Colombia human rights update October 2021

As Colombia’s President Iván Duque, while attending COP 26 in Glasgow, received praise and a warm welcome from world leaders such as Boris Johnson, Prince Charles, Joe Biden and Justin Trudeau, there was no attention paid to the horrific human rights crisis which has engulfed Colombia throughout Duque’s governance.

Despite multiple alerts in many parts of the country over paramilitary violence, there has been little effective action taken to tackle the endemic violence. By the end of October 2021, according to the INDEPAZ human rights NGO, over 1,200 social activists and close to 300 former FARC combatants in the peace process had been murdered since the agreement’s signing almost five years ago.

Several former combatants and activists were murdered in October, while there were widespread reports of state brutality towards communities demanding state compliance with the terms of the peace agreement. Women, indigenous and African-Colombian activists were among those killed in October.

Here is JFC’s monthly update on cases of human rights violations carried out in October 2021.

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 – Community activist Patricia Pérez Ríos was killed in the zone of Ciénaga in Magdalena, northern Colombia, just one month after her husband was murdered there. 30-year-old Patricia was an organiser in land claims for communities which had previously been displaced.

4 October – Indigenous social activist Rubén Darío Valencia Chico was killed in the Buenos Aires zone of Cauca, southwest Colombia. He was a community organiser in the reservation Las Delicias.  

5 October – Former FARC combatant Duberney Gómez Rodríguez was murdered in Leiva in the southwest region of Nariño.

5 October – Rural activist Jorge Antonio Loaiza was murdered by paramilitaries in the southern region of Putumayo. Jorge coordinated environmental protection programmes in communities in the zone of La Perla de Amazónica. Reports said he was accosted by armed men close to his home, who tied him up before killing him. His murder occurred despite a heavy presence of security forces in the region.  

5 October – 38-year-old Osvaldo Enrique Hernández Zuñiga was killed in Maicao in the northern region of La Guajira. He was an education department official in the Maicao municipal council and a delegate of the community council for the town’s Erika Beatriz neighbourhood. The attack was carried out during the afternoon by two armed assailants on a motorbike.

7 October – Armed assailants attacked the home of social activist Arnobis Zapata in Montelibano in the northern department of Córdoba. They assaulted his 14-year-old son and a friend who were playing outside the house, before fleeing. Arnobis is a leader in the ANZORC peasants organisation, in which he has coordinated crop substitution programmes created in the 2016 peace agreement. He has previously received death threats and survived an attack in 2016 when gunmen opened fire at his home, incidents which forced him to leave the region.

8 October – In a shocking incident which made headlines, a 12-year-old and an 18-year-old were found dead after they were accused of shoplifting in Tibú, northeast Colombia. The two were seen on mobile phone video with their hands bound with tape in a clothing store, as a group of people discussed handing them over to local authorities to avoid harm coming to them. However, the two youngsters, who were reportedly Venezuelan, were found the next day with gunshot wounds to the head and signs bearing the word ‘ladron’ (thief). Reports said that armed men had arrived at the store and taken the youngsters despite the store’s owner offering to go with them instead.

9 October – Former FARC combatant Ruber Herney Dorado was killed in the Balboa zone of Cauca, southwest Colombia, which statistically is Colombia’s most violent region, with more murders of social activists and former combatants than any other part of the country. Ruber was a member of a local cooperative supporting the peace process. According to the Comunes political party – formerly the FARC party created in the peace agreement – the attacks on Ruber and Duberney Gómez Rodríguez a few days earlier mean that 288 former combatants have been killed since the agreement was signed five years ago, with 39 cases in 2021. However, before the latest attacks, the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia put the total figure at 292 in late September.

14 October – Another former FARC combatant in the peace process, María Steffania Muñoz Villa, was murdered in Buenos Aires, Cauca, where she had been based at the transitional zone La Elvira. Her partner, former FARC combatant Yorbis Valencia Carabalí, was killed nearby in June. At around 8.40am, armed assailants attacked María as she walked with her young niece in the village of Mazamorrero. The girl survived. María is the 40th former combatant murdered in 2021 and the 289th since the signing of the peace agreement in November 2016.

14 October – Community organisations reported that police were impeding the recovery of dead bodies found in the Cauca River in the regions of Risaralda and Caldas. Over the previous month and a half, eleven bodies were found in the river, generating high levels of concern among local residents. When a group of fishermen tried to recover bodies, several of which were missing heads and hands, they were assaulted and insulted by police officers. One witness said that the police were seeking to maintain favourable statistics for their departmental reviews.

15 October – A 55-year-old indigenous community leader, María Lina Pedroza Isarama, died after stepping on a landmine in Alto Baudó in the western department of Chocó. María was a member of the Embera indigenous community of Puerto Alegre la Divisa Nauca. African-Colombian and indigenous communities in Chocó are at high risk from conflict between several armed groups and the region has seen escalating levels of forced displacement and confinement.

15 October – Former FARC combatant José del Carmen Ovallos Pérez was killed in the village of Monte Ioro in Norte de Santander. He was based at the transition zone Jorge Eliecer in the zone of Tibú, where a JFC delegation visited in 2018.

16 October – The second murder of a former FARC guerrilla in under 24 hours was carried out in Florencia, department of Caquetá. The victim, Jorge Eliecer Garzón Manrique, was attacked in a public establishment by two assailants on a motorbike.

18 October – Rural activist Efren España was killed near his home in Argelia, Cauca. He belonged to the ASCAMTA peasant farmers association.

18 October – Two men were found dead in Argelia, on the same day Efren España was killed there. They were killed after reportedly attempting to flee an armed group which had previously recruited them

19 October – Indigenous leader Luis Alfonso Narváez was murdered in La Vega, Cauca, as the department went through a brutal wave of violence. He was brutally attacked at his home in the village of El Guayabo. He campaigned for victims’ rights, had served terms as an elected local representative and was an activist in the Polo Democrático political party.

19 October – Also in Cauca, in the zone of Puerto Tejada an attack on an unnamed man killed his three-year-old daughter. The man survived with injuries.

19 October – Four young people, including at least one under the age of 18, were killed in an attack in San Rafael, department of Antioquia. Jeison Santamaría, James Santamaría, Santiago Cobo and Santiago Guarín were attacked while rapping and dancing in a street cultural performance. Three died at the scene and another later in hospital. The INDEPAZ human rights NGO said it was Colombia’s 77th massacre of 2021.

19 October – There was an attack on the family home of Jhoan Sebastián Bonilla, a young man killed in National Strike protests in July this year. Reports said that an unidentified man fired at least three shots against the home in Cali’s Comuna 16 neighbourhood. Jhoan’s mother and brother were inside at the time of the attack but were not injured. Human rights groups have accused police of involvement in the young man’s killing, while also warning of risks and threats to the family.

19 October – Social activist Rogelio López Figueroa was murdered in Cajibío, department of Cauca. He belonged to several social organisations, including the ANZORC peasant farmers association, the Patriotic March movement and the COCCAM peasant farmers association, which has seen more than 30 members killed since the peace agreement was signed in 2016. As with many other cases, his armed assailant was riding a motorbike.

21 October – Hundreds of families were forcefully evicted from makeshift accommodation in Brisas de Fertilizantes, a neighbourhood in the city of Barrancabermeja. Reports said that over the past four months, between 300 and 600 families had established a humanitarian camp to highlight deteriorating social conditions. Following a judge’s ruling, ESMAD riot police attacked the families and, in several cases, prevented them from taking their belongings.

23 October – At around 7pm, armed assailants killed three people in the city of Buga in the Valle del Cauca region. The victims were named as Hernán David Orozco Narváez, Jhon Jefferson Salazar and an 11-year-old girl, Mabelin Serna Castro.

24 October – Three people were killed in a massacre in the Alfonso López neighbourhood of Cali. Around ten people were gathered in a public space when at least three motorcycles approached and their riders opened fire.

25 October – Yet another killing was committed in Cauca’s Buenos Aires zone. The victim was Noel Corsini Zuñiga who coordinated voluntary crop substitution programmes created in the 2016 peace agreement. He belonged to the COCCAM coca growers association. According to INDEPAZ, he is the 145th social activist murdered in 2021.

26 October – The 81st massacre of 2021 claimed three lives in Maicao, La Guajira. Armed assailants intercepted the victims and shot them dead in the Rojas Pinilla neighbourhood.

26 October – Soldiers forcefully repressed peaceful protests over the military build-up in Santa Barbara de Iscuandé in Nariño. Rather than address longstanding community requests to address the lack of basic services and poor infrastructure in the region, authorities have deployed the military to stifle social demands. At least one person was injured by police gunfire.  

27 October – Human rights defender David Pérez Arias reported having received a number of paramilitary death threats alongside students and staff members based at the Eafit University in Medellin, Colombia’s second-largest city, over their support for National Strike protests earlier this year. He was previously assaulted on a Medellin street in August.  

28 October – Social organisations reported that for at least two weeks security forces had been repressing peasant farmers in Anorí, Antioquia. Local communities were protesting against the army’s forced eradication of coca plantations, a procedure which undermines the 2016 peace agreement’s focus on community-led substitution programmes. Police were firing over the heads of protesters, with reports that a number of peasant farmers had been injured in the preceding days. Social organisations called for the terms of the peace agreement to be upheld and farmers supported to remove illegal crops.

28 October – Agents in the ESMAD riot police unit violently assaulted two boys aged 14 and 16 in the Usme district of Bogota. The assaults took place while the ESMAD was repressing peaceful protests over poor social conditions and the absence of any significant response by authorities. The mother of the 16-year-old, who was named as Haiber Hernández, said police shot her son in the face with a teargas cannister even though he was not involved in the protests. Social media footage also showed ESMAD agents shooting 14-year-old Jeison Castro with a munition at close range as he was walking away from them without posing a danger. He required hospital treatment following the attack.

30 October – African-Colombian community activist Edinson Valenzuela Cuama was murdered in Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca. He coordinated community-focused sports and cultural initiatives. Intruders shot him several times in his home. He is the 146th social activist killed in 2021.

31 October – Fighting between security forces and members of an armed group forced several families to abandon their homes in Argelia, Cauca. At least seven people were injured, including a 13-year-old boy, while landmines and gunfire presenting a serious risk to local communities. The Mission to Support the Peace Process (MAPP), a branch of the Organization of American States, ‘expressed deep concern’ over the impact of fighting on civilians in the zone.