Colombian trade unionists in the Memoria Viva union have received death threats, just days after two members were attacked by plain-clothes police officers. The union represents security personnel for former FARC combatants in the peace process, as well as social activists. Its members play a critical role in protecting at-risk individuals and groups as Colombia’s human rights crisis, which has claimed the lives of over 1,000 social activists and 300 former combatants, continues to impact many parts of the country. Various Memoria Viva members are themselves activists and former combatants.
On 12 February, two Memoria Viva trade unionists, Jhon Sebastián Rivas and Leonardo Agudelo Murillo, who are both former FARC combatants, came under fire from police officers in San Vicente del Caguán, department of Caquetá. CCTV footage showed the agents violently assault one of the men from behind without provocation. When Rivas and Agudelo tried to run away, at least one of the agents opened fire. The incident has increased long-running concerns about the attitudes of state agents towards activists and former combatants.
The Memoria Viva members were in the zone to provide security to another former combatant, Lucila Moreno, who was participating in a workshop organised by the Search Unit for Disappeared People, created in the peace agreement to locate the remains of victims of forced disappearance. While none of the three were hurt, a 14-year-old girl, identified as Lidia Durnely Lugo, was reportedly killed. She was with her three-month-old baby and her aunt and had been dining when she was caught in the gunfire. She was rushed to hospital but died.
Two days later, threats against Memoria Viva members were distributed in San José de Guaviare, department of Guaviare. The pamphlets purported to be from an armed group and warned members to present their accredited weapons and vehicles or be ‘declared military objectives,’ a commonly-used term in Colombia to issue threats against specific targets. The union warned that some members had been forced to leave the zone as a result.
These incidents have raised concerns not only over the safety of the trade unionists, but of the individuals they are assigned to safeguard. Colombia remains the world’s deadliest country for trade unionists, with 22 killed between March 2020 and April 2021 according to the International Trade Union Confederation.