February 15, 2018

During the first weeks of 2018, Colombia has seen an escalation in killings of human rights defenders and social leaders. According to public information, every 48 hours a human rights defender has been killed, with the most recent murders of ethnic leaders Eleazar Tequía Vitucay and Temistocles Machado assassinated by unidentified perpetrators over the weekend of January 26-28. At the end of January, the International NGO Front Line Defenders published a report that found Colombia to be the most dangerous country in the world for human rights defenders in 2017. On January 31st , the Office of the Attorney General in Colombia revealed that between 2017 and January 2018, 101 social leaders have been murdered throughout the Colombian territory.

The security crisis includes not only killings but also death threats and assassination attempts against members of rural communities.

In spite of the provisional measures the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó received from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Colombian State did not take seriously the death threats against the Peace Community throughout 2017. This led to an assassination attempt against the legal representative German Graciano Posso, carried out on December 29th, 2017. Mr Graciano luckily survived. As the Colombian State did not provide necessary protection measures to prevent this attempt, 67 international human rights organizations, networks, and international cooperation agencies signed onto a joint letter (read the letter in English or Spanish). This letter was sent to the Honorable Judge Roberto de Figueiredo Caldas, President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in an effort to prevent further and potentially worse attacks on the members of the Peace Community, considering that throughout the electoral campaigns attention will be focused elsewhere.

On January 27, human rights defender María Cecilia Lozano survived an assassination attempt in Villavicencio, department of Meta. While returning home, she was attacked by two people on a

motorbike. One of the riders pursued her with a knife, seriously wounding her in the face and back. A friend of María’s came to her aid and also suffered knife injuries. María Cecilia is a survivor of the 1997 paramilitary massacre of residents in the town of Mapiripán and coordinator of the Women's Network of Displacement Victims in Meta (ASOMUDEM); several Human Rights Organizations accompanied by PBI are working on this case. Maria Cecilia also works with land restitution programs and victims' rights groups and has received several death threats throughout the last three years, which have been reported to the local prosecutor’s office in Villavicencio. Nevertheless, there have been no result of these investigations.

The directors of the human rights organization CREDHOS, accompanied by PBI, have been subjected to death threats following the organization’s condemnation of the murder of Victor Morato on January 17. Morata was president of the Community Council for Dignified Living of Yondó and had followed up the launch of the Regional Annual Human Rights Reports by Credhos with detailed information about paramilitary structures operating in the Magdalena Medio region. Victor's murder was condemned in the media by Credhos on January 18. Shortly thereafter, two men approached the offices of the organization's directors, Iván Madero Vergel and Andrés Ortiz Nieto, and made sustained threats to their lives. They then departed on a motorbike bearing the registration GMN 22B.

PBI Colombia is pleased to note that the Special Investigation Unit of the Attorney General's office has begun to investigate the recent killings of Hernán Bedoya and Mario Castaño in the Bajo Atrato region (Choco department), two land restitution leaders who were killed on November 27 and December 8, respectively. PBI knew both restitution leaders and had accompanied them on different occasions with the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission.

PBI Colombia also recognizes the modification of the Early Warning System (designed to prevent violations of human rights) of the Ombudsman's Office with the decree 2124 of December 18, which gives more autonomy to the Ombudsman´s office and requires at the same time that the Ministry of Interior answers efficiently to these Alerts after 10 days. Nevertheless, in January alone, the Ombudsman´s Office published 19 Early Warnings regarding the severe risk situation in the departments of Chocó, Nariño, Meta,Cundinamarca, Cesar, Caldas, Cauca, Cordoba, Arauca, Antioquia y Bolivar. The Ministry of the Interior faces severe challenges in tackling the number of Alerts, according to public information.

See also PBI Colombia’s report, Land, Culture and Conflict