Violence against FARC former guerrillas has intensified under national quarantine conditions imposed by the Colombian government in response to the coronavirus pandemic, a report by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), which was created in the 2016 peace agreement, has found. The alarming findings also show that paramilitary groups are exercising high levels of social control over communities, while the early months of 2020 have seen the highest levels of violence towards social activists since the peace agreement was signed in November 2016.
The JEP was set up to investigate major human rights abuses committed during the armed conflict and punish the perpetrators. The new report was published after the Unit for Investigation and Accusation, a division of the JEP, conducted research into human rights violations in JEP-priority regions since quarantine measures were implemented.
The report found that murders of FARC former guerrillas in the reincorporation process have increased in this time. Between 26 March and 3 April, six FARC former guerrillas were killed: Vivianet Velasco Talaga, Lucero Jaramillo Álvarez, Gerardo Diaz Quintero, José Isidro Cuesta Ricas, Juan Carlos Castillo Certijama and Carlos Alberto Castillo. Overall, at least 195 FARC members have been killed since the signing of the peace agreement.
Violence has also continued to impact communities in several regions. Between 25 March and 9 April, a social activist was murdered on average every 64 hours in Colombia – a total of six people – in different parts of the country. Three people were killed on 25 March, including two indigenous community leaders, brothers Ómar and Ernesto Guisurama, at their family home. Women’s rights activist Carlota Salinas Pérez was also killed in the Bolívar region. Other victims during the period were Alejandro Carvajal, a rural organiser reportedly killed by the army at his home in Norte de Santander; Hamilton Gasca, a member of the FENSUAGRO agricultural trade union, who was killedalong with two sons aged seven and ten at their home in Cauca; and Luis Soto, a former councillor in La Apartada in Cordobá.
According to the JEP report, ‘the security situation of people in a leadership role, especially those who act as spokespersons in areas prioritised for implementation of the Peace Agreement and who represent the interests of conflict victims, is a cause for extreme alert. This is not only because of the six cases observed during quarantine, but also because the temporary evolution of the phenomenon shows that the first two months of 2020 have seen the highest figures [of murders of social activists] since the signing of the agreement.’
Armed groups have continued to impose high degrees of social control on communities in regions prioritised by the JEP, such as Nariño in southwest Colombia, the border regions of Catatumbo and Arauca in the northeast and Ituango in north Antioquia. In some zones, these groups have, according to the report, exploited quarantine conditions ‘to seek to legitimise themselves with the civilian population and impose de facto authority over people’s lives’. Paramilitary groups have attempted to assume certain state functions such as administering justice, charging taxes and regulating movement. Anyone in breach of these diktats faces being deemed a ‘military objective’.
After Colombia’s last remaining guerrilla movement, the National Liberation Army (ELN), announced a unilateral ceasefire to alleviate the coronavirus response, its activity fell significantly across the country. However, confrontations between security forces and paramilitary or other armed groups rose. In parts of Chocó, one of Colombia’s poorest and most conflict-affected regions, indigenous communities have been unable to travel or work freely due to ongoing violence, exacerbating the already-precarious conditions due to the presence of multiple armed groups and the lack of a civilian state presence.