UN says 33 massacres committed in 2020, as latest attacks kill 16 young people

The horrifying violence that continues to escalate in Colombia has seen yet more young lives cut short, with 16 people killed in two separate attacks during a six-day period. The eldest victim was 27 and the youngest just 12. Colombia is firmly on course for its most violent year since the signing of the 2016 peace agreement as, according to human rights organisations, more than 160 social activists have already been murdered in 2020.

During the evening of Saturday 15 August, gunmen attacked a group of young people who had gathered in the Samaniego zone, killing eight. Armed men reportedly entered a property where the victims had gathered and fired indiscriminately against everybody inside. The attackers subsequently murdered an 18-year-old woman at a nearby location. The victims in the initial attack – seven men and one woman – were named as Byron Patiño, Andrés Obando, Rubén Ibarra, Laura Melo Riscos, Daniel Vargas, Campo Elías Benevides, Jhon Sebastián Quintero and Brayan Alexis Cuarán. All the victims were aged between 27 and 17, while several were students. 

On 11 August, five African-Colombian teenagers were tortured and murdered in the Llano Verde neighbourhood of Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city. Juan Manuel Montaño, Jean Paul Perlaza, Álvaro José Caicedo, Jair Andrés Cortes and Leyder Cárdenas Hurtado, who were all aged between 14 and 16, were found dead in a sugar cane plantation after they reportedly had gone to fly kites. Their families are recipients of programmes to rehouse residents who had been forcibly displaced by violence from the Pacific region. Residents of Llano Verde have repeatedly warned authorities about the presence of paramilitary groups.

In addition to the two massacres, on 9 August, two school students were murdered in the Leiva zone of Nariño. Paramilitaries are believed to have killed Cristian Caicedo, who was 12 years old, and Maicol Ibarra, 17, after they had gone to their college to submit homework. It is unclear why they were targeted.

Owing to its strategic importance for drugs trafficking and other illegal activities, several paramilitary and other armed groups are present in Nariño, which borders Ecuador and opens onto the Pacific Ocean. Along with the departments of Cauca and Antioquia, Nariño has been among the regions worst affected by human rights violations since the signing of the peace agreement. Failures to sufficiently implement the agreement have been cited as a major factor in the expansion of armed groups in these regions.

In a statement condemning the attack in Samaniego, the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia said that it had documented 33 massacres (classified as an attack in which at least three people are killed) committed in Colombia in 2020. The statement said:

‘These violent acts have serious humanitarian impacts in territories where there is a presence of illegal armed groups and other organisations that generate violence, illegal economies and poverty and are characterised by a limited state presence. Therefore, it is crucial to advance and expand comprehensive implementation of the peace agreement, particularly around guarantees of security which provides mechanisms and instruments of prevention, protection and security.’

While the peace agreement addresses the need to secure regions historically affected by the presence of paramilitary groups and a weak state presence, the UN has called on the government to convene more regularly the National Commission on Security Guarantees, which is responsible for tackling the violent groups that have proliferated across much of the country.