Noviteño Luna. Nicodemus had been an official in the USO oil workers union in Tibú, Norte de Santander and at the time of his death was affiliated to the National Association of Retired Oil Workers (ANDOPE). He had experienced previous attacks over his trade union activity, with Colombian press reporting that he was one of the union’s most persecuted members. USO has a longstanding partnership with both Unite and UNISON and its members have met on multiple occasions with British and Irish politicians and trade unionists.

28 November – Four people were killed in an attack on a bar in Leticia, the capital of Colombia’s Amazon region. Armed assailants entered a bar and opened fire at the customers. Three of the victims were named as Leonardo Alexander Moreno Manuares, Antoni Manuares and Khan Carlos Valderrama.

28 November – Journalist Wilder Córdoba was murdered in La Unión, Nariño. As director of local independent network La Unión TV, Wilder had reported on issues of insecurity and local government. He was attacked at around 5pm while riding his motorbike through the district of Quiroz. He is the fourth journalist murdered in just over three months, following the deaths of Leiner Montero and Dilia Contreras in Magdalena on 28 August and of Rafael Moreno in Córdoba on 16 October.

30 November – Colombia’s Ombudsman issued warnings that fighting between rival armed groups was impacting on ethnic communities in San José, a district of the port city of Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca. The Ombudsman recommended that security forces deploy to the area to ‘make a presence in the territory and verify the situation denounced.’

30 November – Indigenous groups warned that over 1,000 armed combatants had entered the indigenous community of Chimborazo in Morales, Cauca, where they were occupying schools, the main clinic, religious sites and the main road. This was preventing residents from leaving the zone amid fears of violent attacks, including massacres.

30 November – Fighting between armed groups sparked major displacement of the Awá indigenous community Santa Rosa in Tumaco, Nariño. Residents of the nearby community of Kejuambi Feliciana were being forcibly confined, which was preventing access to healthcare and vital services.