Press Release

IACHR Expresses Concern over Increase in Violence in Colombia in Territories Where Illegal Armed Groups Are Operating

October 13, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed its deep concern over the increase in acts of violence in areas in which illicit armed groups are operating and where the State has a limited presence. The IACHR urged Colombia to investigate these events swiftly and diligently and to judge and sanction those responsible for masterminding and executing them. It also urged the State to identify the structural causes underlying these events and to develop public policies that seek to mitigate the violence in the country, as per the commitments established in the Peace Agreement. The affected communities should be involved in this process.

The IACHR has been monitoring the violence in Colombia, particularly the increase in murders recorded there. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Colombia, as of September 25, 42 massacres had been documented in the country in 2020, and another 13 such events were being examined. In 2019, the OHCHR recorded a total of 36 massacres in Colombia, in which 133 lost their lives. Civil society has recorded 64 massacres in the country so far in 2020.

On this point, the IACHR received information regarding various massacres and murders in the country, such as the one that took place on August 11 in Cali, in which five Colombians of African descent aged 14 to 18 were allegedly tortured and executed. Likewise, the IACHR took note of the massacre that took place on September 4 in El Tambo municipality, Cauca, where three dead bodies were found, their hands tied behind their backs; in Aguachica municipality, Cesar, where three people were allegedly murdered by the same individual, one of them a pregnant 23-year-old; on September 7 in the rural area of Zaragoza municipality, Antioquia, where 5 people were murdered; as well as those recorded in Simití and Carmen de Bolívar municipalities, both in the department of Bolívar, in which 6 people lost their lives; and on September 19 in the rural area of Buenos Aires municipality, Cauca, where 5 adults and a 16-year-old adolescent of African descent were murdered.

The IACHR also observed that these serious human rights violations are concentrated in areas in which the Colombian State has a limited presence and where illegal armed groups are operating and competing for control over various illegal economies (drug trafficking and illegal mining, among others). According to official information, in the first half of 2020, the homicide rate in Colombia was 23.33 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, the lowest point this indicator has been at since 1974. However, these homicides were concentrated in 55% of the national territory: in other words, in the 496 municipalities that constitute the remaining 45% of the country, no homicides were recorded in the first six months of the year. According to information provided by civil society, the departments where the most massacres were recorded in 2020 were Antioquia, Cauca, and Nariño. The former two departments also topped this ranking in 2019, according to data from the OHCHR.

The IACHR took note of the official information that indicated that violence was particularly concentrated in the municipalities where the Territorially Focused Development Programs (PDET) and the Comprehensive National Program for the Substitution of Illicit Crops (PNIS) are being implemented. Between July 2019 and June 2020, the homicide rate was 44.3 violent deaths per 100,000 inhabitants in municipalities where the PDET is being implemented, and 57.9 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants in municipalities where the PNIS is being implemented. These rates are 190% and 259% higher than the national average, respectively.

In response, the IACHR wishes to draw attention to the intersection between territories where murders and massacres are taking place and victim profiles. Specifically, the IACHR noted that victims mostly belong to social groups that have suffered longstanding structural violations of their rights, particularly peasants, indigenous peoples, people of African descent, women, children, and adolescents, among others. It is important to note that these events largely occur in territories where illegal armed groups are operating, activities linked to illegal economies are taking place, the State has a limited presence, and the economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights of a large proportion of the resident population are being violated.

In this sense, indigenous peoples in Colombia continue to suffer intersectional violence. For example, the IACHR was informed of at least 10 murders of members of the Awá People, who are beneficiaries of precautionary measure 61/11. The IACHR took note of the events that occurred on August 20 in Ricaurte, Nariño, where three members of the Aguacate community were murdered, and of the events that took place in the Awá People’s Inda Sabaleta Reservation in Tumaco, Nariño, on Saturday, September 26 where, according to civil society organizations, three people were killed and two others were injured in a confrontation between illegal armed groups. The IACHR also received information regarding the murder of the indigenous journalist Abelardo Liz and the indigenous community member Joel Rivera on August 13 in Corinto municipality, Cauca department, when the National Army implemented an eviction process in which the Mobile Anti-Riot Squadron (ESMAD) took part.

In this regard, the IACHR received information from Afro-Colombian organizations regarding the murders, attacks, threats, and intimidation their leaders are experiencing in response to actions defending their communities’ rights. In this sense, one of the leaders who was attacked recently informed the IACHR of the shortfalls in the measures adopted by the National Protection Unit (UNP), which relate to difficulties around guaranteeing victims’ mobility, the lack of economic resources to move guards, and other factors concerning equipment.

One of the consequences of the high levels of violence in certain parts of the country is forced displacement. Organizations of campesinos, people of African descent, indigenous peoples, and FARC-EP veterans have reported that they have been forced to abandon their territories as a result of escalating conflicts between illegal armed groups. According to official information, so far this year, more than 2,500 people have been displaced in Chocó alone as a result of the increasing violence in the region.

Likewise, in press releases no. 62/2020 and no. 174/20, the IACHR expressed its deep concern about the alarming number of human rights defenders who have been murdered. According to the OHCHR, as of August, 47 human rights defenders had been killed in 2020 and 44 more murders are being verified. According to records prepared by civil society organizations, as of September 13, the number of defenders and social leaders who have been murdered could be as high as 215. The IACHR emphasized that a large proportion of social leaders who have been murdered in the country belong to indigenous peoples and communities of African descent and took note of the threats that other representatives of these communities have received, including attempts on their lives.

The IACHR has maintained on various occasions that violence in Colombia is an extremely complex matter and therefore cannot be attributed to a single cause but is rather due to multiple factors and structural causes. It nevertheless wishes to express its alarm at how violence is concentrated in certain territories in the country and disproportionately affects certain sectors of the population who have suffered longstanding structural violations of their rights. The IACHR wishes to remind the State of its obligation to adopt measures to protect human life and personal integrity from all forms of violence in the country. In this sense, the IACHR urges the State to conduct swift, diligent investigations into these events to punish those responsible for them and to guarantee that victims receive comprehensive reparation. Where relevant, these investigations should include an ethnic focus. Likewise, it urges Colombia to include a territorial approach in the protection measures it implements.

Finally, the IACHR calls on the State to redouble its efforts to implement the Peace Agreement and continue developing measures to reduce violence in the country. It also reiterates that as part of its mandate, the IACHR mechanism for cooperation and technical assistance is at the disposal of the State and Colombian society as a whole to provide them with the tools they need to address the challenges that have arisen in the process of implementing the Peace Agreement, as part of the process of effectively addressing the obstacles faced by victims of human rights violations in Colombia and complying with its international obligations.

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. 251/20