Escalating violence in Colombia

News - 2022-02-08
The year has come to a violent start in Colombia. The security situation has drastically deteriorated in several regions and so far, 13 leaders from social movements have been murdered. In Cauca, one of the worst-affected regions, three indigenous leaders have been killed. In May, Colombia holds a presidential election, and many fear that the violence will escalate as the election approaches.
In May, Colombia holds a presidential election, and many fear that the violence will escalate as the election approaches. Photo: LaPeoplePhoto/Shutterstock.com.

 

The 2016 Peace Agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla marked a formal end to one of the world's longest internal conflicts. But Colombia continues to suffer from violence and the security of the population is under threat. Estimates indicate that at least 198 municipalities are exposed to armed attacks and selective killings. 

In Colombia, standing up for your rights means risking your life. 172 human rights defenders were murdered last year. Sandra Liliana Peña Chocué, one of ForumCiv's partners working for indigenous rights, was among them. Sandra Liliana belonged to the Nasa indigenous people in Cauca. 

In Colombia, standing up for your rights means risking your life.

On the 24th of January this year, another attack was carried out on the Nasa indigenous people. The attack was connected to the expulsion of an armed force from the Nasa people’s lands, and resulted in the murder of Albeiro Camayo Güeito, a former front figure in the movement working for indigenous rights. The same armed force is likely to be responsible for the murders of two other members of the indigenous community, Breiner David Cucuñame and Guillermo Chicame. The three murders were committed in just two weeks and have triggered a state of unrest and constant preparedness among the indigenous peoples of the region. 

The situation is getting worse 

The attack on indigenous peoples in Cauca is just one of several signs that violence is on the rise in Colombia. In addition to the brutal murders, 50 people have disappeared and 170 families have been forced to leave their homes. This number is increasing. According to the UN, there were over 72,000 internally displaced people in the country last year. One person was killed and 20 were injured when a car bomb detonated outside the Joel Sierra Human Rights Foundation in Saravena, Arauca. A UN humanitarian convoy was attacked a few days ago by armed forces in Puerto Nuevo in south-eastern Colombia. Two of the cars were destroyed but no one was killed. 

The armed actors want to isolate the local communities and deprive them of protection.

This attack, which was aimed at the institutions responsible for Peace Agreement verification, indicates a serious threat to security and a new dimension to the violence in the country. 

– The armed actors want to isolate the local communities and deprive them of protection, says Laura Bonilla, head of ForumCiv’s regional office in Latin America and Caribbean. 

Arauca, another of the worst-affected regions, has a long history of armed conflict between illegal armed groups and national forces. According to FOIDHD, 60 people, both Colombians and Venezuelans, have fallen victim to clashes between the ELN and the FARC dissidents during the first month of 2022. In addition, attacks have been carried out on military targets. The government has dismissed the violence as disputes between criminal gangs, thus justifying military interventions by the state. Civilian lives, security and livelihoods are threatened by the fighting and Colombia risks entering a new cycle of conflict. 

Electoral candidates in danger 

For the first time, to make sure that previously excluded groups are included in the peace work, 16 Special Representatives will be elected during the election to Congress in March. Among the 400 people who are running to represent particularly vulnerable regions, half are women, and many belong to an indigenous community. According to Carlos Ruiz Massieu, the UN Special Representative for Colombia, the upcoming election represents a unique opportunity for strengthened peace and democracy in the country. 

But if this possibility is to be realized, the electoral candidates must be protected. Several civil society organizations are expressing their concern that violence is increasing as the election approaches. Two days after the attack outside the Joel Sierra Human Rights Foundation, a bomb was found in a building where several electoral candidates had recently met. According to warnings from The National Mission for Election Observation MOE, there is a risk of violence and fraud in connection to the election of the 16 Special Representatives. 

Violence strikes at civil society 

For a long time, frustration about shortcomings in the implementation of the Peace Agreement has been growing within civil society. Now, there is great concern that the increasing violence will further obstruct the implementation. 

We are losing the leaders of our social movements and civil society organizations.

The killing of social leaders is the most common way to silence civil society in Colombia. The current situation risks turning into a brutal mass murder of human rights and environmental defenders, says Laura Bonilla. The situation is particularly dangerous for people who defend indigenous land rights, people who work for the implementation of the peace agreement, former FARC soldiers, and women who work for ending forced recruitment to armed groups.  

– We are losing the leaders of our social movements and civil society organizations, says Laura Bonilla. Civil society is a prerequisite for democracy. 

In Colombia, ForumCiv works with peasant organisations, ex-combatants working for peace, women’s organizations, and indigenous communities to support them in claiming their rights. In a climate of increasing violence, this work is more urgent than ever. In the upcoming days, ForumCiv will actively participate in diplomatic conversations on the humanitarian situation in the country and coordinate efforts to protect the civilian population.  

The outside world must act! 

The serious situation and the escalating violence in Colombia call for the international community to act urgently. The Swedish government should: 

  • In the bilateral relations with Colombia, express their concern about the current situation and the increasing violence against human rights defenders and social leaders. 
  • Call on the Colombian Government to take measures to protect vulnerable groups in the various regions, such as indigenous peoples, and to express the importance of the effective implementation of the Peace Agreement. 
  • Require that Colombia guarantees the security and participation of all parties and candidates in the various regions ahead of the forthcoming elections. 
  • Act actively within the EU to ensure that a human rights dialogue with the Colombian government is held as soon as possible.
  • Act within the EU to ensure that the EU Election Observation Mission EOM includes a focus on human rights in the observer mission and links violence against social leaders and human rights defenders with violence in connection with the presidential election in May.

Learn more about the situation in Colombia

Cesar Muñoz, Programme Officer at ForumCiv's Regional Office in Latin America and Caribbean, has explained the situation in Arauca, one of the regions most affected by increasing violence. Read the article in Spanish.

26 civil society organizations have written a common statement about the situation in Colombia. Read the statement.

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