Colombia: Human rights, peace is bleeding dry

Thanks to the peace agreement, the FARC-EP left the territories, but the Duque Government’s inability to fight the new forms of paramilitarism and criminal gangs has allowed illegal armed actors to take over the territories abandoned by the FARC. This has led to continued human rights violations such as forced disappearances, forced displacements, massacres, sexual assaults and the confinement of communities.

Colombia remains the most dangerous country in the world for social leaders and has the highest number of homicides of social leaders.

Since the signing of the Peace Agreement in 2016 until July 15, 2020, 971 social leaders and human rights defenders have been murdered, and 211 former FARC-EP fighters EP. Five hundred and seventy-three of these murders of leaders and human rights defenders happened since the President Duque’s inauguration in August 2018.

Curiously, Colombia’s serious humanitarian situation has worsened in 2020, as 36 former FARC-EP fighters and 166 social leaders and/or human rights defenders have been murdered. Eighty-two of these murders occurred since the March 23 national lockdown decree (due to the Covid-19 pandemic)1.

Disputes over land and resources are causing this violence, which is worsening in the post-conflict period and generating increased forced displacements and the criminalization of social dissent. The Office of the Attorney General reports that homicides against people involved in land restitution processes have tripled between 2015 and 2017, and have gradually increased, particularly since the signing of the Peace Agreement in 2016. For example, 681 of the 971 murders of leaders and human rights defenders that have occurred since the signing of the agreement involved peasant, indigenous, Afro-descendant, environmental and community leaders and members. Thus, 70.13% of the homicides occurred in agrarian conflicts over land, territory and natural resources.

Ten per cent of all the murders of social leaders were of people involved in the PNIS (Comprehensive National Program for the Replacement of Illicit Crops) or cases of abuse in the context of forced eradication operations carried out by security forces.

The Duque government cares little about this shameful reality and sometimes even dares to deny this violence against all who demand their rights and the members of their communities. On several occasions, government officials have publicly denied the systematic nature of the murders of social leaders, claiming that “the leaders of illicit crop substitution haven’t been assassinated”2 or “more people die for cell phone theft than for acting as human rights defenders.”3 Such statements reveal the measures institutions are taking to address the situation.

In a July 20 speech, President Duque said that his administration had reduced the number of deaths of social leaders by 35% compared with the previous one. However, the records of Indepaz show that the deaths of leaders had increased by 30.5% under the Duque administration compared to the same period of the Santos administration.

Peasant, indigenous and Afro-descendent community members and people participating in reintegration processes are the main victims of the armed conflict that refuses to end. Forced displacements continue in Colombia’s countryside: in the first three months of 2020, over 10,000 people were displaced.

The situation has become so serious that on July 15, for the first time, an entire ETCR (Territorial Training and Reintegration Area) was relocated. The government relocated the 93 people (including former combatants and members of the community) living in the Ituango ETCR to Mutatá in Urabá due to the difficult security conditions in the area, where violence is intensifying. The so-called “Operación mil” has created fear. It’s a plan of paramilitary groups to bring to Ituango a thousand armed men from other departments of the country to take control of the area and move drugs through it to the Gulf of Urabá.

Illegal armed groups are moving gradually closer to the ETCRs (Territorial Training and Reintegration Areas), creating insecurity that has caused displacements in recent months in the ETCRs of Buenos Aires (Cauca), Ituango (Antioquia), Puerto Asís (Putumayo) and Mesetas (Meta).

Only 43 of the 140 former FARC fighters that settled in the Buenos Aires (Cauca) ETCR remain. The others moved following the numerous threats in the area and, the situation is so dire that the ARN (Reintegration and Normalization Agency) withdrew its officials from the area and neither the ex-guerrilla bodyguards nor the UN Mission can enter the area.

Two murders also ocurred in the Mesetas (Meta) ETCR. In this territory, WhatsApp messages against former fighters are circulating, demanding they align with the dissidents. In the same department, a former fighter was compelled to ask the State to protect him from members of the army. In January, soldiers dressed as civilians riding on a motorcycle tried to stop him then chased him until he was forced to abandon his motorcycle and hide in the bush. After obtaining no response to his complaints from the police, the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the National Protection Unit, the former fighter requested effective State protection measures from the Judiciary.

On July 16, in Huila, ten men murdered the sister-in-law of Nencer Barrera, a former fighter, in front of her youngest daughter, then killed three other youths in the area. The next day, Nencer himself had to go to the crime scene to rescue his family and friends who were locked down, since neither the Ombudsman nor the police answered the FARC party spokespersons’ calls to get them out.

Displacements have been recorded in six of the country’s departments, although many others haven’t been recorded. At the beginning of June, as the Ituango ETCR was being displaced, other displacements were happening the El Diamante NAR (New Reintegration Area), also in the department of Meta, due to threats from armed groups. Likewise, in November 2019, an explosive device was thrown against the Miranda (Cauca) ETCR and, at the beginning of June 2020, armed groups threatened it and demanded that it sever all ties with the returnees.

The Duque government’s actions to address this reality have been insufficient and oblivious to the violence suffered by the communities. On July 7, the ELN proposed a bilateral 90-day ceasefire, in response to the United Nations Security Council’s call to cease hostilities during the pandemic. President Duque rejected this offer in a message published on Twitter.4

There is great concern about the situation in Colombia. Violence continues to afflict rural Colombia, affecting thousands of men, women and children who continue to be victims of forced displacements, lockdowns, forced disappearances, murders, torture and sexual violence. This situation is recreated under President Duque’s watch who refuses to act in the face of reality, persists in using force to impose his policies, is allowing the dispossession of small farmers and distorts the spirit of the agreement designed to end Latin America’s oldest armed conflict.

1 Instituto de estudios para el desarrollo y la paz -INDEPAZ, (2020) Informe Especial Registro de líderes y personas defensoras de DDHH asesinadas desde la firma del acuerdo de paz Del 24/11/2016 al 15/07/2020 [Special Report on the assassination of leaders and human rights defenders since the signing of the peace Agreement From November 24, 2016, to July 15, 2020]

2 Instituto de estudios para el desarrollo y la paz -INDEPAZ, (2020) Informe Especial Registro de líderes y personas defensoras de DDHH asesinadas desde la firma del acuerdo de paz Del 24/11/2016 al 15/07/2020 [Special Report on the assassination of leaders and human rights defenders since the signing of the peace Agreement From November 24, 2016, to July 15, 2020]

3 El Espectador (March 3, 2020) “Aquí mueren más personas por robo de celulares que por ser defensores de DD.HH.” [“More victims of cell phone robbery die in our country than human rights defenders.”]

4 Semana (July 7, 2020) Gobierno dice no a la propuesta del ELN para cese al fuego bilateral. [The Government rejects the ELN’s bilateral ceasefire offer]:–noticias-colombia/684869