Press Release

IACHR Condemns Murder of Human Rights Defenders in Colombia

June 12, 2015

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Washington DC. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the murder of at least 24 human rights defenders in Colombia during 2015. The Commission urges the Colombian authorities to act urgently to identify the reasons for these attacks and punish the perpetrators and masterminds, and take measures to protect human rights defenders in Colombia.

As has been documented by civil society organizations, between January and March 2015, 19 human rights defenders have been murdered in Colombia. To this figure we add four other murders during the months of April and May 2015. Furthermore, the Commission was informed that on May 27, as part of a debate over the situation of human rights defenders, the House Representative Alirio Uribe Muñoz gave the Interior Minister, Juan Fernando Cristo a list indicating that 335 defenders of human rights have been murdered between 2009 and 2015.

According to information received by the IACHR, Fernando Salazar Calvo, defender of indigenous community Embera Chami in the Department of Caldas, President of the Association of Miners of the Union and member of the Mining Association of Indigenous Reservation of Cañamomo Lomaprieta Caldas Riosucio and Supía (ASOMICARS) was killed on April 7, 2015 by an unidentified person who shot him several times outside his home. This is of particular concern given that 40 members of the Indigenous community Embera Chami are beneficiaries of precautionary measures since 2002 (MC-265-02), due to threats and acts of harassment and violence.

Additionally, the Commission was informed of the murder of Luis Fernando Wolff Isaza, a university professor and member of the Broad Front for Peace, Democracy and Social Justice, who was killed on April 27, 2015 after being attacked by two men who were driving a motorcycle while he was driving his car in the sector of Iguana in Medellin.

The Commission also received information on the murder of the community leader Viviana Agudelo Zapata, mayor of the Local Administrative Board of the path of San Antonio de Prado, south of Medellin. According to publicly available information, on May 7, 2015, the leader received 6 gunshot wounds while she was outside her house located between Limonar I and II neighborhoods. The information indicates that members of the army who were in the area caught the suspect and local authorities condemned the events.

Moreover, information was received indicating that on May 28, 2014 human rights defender Juan David Quintana Duque was murdered after receiving 25 gunshot wounds while he was driving his motorcycle in the neighborhood Popular II in the city of Medellin. The defender was leader and activist in the commune 6 “Doce de Octubre”, and member of the Bureau of Human Rights of the valley of Aburra.

In addition, the Commission was informed of the murder of union leader Alex Fabian Espinosa Carvajalino, member of the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE) in Northern Santander, Secretary for Human Rights of the Confederation of Northern Santander subcommittee Workers and National Treasurer of the Association of Employees of the Judicial Branch, Judicial Asonal. According to publicly available information, on May 31, 2015 the defender was murdered in his home in the city of Cucuta. Reportedly, the defender denounced he received death threats since 2011.

As the Commission has stated on previous occasions, not only do acts of violence and other attacks against human rights defenders affect the guarantees inherent to all persons; they also undermine the essential role defenders play within society and leave all the people on whose behalf they work in a state of defenselessness. The Commission further reiterates that defenders’ work is essential in constructing a solid and lasting democratic society, and that they play a leading role in achieving the full rule of law and in strengthening democracy. 

The Commission expresses its concern about these alarming figures and reiterates that States are obliged to conduct investigations on its own initiative into incidents of this kind and to punish both the masterminds behind them and the physical perpetrators. The IACHR acknowledges the investigations under way, and urges the State of Colombia to continue with them, including pursuing lines of investigation under the hypothesis that these killings could have been committed in connection with their work as human rights defenders. The investigation must also be undertaken with due diligence and be exhaustive, serious, and impartial. In addition, the IACHR urges the State to adopt all the measures necessary to ensure the right to life, to physical integrity, and to security of human rights defenders.

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 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. 070/15