IACHR Condemns Violence in Cauca and Urges Colombia to Strengthen Public Policies to Address Structural Causes of Violence in the Country

April 27, 2021

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Washington, DC—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed its concern over the recent violence in Cauca, Colombia, particularly the forced displacement of the population and the murder of social leaders. The IACHR urged the State of Colombia to step up its efforts to develop public policies that address the structural causes of violence in the country and take a differentiated ethnic approach to guaranteeing that social leaders can go about their work, while strengthening measures to assist people who have been displaced.

The IACHR has been monitoring human rights violations in connection with violence in Colombia. As part of this work, it received information provided by the Ombud's Office of Colombia that indicated that confrontations between illegal armed groups on March 26 had led to the displacement of more than 2,000 people from the village of Plateado to the urban areas of Argelia, Puerto Rico, and El Mango. On April 17, as a result of clashes between illegal armed groups and between these and the Colombian National Army, approximately 250 people were displaced in the region. In connection with these events, at least nine civilians allegedly sustained serious injuries following the explosion of an antipersonnel mine. A member of the Colombian National Army and several members of the illegal armed groups were reportedly killed in these clashes, which also left several people wounded. Between April 24 and 25, further clashes took place in Timbiquí municipality, where at least 5,000 people are at risk of displacement.

The IACHR has recorded data published by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which indicates that during the first quarter of 2021, 497 people in Cauca department were forcibly confined to their homes and communities, while 5,527 became victims of forced displacement. Some 4,700 of these people were from Argelia municipality, and the remaining victims were in Guapi and Timbiquí.

The IACHR noted with particular concern the violence perpetrated against social leaders. On this point, it condemned the murder of Sandra Liliana Peña, an indigenous authority who was the governor of La Laguna Siberia indigenous reservation. Ms. Peña was killed on April 20 in the village of Pescador in the El Porvenir de Caldono area, Cauca. It also spoke out against the threats to other indigenous leaders and authorities in the region. Since the signing of the Peace Agreement in 2016, 271 social leaders have been murdered in Cauca department: 51% of the victims of these homicides were indigenous people, 26% were Campesino social leaders, and 11% were social leaders of African descent. Furthermore, most of the leaders reportedly had ties with the Comprehensive National Program for the Substitution of Illicit Crops (PNIS). Given how important this program is in building alternatives to illegal economies, this aspect is of particular concern to the IACHR and is compounded by the fact that 5.5% of the families that are enrolled in the PNIS (that is, 5516 of the 99,097 families) have a productive project underway.

The IACHR 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 and to fully implement the Peace Agreement, on the understanding that this constitutes a possible path toward a public policy agenda that will transform the underlying causes of violence in the country.

The IACHR reiterated that it is the State's duty to prevent events that prompt internal displacement and forced confinement. It should go about this by adopting and implementing general preventive measures, including those of a legal, political, administrative, and cultural nature, to promote the safeguarding of human rights and the adoption and implementation of specific measures in cases in which it is evident that certain people are facing a real, immediate risk of becoming victims of events that will lead to displacement and/or confinement, including acts of violence. Finally, the IACHR once again expressed its willingness to contribute to this process and placed its technical cooperation tools at the State's disposal.

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

No. 103/21