Colombia human rights update July 2023

July was one of the most violent months since last year’s election of the Historic Pact government of President Gustavo Petro and Vice President Francia Márquez, which has taken important measures to advance peace and human rights. However, the scale of ongoing conflict in several regions demonstrates the immense challenges of improving security, particularly in rural zones affected by historic state neglect.

Here are some figures for the month: eight indigenous activists were murdered in isolated attacks, while others were killed in massacres. Most of these killings came in north Cauca or in the Barbacoas and Ricaurte zone of Nariño. At least seven community leaders were also killed. Five former FARC guerrillas in the peace process were murdered. There were six massacres registered, as Colombia remains on course to surpass last year’s figure. Other people, including an LGBTQ activist, a political candidate and a victims representative were also murdered.

According to the INDEPAZ human rights NGO, Colombia also reached the horrific milestone of 1,500 social activists murdered since the peace agreement was signed in November 2016. 380 former guerrillas have also been killed in that time.

Here is JFC’s monthly update on the human rights crisis for July 2023.

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. 

2 July – Armed assailants opened fire on a vehicle transporting church officials who had just left a local celebration in Caldono, Cauca, gravely injuring deacon Fredy Muñoz and Deiver Bototo, both of whom belonged to the parish San Lorenzo de Caldono. A statement released by the indigenous human rights organisation Ukawe’Sx Tama Kiwe said that the attackers struck the vehicle with 36 shots. It also called on the government to respond urgently to conflict in the zone. The injured were taken to hospital in the departmental capital Popayan.

3 July – The 51st massacre of 2023, just over halfway through the year, was carried out in Corinto, Cauca, which neighbours the zone of Caldono where church officials were attacked one day earlier. The victims were killed after armed assailants intercepted their vehicle. Several armed groups are active in Cauca, statistically the most violent region of Colombia. The first six months of the year saw 17 social activists killed there, according to recent findings by the National Ombudsman.

3 July – On the same day as three people were killed in Cauca, another massacre claimed the lives of three members of the same family in Soacha, Cundinamarca. They were attacked inside a public establishment. Several zones in and around Bogota, including Soacha, are subject to Ombudsman alerts over the presence of armed groups and local criminal networks.

4 July – Indigenous activist Albán Mestizo Yosando was murdered in Caloto, Cauca, the latest violent act in the department’s northern zone. He was a legal representative for the Avelino Ul Indigenous Association. Reports said he had requested security measures from the National Protection Unit, the state body responsible for security for at-risk individuals and organisations, but seemingly these had not been granted.

4 July – The day’s second killing of a Cauca-based activist took place in the Toribío zone, where armed assailants murdered José Hernán Tenorio Mestizo at around 8pm. Like Albán Mestizo Yosando, also murdered that day, José belonged to the Avelino Ul Indigenous Association. A youth worker and activist, he was also a member of the Juventud Rebelde Cauca (Rebel Youth Cauca).

4 July – Community leader Cesar Tapias was killed in Ituango, Antioquia. He oversaw the labour committee for the JAC community council in the district of Quebrada del Medio. JAC councillors have faced high levels of violence over their social roles and their opposition to armed groups operating in their territories. Several paramilitary groups are active in the zone, which is strategically important to drugs trafficking and other illegal activities.

4 July – Former FARC guerrilla Miller Laud Jiménez Rada was murdered in Rovira, Tolima. According to INDEPAZ, he is the 376th former guerrilla in the peace process to be killed since the agreement was signed in November 2016, and the 20th so far this year. He was socialising with friends when armed assailants on motorcycles opened fire at the group.

5 July – According to INDEPAZ, the horrifying figure of 1,500 social activists murdered since the peace agreement was reached in Ituango, Antioquia. The victim, Ludis Esther García Jaramillo, belonged to the JAC community council in El Capote de la Granja. Her killing came one day after another JAC councillor, Cesar Tapias, was also murdered in Antioquia.

5 July – Volunteer firefighter Helmer Luligo Restrepo was murdered in Jamundí, Valle del Cauca, where he was highly regarded for his community social role. His attackers, who were riding a motorbike, shot him in a rural zone at around 7.40pm.

5 July – Indigenous leader and guard Jhonis Orfelio García was murdered in Ricaurte, Nariño. He was former governor of the El Palmar reservation in Ricaurte, where his brother is the current governor.

6 July – Social activist Hever Gamboa was murdered in Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca. He was a senior member of the Nonam Dur council which represents African-Colombia, indigenous and peasant communities and is part of the Construction of Peace in Colombia (CONZPAZCOL) network. Hever is the eighth social activist or former guerrilla killed across three extremely violent days.

8 July – Former FARC guerrilla Rigoberto Mendoza was murdered in Puerto Rico, Caquetá. He was based at the reincorporation zone Oscar Mondragón for former guerrillas in San Vicente del Caguán. Authorities have warned that former guerrillas in the Puerto Rico zone are at particular risk of attack from armed groups active there. He was also JAC council president for the Bajo Londres district.

10 July – Armed assailants opened fire at a vehicle transporting Adolfo Garcearán, governor of the Yukpa indigenous reservation in Becerril, Cesar. Adolfo, an adviser and his bodyguards were unhurt.

10 July – The week’s third killing of a former FARC guerrilla was carried out in Toribío, Cauca. Alex David Ul Rivera was based at the Dagoberto Ortiz reincorporation zone in nearby Miranda. INDEPAZ said he was the 378th former guerrilla killed since the peace agreement.

11 July – Human rights groups reported that armed assailants had killed two peasant farmers at a rural school located between Toledo and San Andrés de Querquia, Antioquia.

11 July – More than 9,000 residents of indigenous and African-Colombian communities were either forcibly confined or had been forcibly displaced by fighting between armed groups in Chocó. A statement from the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace called on the AGC paramilitary group and the ELN guerrilla movement to immediately allow free movement and the delivery of aid to those in urgent need. According to the statement, on 10 July, the ELN enacted a humanitarian corridor to provide food and medical attention for affected people, which saw 20 small boats enter the zone. However, gunfire forced the boats to turn back, depriving the intended recipients of urgently needed provisions. One boat, belonging to authorities in the Istmina zone, was commandeered.

11 July – The United Nations’ human rights office in Colombia denounced the disappearance of 17-year-old José Luciano Mora Cáceres one week earlier. ‘We demand his immediate liberation safe and sound,’ tweeted the UN office.

11 July – Three young people were killed in an attack in San Andrés de Cuerquía, Antioquia. There have been reports of fighting between paramilitary and dissident groups, with authorities warning that ‘the imposition of rules and other forms of social control by armed groups signifies a permanent risk of violations against the rights of the population.’

13 July – A 13-year-old boy was abducted with the intention of forcibly recruiting him into an armed group, reported the Association of Indigenous Councils of North Cauca (ACIN). The boy lived at the Paéz reservation in Corinto. He reportedly left his home at 7am to attend school and was seen around two hours later in the presence of armed group members. It is the latest in a wave of abuses impacting indigenous communities in north Cauca.

13 July – An indigenous youth identified as Alex Germán García Guanga was murdered in Ricaurte, Nariño, where he belonged to the indigenous guard at the Palmar Imbi reservation. Alex was abducted at around 9am before being killed at around 4.40pm. In the wake of high levels of violence in Nariño, particularly targeting indigenous communities, authorities have issued alerts over the situation.

13 July – LGBTQ activist Franklin Pabón Camacho was murdered in Malambo, Atlántico. Franklin identified as non-binary and worked at the Malambo municipal council overseeing LGBTQ relations. Franklin was also a member of the Territorial Council for Peace, Reconciliation and Coexistence. Franklin was attacked in the street near their home, receiving several gunshots. Franklin had received threatening pamphlets in 2022, which were followed by telephoned threats this year. The Caribbean region, where Atlántico is located, has seen a shocking rise in killings of LGBTQ people in the past five years. The Caribe Afirmativo human rights organisation reports that Franklin is the eighth LGBTQ person killed in Atlántico in 2023.

13 July – Armed assailants intercepted and threatened an indigenous governor, Mauricio Quecán, in Chía, Cundinamarca, as he was returning to his home in the Muysca de Fonquetá reservation. According to a statement from the community’s Governor Council, the attackers brandished a gun and a knife at Mauricio while warning him to resign his position.

14 July – Community leader Salomón Durán was killed close to the border between Arauca and the Venezuelan state of Apure. He was abducted while crossing the Arauca River and subsequently killed. Arauca has been extremely volatile since last year, with multiple armed groups fighting over local illegal economies and the strategic importance of proximity to the border.

14 July – An indigenous human rights organisation, Gobierno Mayor, warned of the escalating humanitarian crisis impacting indigenous communities in the zones of Alto and Bajo Baudó, Chocó. Fighting between rival armed groups had left local communities at extreme risk in multiple ways: armed groups had accused residents of collaborating with their enemies; landmines had caused deaths and permanent injuries; so-called ‘armed strikes’, in which armed groups impose a state of absolute control on communities, restricting their movement and access to food, healthcare and work; forced recruitment of young people into the ranks of armed groups; contamination of water sources due to chemicals used in fishing and illegal mining; and abduction and torture of community members. The Gobierno Mayor declaration called on international, national and regional authorities to take immediate action to alleviate the crisis.

14 July – Armed assailants abducted Wilmer Andrés Campo Hoyos, whose father is mayor in the Rosas municipality in Cauca, as he was carrying out agricultural labour in the nearby zone of La Florida.

15 July – Armed assailants killed three people inside a bar in Buga, Valle del Cauca, the 54th massacre of 2023. The victims were named as Héctor Ubeimar Narváez Sánchez, Teófilo Alfonso Enríquez and Wilson Herney Luna.

20 July – Armed assailants abducted and killed three men in the Venezuelan city of Ureña, before transporting their bodies across the border and dumping them in separate locations around Cucutá, Norte de Santander. The victims were named as Juan Gabriel Duarte, Jimmy Geovany Vargas and Robinson Mora.

21 July – Former FARC guerrilla Alberto Quintero was murdered in Algeciras, Huila, where he was former JAC community council president in the district of Las Palmas. He also sat on the regional committee for former guerrillas in the reincorporation process. INDEPAZ reported the incident as the 23rd killing of a former FARC member this year, and the 379th since the peace agreement was signed in November 2016.

22 July – Community leader Ilder Díaz was killed in Policarpa, Nariño, where he was running as a council candidate for October’s elections. He also campaigned for the rights of conflict victims.

23 July – Nasa indigenous leader Tiberio Chepe Zeti was murdered in Florida, Valle del Cauca. He practiced traditional medicine and healthcare in the Kwe’sx Yu Kiwe territory.

24 July – Yet another indigenous activist, Yesid Pechené Musicué, was killed in north Cauca. Armed assailants attacked him in the Toribío zone. Yesid worked in Nasa development projects and belonged to the indigenous guard. He is the 95th activist murdered in 2023, according to INDEPAZ.

24 July – Social activist Carlos Mario Roldán Díaz was murdered in Segovia, Antioquia. He had been a coordinator at a humanitarian refuge for victims of forced displacement caused by combat between rival armed groups. He was attacked while with the JAC community council president in the Arenales district. Several armed groups are active in the area.

25 July – Wayuu indigenous leader Benito Segundo Castillo Gutiérrez was murdered in Maicao, La Guajira. The 65-year-old was current president of a transport cooperative in Upper Guajira and president of the AYATAWACOOP cooperative. One other person was injured in the attack.

26 July – Another indigenous leader was killed in north Cauca. Fredy Bomba Campo was attacked in Santander de Quilichao. He was president of the MAIS political party in nearby Caldono and a former advisor for the Sa’th Tama Kiwe community. Even though he had been assigned bodyguards, armed assailants entered his home and killed him during a family event.

29 July – Former FARC guerrilla Brayan Estiven Charrupi Carabali was murdered in Santander del Quilichao, Cauca, the same municipality where Fredy Bomba Campo was killed three days earlier. His body was found by a roadside. Brayan worked in agricultural projects while taking part in the reincorporation process. INDEPAZ said he was the 380th former guerrilla murdered since entering the peace process.

30 July – Further violence inflicted on Awá indigenous communities in Nariño claimed three lives in the 56th massacre of 2023. Armed assailants abducted two brothers, 17-year-old Rodrigo Luciano Pai Nastacuas and 21-year-old Marco Tulio Pai Nastacuas, from their home in Barbacoas as family members were unable to prevent them being taken away. Their bodies were found later that day along with that of Andrés Camilo Nastacuas, also 17. The three murdered youngsters were members of the Saunde Guiguay community. Subsequently, the attackers attempted to enter the home of a local community leader but were blocked by members of the indigenous guard. The two murdered brothers were involved in community activism using sport to tackle the ongoing practice of forced recruitment of young indigenous people by armed groups. Several armed groups are active in the zone, which is strategically important for drugs trafficking and other illegal activities due to its proximity to the border with Ecuador and the Pacific coast. The UNIPA indigenous organisation called on the government to establish a stronger presence in the zone.