Colombia human rights update September 2023

Despite advances in the Petro government’s Total Peace dialogues with armed groups, violence continued to impact many parts of Colombia, with communities historically impacted by conflict and inequality most affected. Human rights groups, however, reported a fall of up to 22 per cent in killings of social activists in 2023 compared with last year. Nevertheless, the insecurity crisis claimed the lives of a number of trade unionists, peasant leaders, indigenous activists and former guerrillas in the peace process.

Here is JFC’s monthly update on the human rights crisis for September 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 September – Social activist Juan Valencia Hinestrosa was murdered in Medellín, Colombia’s second largest city, where he was president of the JAC community council in the district of Villatina-La Esperanza. Reports said the 65-year-old was stabbed.

5 September – Three people were killed in Cali, the 64th massacre of 2023 according to INDEPAZ. Armed assailants attacked the men outside a house in the neighbourhood of Comuneros II. Two died at the scene and the third later in hospital.

6 September – Human rights lawyer Fredy Renhals was murdered in Maicao, La Guajira. He was employed at the regional department of the National Ombudsman’s Office. He also belonged to the trade union representing human rights officials employed at the state body, SINDHEP. It followed the murder of another SINDHEP member, William Alberto Álvarez, in Córdoba on 23 August.

9 September – The president of the town council in Taminango, Nariño, was murdered while at work in offices of the state educational institution, SENA, where the council is based. Silvio Rosero Arteaga represented the Green Alliance party and was preparing to stand for re-election in upcoming elections on 29 October. INDEPAZ said he was the 120th social activist murdered in 2023.

9 September – The Nasa Indigenous Council of Valle del Cauca, whose Nasa title is NasaWe’xs Dxi’j, which represents 25 indigenous communities in Cali, Florida and Pradera, issued a warning over ‘the social, cultural and political impacts due to intensification of the armed conflict in recent months’ in the department, where multiple armed groups are present. The statement said that the Council would be organising a Minga mobilisation to Bogota to highlight the threats faced by indigenous communities and to contribute to the government’s Total Peace policy.

12 September – Teacher trade unionist Steven Chalarca was murdered in Yolombó, Antioquia. He worked at the Guillermo Aguilar Institute and was a member of the Antioquia Institute of Educators (ADIDA). Armed assailants attacked him at his workplace.

13 September – Oxfam Colombia condemned threats against rural leader Marylen Serna and her family. Marylen belongs to human rights organisation the Movement of Women for life, based in Cajibío, Cauca. The NGO said that on 9 September Maryen received a phone call pertaining to be from an armed group which ordered her to provide assistance to the group’s operations, which would involve them taking her to another region. When she refused, the caller said the group knew her address and threatened to murder a family member, attack the home with explosives and kill the family’s livestock. Oxfam called for an investigation and for security guarantees for women activists.

14 September – In a statement, the Awá indigenous community of Telembi, located in Ricaurte, Nariño, warned of a major case of forced confinement due to fighting between rival armed groups. Several residents had been forced to seek shelter in a local college, while the armed groups had laid landmines in the vicinity. The victims had little food, security, medicines or communications equipment. The community urged the government to intervene and provide relief to those impacted.

14 September – Around 1,400 indigenous people were forced to leave their homes because of fighting between rival armed groups in Samaniego and Santacruz, Nariño. Reports said the respective groups had entered the zone on 13 September. One day earlier, the Nariño governor, Jhon Rojas, had denounced death threats reportedly made against the mayors of Samaniego and Los Andes.

15 September – At around 11pm, members of an armed group arrived at the home of indigenous leader Adelmo Valencia Medina in the ancestral territory of Munchique los Tigres, department of Cauca. They proceeded to break down the door, throw threatening pamphlets into the home and direct insults and threats towards Adelmo, his wife and two children. They also fired shots as they left.

17 September – Former FARC guerrilla Alexis Jainer Portela was killed in Campoalegre, Huila. According to INDEPAZ, he is the 29th former guerrilla killed in 2023 and the 385th since the peace agreement was signed in November 2016.

17 September – Political candidate William Fory was murdered in Guachené, Cauca, where he was standing for the Radical Change party in the 29 October local elections.

17 September – Indigenous activist José Arley Cruz Chocue was killed while travelling by motorbike in Miranda, Cauca. The 30-year-old was a traditional authority in the Kwe’sx Yu Kiwe reservation, located in Florida in the neighbouring department of Valle del Cauca. He was also enrolled at the Autonomous Indigenous and Intercultural University (UAIN).

17 September – Environmental defender Pedro Juan Acosta Zabaleta was killed inside his home in Majagual, Sucre. He had publicly denounced a lack of ecological refuse facilities in the zone and was a member of the progressive Colombia Humana movement which supports the Petro government.

18 September – Three young people aged between 17 and 20 were murdered and their bodies left in public in Mocoa, Putumayo.  

18 September – African-Colombian human rights defender Héctor Enrique Rodríguez was murdered in Bogota. Based in the Usaquén district, he campaigned against racism and discrimination impacting young people of African-Colombian heritage in the capital. He was attacked outside a public establishment, with two women also injured in the incident.

18 September – At least 24 Siona indigenous families, totalling over 160 people, were displaced from their homes in Buenavista, a reservation in the southern department of Putumayo. On 15 September, fighting between armed groups had begun to encroach on the community, leading them to abandon the zone three days later. Human rights defenders warned that armed groups were attempting to forcibly recruit minors and young adults into their ranks. A curfew had also been imposed on residents.

18 September – Political candidate Norberto Marín García died of his injuries two days after being attacked in Santa Rosa del Sur, Bolívar, where he was running for the New Democratic Force party in upcoming local elections. The 56-year-old was attacked outside the shop where he worked.

19 September – The 66th massacre of 2023 claimed the lives of two women and two men in San Martín, Meta.

20 September – A car bomb detonated in Timba, Cauca, killing two people, including teacher trade unionist Luz Stella Balanta Solis who happened to be passing by. In a statement, the FECODE teacher federation condemned the attack and expressed condolences to the José María Córdoba Educational Institution in Valle del Cauca, where Luz Stella was a popular member of staff. It called on armed groups to avoid actions that violently impacted education workers and reiterated its support for Total Peace initiatives. Luz Stella was a member of the SUTEV union which is affiliated to FECODE.

22 September – A car bomb exploded in Jamundí, Valle del Cauca. There were no reports of fatalities or injuries.

22 September – 34 families were displaced by violence in Briceño, Antioquia. Around 80 people, including 24 children, were affected. Half the families were sheltering in the urban area of nearby Valdivia, with the remainder gathered on a nearby farm. Several armed groups are competing for territorial control in the region.

22 September – Former FARC guerrilla Benicio Beltrán Borja was killed in Segovia, Antioquia, the 386th such murder since the peace agreement. Reports said the AGC paramilitary group was behind the attack.

26 September – Another former FARC member in the peace process was murdered, this time in Dabeiba, Antioquia. Juan Diego García Sucerquía was based at the ETCR reincorporation zone Román Ruiz in Santa Lucía. He worked as a bodyguard affiliated to the state-run National Protection Unit.

26 September – The Office of the High Commissioner for Peace condemned recent incursions by armed groups into Kankuamo indigenous reservations in the Sierra Nevada region of northern Colombia. Community leader Jesús Manuel Arias had been injured during the incident.

28 September – Three men were killed in an attack in Balboa, Cauca, and their bodies left in a vehicle on a rural road.

28 September – A lawyer and former town councillor, Duvalier Cifuentes, 62 years old, was murdered in Caloto, Cauca, where he had served on the council during different periods. His son is running for mayor in the upcoming local elections.

28 September – Former FARC guerrilla Jairo Alexander Toroca was murdered in Tame, Arauca. He was based at the Filipinas reincorporation zone, which a JFC delegation visited five years ago.

28 September – Three people, two of whom were brothers, were shot dead in Valledupar, Cesar. Two bodies were found on the banks of the River Guatapurí, with the third discovered nearby. The victims were named as Ronald Javier Martínez, Luis David Martínez and Jaime Alberto Gutiérrez.

28 September – Social activist Omar Hernández Simanca was murdered in Planeta Rica, Córdoba. Based in the department of Chocó, where he campaigned on environmental issues and the rights of victims, the 32-year-old had gone to Córdoba for a supposed job opportunity.

29 September – Musician and human rights activist Tirso Duarte was killed in Tumaco, Nariño, where he promoted African-Colombian culture. He was known artistically as ‘La Perla del Pacífico’ (The Pearl of the Pacific).