IACHR Reiterates Its Concern Over the Increase in Structural Violence in Colombia

February 25, 2022

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Washington, D.C. — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) once again voiced its deep concern over the increase in structural violence in Colombia and the links between this and the country's history. In response, the IACHR called on the State to strengthen the practical, effective implementation of comprehensive strategies that seek to transform the structural causes of violence in the country, especially those established in the Peace Agreement.

In 2021, the National Police Force recorded a 14% increase in the number of people murdered in Colombia compared to 2020. Of the 13,708 homicides recorded in 2021, 10,371 were caused by firearms and, according to public information, 8,095 of these are categorized as "contract killings." Half of the homicides were concentrated in the departments of Cauca, Chocó, Nariño, Valle del Cauca, Antioquia, and Norte de Santander, regions where the State has a limited presence and that continue to suffer the effects of the country's historical armed conflict.

The IACHR noted that acts of violence in these regions are particularly connected to the actions of non-State armed groups and that they disproportionately affect campesinos, indigenous people, people of African descent, and social or community leaders who are working to defend rights.

Examples of this situation that the IACHR has recorded include clashes between non-State armed groups, executions, and attacks on the border with the department of Apure, Venezuela, and in the Colombian department of Boyacá in January, which included 39 targeted murders. The Attorney General's Office noted that in 27 of these cases, the victims were shot at close range, and other factors were also present that suggest the murders were executions. On January 19, a car bomb exploded in Saravena, Arauca, affecting several offices of social organizations and the place where approximately 50 social or community leaders were being sheltered due to increased violence in the region.

Information has also been made public on the murder of the teenager Breiner Cucuñame, a member of the Nasa indigenous people, on January 14, after being shot by a member of a non-State armed group during raid on an indigenous territory in the municipality of Buenos Aires, Cauca. Guillermo Chicame Ipia, a member of the Indigenous Guard, was also killed during these events, and several other people were injured, including Fabián Camayo, a Uka We'sx and Kiwe Thegnas leader from Las Delicias territory.

On January 24, Albeiro Camayo, the former coordinator of the Indigenous Guard in the area, was murdered, and his son Arli Oliver Camayo was kidnapped. On January 15, a girl, Valeria Murillo, was murdered in the municipality of Medio San Juan, Chocó. The leader of the Wounaan Indigenous People, Luis Chamapurro Quiro, was also kidnapped and murdered in the same region. Military officers César David Gómez and Óscar José Arroyo are also reported to have died in the municipality of Bagre, Antioquía.

The Ombud's Office noted that 145 defenders and social leaders were murdered in 2021, and that 70% of these homicides took place in Antioquia (24 homicides); Cauca (22 homicides); Valle Del Cauca (19 homicides); Chocó (10 homicides); and Nariño, Norte de Santander and Putumayo (9 homicides). Likewise, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights received 202 allegations of murders of human rights defenders and social leaders. It was able to verify 78 of these and is in the process of verifying 39, while the information available regarding the remaining 85 is not yet conclusive. According to the records being kept by civil society organizations, since the start of 2022, some 28 social leaders have been murdered. These included the murder, in January, of campesino leader Luz Marina Arteaga Henao, whose work included demands for access to land. Other fatal victims in February included peasant leaders Teófilo Acuña and Jorge Alberto Tafur, spokespeople for the Dialogue Committee of Southern Bolivar, Central and Southern Cesar, Southern Magdalena, and the Santanderes Processes.

In response, the IACHR once again urged Colombia to step up its efforts to develop and implement public policies with a human rights approach that seek to transform the structural causes of violence. To achieve this, it reiterated its conviction around the need to move beyond positions that perpetuate a culture of war so as to fully implement the Peace Agreement, as this also implies strengthening the comprehensive presence of the State throughout Colombian territory.

Finally, the IACHR urged the Colombian State to investigate all of these events promptly and effectively, to sanction those responsible for masterminding and carrying out these crimes, and to provide reparation for the victims and their families. It also stressed the need for a diligent investigation into the kidnapping of the child Arli Oliver Camayo Chicame.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 040/22

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