Press Release

IACHR Condemns the Killing of Colombian Farmers and a community leader and the Attack on a Humanitarian Mission and on Journalists

October 19, 2017

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Washington, D.C.— The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the violent death of at least seven peasant farmers, including two members of the Awá indigenous people, in the municipality of Tumaco, in Colombia. The IACHR urges the Colombian authorities to adopt urgent measures to thoroughly investigate these events and ensure the safety and integrity of the campesino, indigenous, and Afro-descendant communities. The IACHR also condemns the attack carried out three days later against a humanitarian mission, journalists, and members of the Organization of American States Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia (MAPP-OAS) by members of the Mobile Anti-Riot Squadron (ESMAD) and Anti-Drug Police.

According to the information available, the attack on the farmers took place on October 5, 2017, in the context of a campesino mobilization to protest the forced eradication of illicit crops and voice complaints about non-compliance with Point 4 of the Peace Agreement and with the National Program for Illicit Crop Substitution that had been agreed upon with the State. At least seven campesinos died as a result of the attack and another 20 people were injured.

The Army and the National Police said that the preliminary investigation indicated that members of a residual group of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), from the former Daniel Aldana Column, launched at least five cylinder bombs at members of law enforcement and at the assembled crowd, and then attacked protesters and the authorities with rifles and machine guns. Nevertheless, the IACHR expresses its grave concern regarding the information provided by area residents alleging that members of the National Police were the ones responsible for these occurrences, and asks for the prompt clarification of these events.

Subsequently, on October 8, 2017, a humanitarian mission was traveling to the area to verify what happened; the group was led by the Deputy Human Rights Ombudsman and the Director of the Early Warning System. Witnesses asserted that the members of the delegation were attacked by members of the Anti-Drug Police.

Along the same lines, the Human Rights Ombudsman indicated that testimonies collected in the area where the events took place suggest that members of the Anti-Drug Police participated in the death of six individuals. He recommended that the Office of the Attorney General conduct an investigation and that the Office of the Inspector General of the Nation determine whether the October 5 events constitute a breach of discipline. The IACHR notes that the Office of the Inspector General appointed the Adjunct Office of the Prosecutors for Human Rights to handle the overall investigation, and that the National Police Inspector General’s Office proceeded to discipline four police officers who had allegedly discharged their weapons. Also, the IACHR notes that the Office of the Attorney General established a special group of investigators for the clarification of the facts.

The Inter-American Commission expresses its dismay and condemns the attack against the humanitarian mission and the journalists. The humanitarian mission included individuals from the departmental government of Nariño, the Tumaco Municipal Human Rights Office, the Diocese of Tumaco, the UN Human Rights Office, the UN Verification Mission, and MAPP-OAS. Journalists covering the mission were also present. According to accounts by members of the humanitarian mission, all relevant communications had been made to visit the site. The delegation was on the way there when it was attacked with several stun grenades by members of ESMAD and the Anti-Drug Police, even though the members of the mission tried to identify themselves. Witnesses said that gunshots were also heard during the attack and that some type of gas was used.

The IACHR notes that the Vice President of Colombia, Óscar Naranjo, stated that police conduct toward the mission had been irregular, and asked the National Police for an explanation. The Governor of Nariño, Camilo Romero, also rejected the attack and said that he expects assurances from the government that the investigation will move forward. The IACHR notes that the National Police apologized publicly to the members of the mission and reiterated its willingness to collaborate with the investigation. Also, the IACHR observes that Jhon Jair Cortés, community leader of one of the communities, who reported the attack, was murdered on October 17, 2017. Jhon Jair Cortés was a member of the Government Junta of the Community Council of Alto Mira y Frontera, and worked to shed light on the humanitarian and violence emergency affecting the members of the Afro-descendant and indigenous communities of rural Tumaco. According to information of public knowledge, he had received threats and, along with the other 18 members of the Community Council, was under protection of the National Protection Unit (UNP).

The Commission urges the State of Colombia to investigate these events with due diligence, clarify the circumstances in which they occurred, and identify and punish those responsible, to ensure that such regrettable events do not happen again. The Commission also calls on the State to ensure comprehensive medical attention to those who were injured. The State should also adopt urgent measures to ensure the safety and integrity of the members of the campesino, indigenous, and Afro-descendant communities. The State should also ensure that journalists and members of the media who are covering the news are not arrested, threatened, or attacked, or their rights restricted in any way, for practicing their profession.

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.


* This is a corrected version of the press release originally issued. The correction was made on the same date that it was issued.

No. 164/17