Colombia human rights update October 2022

Many regions of Colombia are still experiencing high levels of violence against social activists.

The INDEPAZ human rights NGO registered 20 activists murdered just this month, taking the number of killings in 2022 to 154. This year has also seen a rise in massacres (attacks in which at least three people are killed), with 87 committed by the end of October. Among those targeted were political activists, journalists, community leaders and trade unionists.

Ongoing conflict between rival armed groups and targeted attacks on activists is having a devastating impact on communities, particularly in zones historically blighted by state abandonment and inequality. Although the new government is acting swiftly on United Nations recommendations to advance implementation of the 2016 peace agreement, aligned with a policy of promoting dialogue with armed actors, addressing violence on such a high scale is extremely difficult.

Here is an overview of human rights abuses committed in October 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 October – Armed assailants killed Natanael Díaz Iriarte, a social activist and aspiring political candidate, in Magangué, department of Bolívar. Natanael had stood for the progressive ADA party, which forms part of the governing Historic Pact coalition, in local elections in Magangué earlier this year. Two men reportedly attacked him while he was riding his motorbike through the town. Authorities have issued alerts over threats presented by different armed groups which are active in southern Bolívar. Natanael is the 134th activist murdered in Colombia in 2022, according to INDEPAZ.

2 October – Political activist Juan Gabriel Rueda was murdered in Salagar, Antioquia. During the recent presidential electoral season, he had coordinated the Historic Pact’s campaign in the town where he was killed. He had reported receiving threats related to his campaign work. A number of activists connected to the Historic Pact have been killed before and after Gustavo Petro’s election win.

3 October – The 82nd massacre of 2022 was committed in Soledad in the northern region of Atlántico. Three young men were killed in the Villa Katanga neighbourhood. Armed assailants on a motorbike attacked them outside a home. Two of the victims were identified as Breiner Cervantes and José Domínguez. It is the 82nd massacre of 2022. Several paramilitary groups are active in the region where the massacre took place.

4 October – Five people were killed in another massacre, which was carried out in Cali’s Brisa de Mayo neighbourhood. A group of seven people were attacked, with four dying initially and a fifth later in hospital.

5 October – Journalist Erick Niño was unhurt in an attack in Puerto Wilches, Santander, when gunshots were fired at the office of local outlet La Popular. He had previously received threats.

5 October – Death threats in a letter containing a bullet were sent to peace activists Javier Claro and Andrés Pérez in Aguachica, department of César.

6 October – A town councillor, Carlos Julio Silva Borja, was murdered in Remolino, department of Magdalena. In 2019, he had been elected for the Social Independent Alliance (ASI) party, which in the recent presidential elections backed centrist candidate Sergio Fajardo. He was attacked while riding his motorbike in the area. 

6 October – Community activist Edinson Murillo Ararat was murdered in Santander de Quilichao, Cauca. He was a member of the Cimarrona Guard, a self-protection group created to provide security for African-Colombian communities.

8 October – Two trade unionists in the FENSUAGRO agricultural workers’ union were killed in Puerto Leguízamo, Putumayo. Reports said that armed assailants forced Ferney Morales and Rigo Alape out of a community meeting before killing them. Ferney and Rigo belonged to the FENSUAGRO agricultural trade union and the regional ASTRACAM peasant farmers’ association. They were also founding members of the Patriotic March political organisation in Putumayo, while Ferney was president of the community council for the district of El Diamante and Rigo a community council member for neighbouring Vereda Esmeralda. FENSUAGRO has a longstanding partnership with Unite the Union through the international trade union organisation Workers Uniting. It is the most violently targeted trade union in Colombia, with close to 40 members killed since the 2016 peace agreement and more than 700 affiliates killed or disappeared since its foundation in the mid-1970s.

8 October – Three people were killed in a massacre in La Ceila, Risaralda. The attack took place when armed assailants boarded a bus travelling from El Aguila in Valle del Cauca to the city of Pereira and attacked a group of passengers.

9 October – Former FARC guerrilla Héctor Agudelo Rivera was killed in Tumaco, Nariño, where he was taking part in the reincorporation process. Héctor, who was of indigenous heritage, is the 341st former FARC guerrilla murdered since entering the peace process in late 2016, with 35 of the deaths coming in 2022.

9 October – Indigenous leader and activist Gerardo Pai Nastacuas died after stepping on a landmine in Tumaco, Nariño, on the same day as former FARC guerrilla Héctor Agudelo Rivera was killed nearby. 61-year-old Gerardo was a traditional elder who conducted ceremonies and campaigned to preserve Áwa indigenous culture.

10 October – Human rights defenders warned that close to 10,000 people had spent the past four days confined to their homes, unable to access essential goods and services, due to fighting between armed groups in El Bagre, Antioquia.

12 October – African-Colombia social activist Silvio Landazury Castillo was murdered in Mocoa, Putumayo, where he was a community council member for the district of Villa Nueva.

14 October – Embera indigenous community leader Álvaro Bailarín Sapia was murdered in Urrao, Antioquia. After he had been shot in the head and chest, his family took him to a local hospital where he died soon afterwards. For the last eight years, he had been governor for the Embera community based in the Valle de Pérdidas reservation.

16 October – A well-known community journalist, Rafael Moreno, was killed in Montelíbano, Córdoba. As well as a certified lawyer, he was director of the Voces de Córdoba media outlet. Having been designated a security detail over past threats, this had been withdrawn several months earlier, leaving him vulnerable to attack. Less than a month prior to his murder, Rafael had tweeted about the lack of security he was facing.

18 October – In the city of Villavicencio, department of Meta, armed assailants opened fire at the home of former FARC guerrilla Luz Marina Giraldo, who was unhurt in the attack. She had stood in this year’s elections for the Comunes political party in the district of Mesetas.

18 October – Three people were found dead with gunshot wounds in San Onofre, department of Sucre. The victims were identified as Andrés Felipe Herrera Pérez, Cristian Eduardo Arrieta Ávila and Yoiner Andrés Pérez Torres.

21 October – Social activist Gildardo Alonso Rios was murdered in Fortul, Arauca, where he was vice-president of the community council for the district of La Primavera. His body was discovered with gunshot wounds close to the road linking Fortul with the town of Tame.

22 October – Married couple Sócrates Sevillano and Cielo Ruales were killed in Orito, Putumayo. Sócrates was former community council president for the district of Mirador Pepino. They were attacked at their home in the same area.

22 October – Social activist Ricardo Antonio Valderrama was murdered in Ituango, Antioquia, a zone which has seen very high levels of violence in recent years. He was a community council member in the district of El Bosque. Armed men had abducted him several days earlier. His body was found with signs of torture.

22 October – Teacher José Libardo Samboni Vargas was found dead in El Doncello, Cáqueta. His body was discovered bound and with a bullet wound close to his home in El Doncello, where he worked at the Rufino Quichoya education institute. His family had reported him missing the previous day. He was married with four children.

24 October – Following the murder of José Libardo Samboni Vargas, the FECODE teachers federation issued a warning over aggression towards other teachers in El Doncello, where José lived, worked and was killed. One of those threatened was Wilfredo Parra Cardozo, a colleague of José at the Rufino Quichoya education institute. FECODE also condemned an attack ten days earlier on teacher Lady Fernanda Hurtado Guaza. The federation called for an urgent investigation into the spate of violent acts.

25 October – Wayuu indigenous activist Yazmín Romero Epiayú was targeted with a death threat, the latest incident in a campaign of persecution towards her, going back to at least 2012, over her defence of the environment and women’s rights through the social organisation Feminist Movement of Wayuu Girls and Women (MFNMW). At around 9.35am, Yazmín received a phone call in which an anonymous speaker warned that her ‘hours are numbered.’ She has previously led community opposition to the Cerrejón coal mine, located in the northern La Guajira department and which has had a devastating impact on the regional Wayuu population. She has also denounced regional corruption which has diverted resources allocated to providing relief for indigenous communities and building infrastructure in one of Colombia’s most underdeveloped regions.

27 October – Indigenous women’s rights activist, Yeimi Chocué Camayo, was killed in Morales, Cauca. She was a community leader and treasurer for the Chimborazo reservation where she lived. The 25-year-old was attacked while returning to her house. Indigenous communities in north Cauca continue to face very high levels of violence.

27 October – African-Colombian community activist Adelmo Balanta was murdered in Santander de Quilichao, Cauca. He was campaigning for land restitution for victims of forced displacement. Along with Yermi Chocué Camayo, he is the second community leader murdered in north Cauca on the same day.

29 October – The Catatumbo Peasant Farmers’ Association (ASCAMCAT) made a public denouncement citing harassment by state security forces during a community assembly to develop programmes for illicit crop substitution, one of the core points of the 2016 peace agreement. ASCAMCAT spokesperson Juan Carlos Quintero said that helicopters had flown over the meeting and dropped pamphlets which stigmatised the more than 1,000 delegates taking part in the assembly, held in the town of Tibú. According to Quintero, this was occurring even though the event had government backing. ‘Under the government of change, the armed forces are acting as if we were in the past,’ he said.

29 October – Indigenous senator Aida Quilcué reported that armed assailants had opened fire at her vehicle as she travelled in the Puerto Valencia zone of Cauca. Quilcué has received multiple threats in recent years, having served as Senior Councillor of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) from 2003 to 2009. In 2008, soldiers shot dead her husband Edwin Legarda during a protest over indigenous rights. Last year, she won a national human rights prize and was elected to the senate in March 2022.

30 October – Two African-Colombian community leaders, Faustino Carabalí and Jonas Carabalí were killed in Ipiales, Nariño. The two men were cousins. Jonás was president of the Afro New Dawn Community Council organisation, while Faustino was a community organiser in the district of Jardines de Sucumbíos.

30 October – The former mayor of Toledo, a town in northern Antioquia, survived an assassination attempt. Armed assailants attacked Jhonny Marin before at least one of them was reportedly disarmed by social activist Leonel de Jesus Muñoz Chavarría and then arrested.

30 October – A regional activist in the Historic Pact, the governing coalition of President Gustavo Petro, was killed in San José de Toluviejo. Armed assailants attacked 50-year-old William Urueta at his home before fleeing. William had been a political organiser in the town and had campaigned over public debt. A number of Historic Pact activists have been killed before and since the presidential election in June.

30 October – Community activist Johnny Agudelo was murdered in the city of Barranquilla on Colombia’s northern coast. He was representing people facing a housing crisis who had occupied private land in the city’s Las Cayenas district. During a community meeting, an unidentified man approached and asked for Johnny. He then shot the leader and fled. Johnny died shortly afterwards in hospital. He is the fourth activist killed in Colombia on the same day, with one other surviving an assassination attempt.

31 October – Four people were killed as they returned home from a Halloween party in Piedras de Moler, Valle del Cauca, the 86th massacre of 2022. Reports said they were intercepted by armed assailants on motorbikes and attacked.

31 October – Wayuu human rights groups warned of an assassination attempt on activist Edwin Ceballos in the Mayapo zone of La Guajira.

31 October – Human rights groups issued an alert over fighting between rival armed groups that posed a serious threat to residents in the district of El Plateado in Argelia, Cauca. Reports said at least four combatants had been killed, leading to an intensification in the clashes.