Press Release

IACHR Strongly Condemns Attacks and Murders Targeting Individuals, Authorities, and Members of the Indigenous Guard in Colombia

November 12, 2019

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) strongly condemned the attacks on and murders of individuals, authorities, and members of the Indigenous Guard and the increase in violence in Cauca department, Colombia.

According to publicly available information, on Sunday, November 3, two armed men shot indigenous leader Jesús Mestizo as he was leaving his home in Toribío municipality, Cauca department. That same night, Toribío Alexander Vitonas Casamachin was also murdered, allegedly by armed men.

The IACHR also learned of the murder of Cristina Bautista, an authority of the Nasa community, and the guards José Gerardo Soto, James Wilfredo Soto, Eliodoro Uniscue, and Asdruval Cayapu, who were ambushed by a group of unknown individuals on October 29 in Toribío municipality. Matías Montaño Noscué, José Norman Montano Noscué, Crescencio Peteche Mensa, Dora Rut Mesa Peteche, Rogelio Tasquinas, and Alver Cayapú were also injured in this attack. These attacks are another example of the growing violence against indigenous communities and guards in Cauca department in recent months. In July, the IACHR was informed of the attack on four members of the Kiwe Thegnas Indigenous Guard.

Likewise, in August 2019, the IACHR learned of the murder of the Nasa indigenous guards Gersaín Yatacué, Kevin Mestizo, Eugenio Tenorio, and Julio Taquinás, who were members of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) and were intercepted and attacked by armed men.

“I want to express our solidarity with the families of those who were killed or wounded. These are serious events, particularly given how they impact the rights of indigenous peoples and communities. I also want to draw attention to the importance of the role that indigenous guards play in defending their people’s right to life, territory, and their worldview,” said Commissioner Antonia Urrejola, rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.

In response, the IACHR stressed that the state must continue to investigate these crimes. These investigations should be conducted in a serious, prompt, thorough, independent, and impartial manner, and those responsible for masterminding and carrying out the crimes in question should be punished. Specifically, the state should take a targeted approach that includes an ethnic/racial perspective when investigating, prosecuting, sanctioning, and providing reparation for these crimes.

The IACHR also learned of the murder of four other people in the village of Santa Elena, Corinto municipality, Cauca department. These killings were allegedly carried out by a group of armed men who later fled to the mountainous part of the region. According to publicly available information, members of the Technical Investigation Corps (CTI) at the Attorney General’s Office and other authorities allegedly traveled to the area to identify the victims. The IACHR urges the state to conduct a prompt, objective, impartial investigation into these events that complies with human rights standards.

The IACHR noted that the president of the Republic of Colombia condemned the recent murders and acknowledged his instructions to establish a Special Human Rights Committee in partnership with the Government of Cauca and indigenous organizations. The IACHR also took note of the measures announced by the government to address the situation in Cauca, particularly the decision to fast-track the Social Investment Plan for Cauca, which has been entrusted to the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace.

On this matter, the IACHR urged the state to take the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights into account when taking measures to guarantee citizen security. This establishes that states must limit the use of the armed forces to control civil unrest as much as possible, since the training that its members receive is intended to defeat enemies, not to protect and control civilians, which is what the civil police force is trained to do.

Finally, the IACHR urged the state to immediately take all the measures needed to guarantee the right to life, integrity, and security of the inhabitants of Cauca department through the institutions and organizations that are responsible for citizen security, particularly those that are made up of indigenous peoples, in line with the provisions of ruling T-030 of Colombia’s Constitutional Court.

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. 292/19