Colombia human rights update October 2020

October was another month of extremely high levels of human rights abuses in Colombia, with several social activists murdered and massacres committed.

Police were implicated in the deaths of indigenous community members, including a baby, while several other indigenous activists were murdered by still-unidentified assailants. At least three trade unionists were killed in separate attacks. Six FARC former guerrillas were also murdered. Young people, particularly relatives of leaders and activists, were also targeted.

There is currently no end in sight to Colombia’s human rights crisis. International observers, such as the United Nations Verification Mission, have repeatedly called for swift and comprehensive implementation of the Peace Agreement as the most effective means of containing the violence impacting many parts of the country.

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 October – The historian and social activist Campo Elías Galindo was found murdered in his apartment in Medellin, Colombia’s second-largest city. The 69-year-old worked at the National University and was a member of the progressive Colombia Humana party. His body was discovered by his daughter. Galindo was a vocal critic of state human rights abuses.   

3 October – 18-year-old trade unionist and human rights activist Jayder Quintana was murdered in Cajibio in Cauca, southwest Colombia. Jayder belonged to the FENSUAGRO agricultural trade union, which partners with Unite and other international trade unions through Workers Uniting. Jayder was also a member of the ANZORC peasant farmers association, the PUPSOC human rights organisation and the Patriotic March political organisation. He was shot dead inside a bakery at around 9pm. Jayder met with delegates of the JFC Peace Monitor in Cauca in May 2019. In response to his murder, one of those delegates, Irish senator Paul Gavan of Sinn Fein called for action in the Irish Parliament.

3 October – FARC former guerrilla Uriel Valencia Ochoa, 45 years old, was murdered in Quibdó, the capital of the western Chocó region. He had been based at the reincorporation zone Vidrí-Heroes de Murri until it was closed by the government. He is the 231st FARC member killed since the signing of the peace agreement almost four years ago. Paramilitaries have established a strong foothold in the region where Uriel was killed. 

3 October – Awá indigenous leader Ana Lucía Bisbicús was murdered in Barbacoas in the southwestern region of Nariño. The 50-year-old, who belonged to the Pipalta Palvi Yaguapi community, was attending church, when armed men forced her outside and shot her dead. One of her sons was murdered in May. Indepaz says she is the 82nd indigenous leader murdered in 2020, and the 223rd social activist overall. 

4 October – Three people, including a father and young son, were killed in the San José de Uré zone of Córdoba in northern Colombia. The victims were named as Wilmar Eduardo López Guerrero, who was 42, his 15-year-old son Deivin Camelo Ochoa and 30-year-old Carlos Rodríguez Ospina. Wilmar owned and lived at the small farm where the attack occurred, which was also Carlos’ workplace. A fourth person who was injured but survived was identified as Rafael Cabrera Villadiego. Several social activists have been murdered in San José de Uré this year. 

5 October – A transgender woman, identified as Michell, was murdered in the northern city of Cartagena. Human rights group the Trans Community Network said that 29 transgender women have been killed in Colombia this year. 

7 October – Indigenous activist Euloquio Pascal Rodríguez was killed in Tumaco, department of Nariño. The 42-year-old was a traditional guard of La Brava reservation and father to five children. He was shot dead while returning from a nearby stream where he had been bathing. He is the 17th Awá indigenous person murdered since March. 

7 October – Armed men hijacked and destroyed a vehicle belonging to the United Nations Verification Mission in the Lozada zone of Caquetá. They intercepted the vehicle and forced the people inside to get out, before setting fire to it.  

9 October – Colombia’s 67th massacre of 2020 was committed in Jamundí, department of Valle del Cauca. The four dead victims were brothers Eliceo and Edgar Campo, Eider Gutiérrez Corrales and an unnamed person. 

10 October – Paramilitaries belonging to the AGC organisation abducted community leader Osvaldo Rojas from his workplace and subsequently killed him in the Curbaradó zone of Bajo Atrato, northern Colombia. Osvaldo was a two-time victim of forced displacement whose property had been appropriated for large-scale agriculture. He was killed close to a military post, according to reports. 

10 October – The paramilitary group Comandos de la Frontera painted threats on the home of community leader Sandra Lagos in Puerto Asís in Putumayo.  

11 October – Police reportedly killed 20-year-old Carlos Esteban Brown Mosquera in Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city. Reports said that police were called to a fight which broke out close to his home. Carlos was watching what was happening when police shot him in the head. His mother, who was with him at the time, suggested the shot was intentional.  

12 October – The young son of an indigenous governor was murdered in Bagre, department of Antioquia. The attack on 16-year-old Deimer Alberto Lucas Lora was carried out close to the Senú indigenous community Luis Cano, where his father is a senior leader. A friend who was with Deimer managed to escape. 

12 October – Indigenous couple Fredy Güetio Zambrano and Reina Mera were murdered in Suárez in the department of Cauca. 51-year-old Fredy was a former community leader. They were shot dead as they arrived at a relative’s commercial premises in the Agua Clara zone. The attack occurred as indigenous communities in Cauca coordinated the regional Minga strike to mobilise in support of land rights, peace and human rights.  

12 October – FARC former guerrilla Plutarco Cardozo, 46 years old, was murdered at his home in Colinas in the region of Guaviare. The attack took place only four kilometres from to the ETCR reincorporation zone Jaime Pardo Leal, where FARC members are based as they transition to civil society under the terms of the peace agreement. The FARC had previously warned about threats to former guerrillas in the area. Plutarco helped coordinate agricultural projects and was a renowned musician. He is the 232nd FARC member killed since the signing of the peace agreement in November 2016. 

12 October – Paramilitaries belonging to the so-called Comandos de la Frontera successor group killed Wilfrido Jiménez, having abducted him from his home, in Puerto Asís in Putumayo.  

13 October – The day after killing Wilfrido Jiménez in Putumayo, the Comandos de la Frontera murdered Pedro Abel Cañas, also in the Puerto Asís zone.  

13 October – Trade unionist Nelson Ramos Barrera was murdered in Piamonte in Cauca. Nelson was a member of the ASIMTRACAMPIC association of peasant farmers in Piamonte, which is affiliated to FENSUAGRO. The assailants killed him in front of his family before threatening local residents and cutting communication lines.  

13 October – Community activist Mary Luz Pérez Camaño was murdered in El Bagre in Antioquia. She coordinated women’s agricultural projects which aimed to provide economic support and food security to low-income communities. 

14 October – An Embera indigenous teacher, Erlin Forastero Undagama, was murdered in the Alto Baudó region of Chocó, western Colombia. Erlin, 30, was also governor of the Jurubida-Chory indigenous reservation. Armed men dragged him from a community meeting over family support initiatives before shooting him a number of times. Reports said the attackers belonged to the AGC paramilitary group, which has committed numerous killings and other human rights violations in the region.  

16 October – Two FARC former guerrillas were murdered in the Uribe zone of Meta. Juan de Jesús Monroy, also known as Albeiro Porremundo, coordinated reincorporation programmes for other FARC members. One of them, Luis Alexander Largo, was acting as Juan’s bodyguard. Their deaths bring the total number of FARC former guerrillas killed to 234 since the peace agreement was signed. In 2018, Juan de Jesús Monroy addressed President Iván Duque over the threats facing former guerrillas and received assurances about his security.

16 October – A 65-year-old indigenous woman, Angelina Collo Tumbo, was murdered in Paéz, department of Cauca. She was attacked inside her home. A local community leader said the motive was likely connected to her involvement in land disputes. 

16 October – 30-year-old indigenous activist Fernando Trochez was murdered in Corinto in Cauca. According to the INDEPAZ human rights organisation, he is the 59th social activist murdered in Cauca in 2020. 

17 October – Jhon Jairo Guzmán Pulgarín was murdered at his home in the Tarazá zone of Antioquia. He was vice-president of the community council, which are known as JACs, in the village of Tesorito and worked in agriculture. According to INDEPAZ, 177 members of JACs have been killed since Iván Duque took office in August 2018. 

18 October – Around 200 armed men entered the village of Torcido in Antioquia and threatened to kill a number of residents.  

19 October – Two indigenous men, Avelino Ipia and Héctor David Marín, were killed in the Caldono zone of Cauca. The attack occurred during a mass mobilisation, known as the ‘Minga’, of indigenous, rural and social organisations over human rights, peace and the environment.  

19 October – Rural activist Hernando Benítez survived an attack in the Caño Palomo zone of the northern department of Sucre. He is also a regional representative for the Movement for Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE) which campaigns for justice for human rights violations committed by the Colombian state. 

19 October – Rural community leader Eduardo Alarcón was killed at his home in Campoalegre, department of Huila. The 72-year-old had coordinated successful land claims for local farmers to be granted land to cultivate rice. He is the 11th social activist murdered in Huila so far this year. He was a member of the Democratic Pole political party.  

19 October – Indigenous leader Aurelio Jumí Domicó survived an attack in the Puerto Liberador zone of Córdoba, northern Colombia. He is the vice-president of the indigenous reservation Quebrada Cañaveral Embera Katio del San Jorge.  

20 October – A regional coordinator in the Colombian Humana political coalition was killed in Cauca. Gustavo Herrera was shot dead in his vehicle as he travelled between the departmental capital of Popayán and the zone of Coconuco. During the 2018 presidential elections, he ran the campaign in Cauca for Gustavo Petro, who finished second to Iván Duque and is today a senator. According to INDEPAZ, he is the 236th social activist murdered this year and the 642nd since Duque took office in August 2018. 

21 October – Political leader and lawyer Franco Ojeda was murdered in the city of Pasto, southwest Colombia. He was shot dead by armed men in the Mariluz neighbourhood. Franco was a former councillor in Pasto and was keenly involved in promoting sports at municipal and national level. 

24 October – Two FARC members were killed in separate attacks, taking the number of murdered former guerrillas to 236 since the signing of the peace agreement. The first victim was 61-year-old Marcial Macías Alvarado in Balboa, department of Cauca. Three attackers reportedly shot him dead as he ate lunch. In the second attack, Libardo Becerra was killed in San Vicente del Caguan, department of Caquetá.  

24 October – Paramilitaries entered the community of Puerto Leguizamo in Putumayp, southern Colombia, and threatened residents before killing two people.  

25 October – Colombia’s 69th massacre of 2020 was committed in the San Marcos zone of Sucre, northern Colombia. Four peasant farmers and a lawyer representing land claims were attacked during a meeting, reportedly by paramilitaries. A few days beforehand, the Movement for Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE) warned of threats to land rights activists in Sucre after its regional representative, Hernando Benítez, survived an attack. 

25 October – Two children, a ten-year-old girl and six-year-old boy, were reported missing following a military operation which killed a commander of the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla organisation. The attack on Andrés Vanegas Londoño, aka Uriel, in Nóvita in the western department of Chocó could have impacted civilians in addition to ELN members.

26 October – Social leader Carlos Navia was murdered in the village of La Hacienda in Cauca. He was a legal representative and founder of the Association of Community Councils of Argelia (ASOCOMUNAL) and a member of social movement Congreso de los Pueblos (The People’s Congress). According to INDEPAZ, he is the 243rd social activist murdered in Colombia in 2020, of which 83 cases have taken place in Cauca. His killing came just a few days before the initiation of a humanitarian caravan to promote human rights and call for an end to violence in north Cauca, statistically the most violent region in Colombia.  

26 October – Death threats were sent to senior trade union officials, including Diogenes Orjuela, the president of Colombia’s main trade union confederation, the CUT. The threats also named executive committee members of the FECODE teachers union.  

28 October – The ESMAD riot police squadron killed an elderly woman and a baby, with unconfirmed reports of a third person also killed, in a raid to displace indigenous families from ancestral land in Leticia in Colombia’s southeast Amazon region. At least 20 other people were badly injured. The community of around 625 families had gathered there seeking to avoid exposure to the worsening COVID-19 crisis in the region. A community spokesperson said that the land belonged to indigenous communities but that it had been appropriated by the state.  

29 October – Indigenous senator Feliciano Valencia survived an attack in the Toribío zone of Cauca as he left a commemoration to mark the first anniversary of the massacre of an indigenous governor and four others. Shots were fired at the vehicle in which he was travelling but nobody was injured. 

29 October – Social activist Juana Perea, 50 years old, was murdered in Nuquí, western Colombia. She worked in eco-tourism, was a member of a hotel workers’ union and publicly opposed a port development near protected zones. She was a dual Spanish-Colombian citizen. 

29 October – A statement purportedly from the AGC paramilitary organisation made death threats towards indigenous organisations and named several indigenous leaders: Luis Fernando Arias, Ferney Hernández, Saul Carillo Eder Espitia, Juan Campos and Arelis Uriana. The statement said the group had infiltrated social and indigenous organisations and trade unions, labelling these groups as ‘military targets’.  

29 October – A doctor of traditional medicine, Pompilio Narváez, was murdered in Argelia in Cauca. A video was distributed showing an armed man ordering Pompilio to move from an area, before he was found dead not long afterwards. 

30 October – Wayúu indigenous leader Irama Móvil survived an attack in Riohacha, the capital of Colombia’s northernmost region, La Guajira. At around 9pm, multiple gunshots were fired at her vehicle, with several impacting. Reports said two people were injured. Last year, Irama Móvil survived an attack in the same region. As a Wayúu councellor, she campaigns in defence of human rights in communities subjected to some of the poorest social conditions in Colombia.

30 October – The 70th massacre of 2020 was committed in Mercaderes, Cauca, when gunmen attacked a home and killed two women and a man. Unconfirmed reports said the victims could be three family members of four people killed in a massacre in the same area earlier this year. On 29 April, community member Alvaro Narváez and his wife María Daza Rodriguez, their son and 15-year-old granddaughter were killed at their home. The latest victims were reportedly their daughter, son-in-law and Álvaro’s sister. If confirmed, it means seven members of the same family have been killed in two attacks. One line of investigation was whether Álvaro had refused to pay extorsion demands, with his family being targeted in reprisals.