In its Annual Report for 2016 entitled, “Human Rights Defenders on the Ropes” (Contra las Cuerdas” Colombian human rights organisation Programma Somos Defensores documents 80 killings of human Rights defenders (HRDs) and 49 attempted killings in the same year in which a peace agreement was finally signed with the FARC.
Ironically even though general levels of violence in the country have decreased by 29% the number of targeted killings of HRDs has actually increased. The corresponding figure for 2015 was 63.
While the level of violence may have dropped in percentage terms Colombia still remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to be a HRD with 317 instances of threats against HRDs, 80 killings, 49 attempted killings, 17 arbitrary detentions, two cases of disappearance, nine cases of arbitrary use of the justice system, 6 instances of digital attacks on human rights organisations and one case of sexual violence.
It is worth noting that of the 80 cases, 34 took place in the provinces of Cauca, Antioquia, Norte de Santander, Nariňo and Valle del Cauca. According to Carlos Guevara of Programma Somos Defensores “The vast majority of these killings took place in rural areas. The victims were mainly local community leaders who did not have a high national profile but who nevertheless played an essential role in defending the rights of indigenous, peasant and afro descendant communities, as well as the rights of women and members of the LGBT+ community.
According to Guevara “ in recent times the killers have taken a new approach. By targeting leaders at the local level they are deliberately trying to fragment and break up the human rights movement while avoiding the political cost of killing a high profile leader”.
Another key point is that more than half of these killings have been carried out by paramilitary groups even though the government tries to maintain that paramilitary groups no longer exist. Despite the fact that 500 HRDs have been killed in the last 10 years neither the government nor the State Prosecutor’s Office has recognised the systematic nature of the killings. Nor have they developed a proper system to document these cases.
Human rights defenders play a vital role in implementing the peace agreement at the local level yet at the moment they are largely unprotected.
You can find the full text of the report in Spanish here
According to reports in local media on the morning of Friday, 17 February, José de los Santos Sevilla, leader of the indigenous Tolupán people, was shot dead in his home in the community of La Ceiba in Montaña de la Flor, Francisco Morazán, in central Honduras.
José de los Santos Sevilla, a teacher and community leader, was at home with his family when 5 heavily armed men broke into his house and shot him multiple times. José de los Santos Sevilla died instantly. The National Police have opened an investigation, and a mobile forensic unit as well as a team from the Special Murder Investigations Unit (Unidad Especial de Homicidios) have been sent to the area to carry out an investigation.
The National Commission for Human Rights, CONADEH, has requested protective measures for the residents of Yerba Buena and La Ceiba given the high levels of violence in the area from criminal gangs. The level of violence is such that an estimated 20 children have stopped going to school because of attacks. There is concern that this will lead to another forced displacement of the community.
According to a recent Global Witness report, “For nearly a decade, Tolupan indigenous peoples from northern Honduras have been threatened, criminalised and killed for taking a stand against illegal logging and mining operations which have pillaged their resources without consulting communities. The Tolupan are the most marginalised indigenous group in Honduras, living in extreme poverty in remote rural areas with little access to basic services”.
During her visit to Honduras in November 2015 Mrs Victoria Tauli Corpuz, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said “The murders of indigenous leaders defending their lands, including numerous Tolupan, Garífuna, Lencas, Chortís and Pech leaders, are among the most frequently reported cases appearing before the Special Prosecutor for Ethnic and Cultural Heritage, along with cases of injuries, attempted Homicide and violence against indigenous women, “
On 3 February, 2017 Renato Anglao was travelling back home on his motorcycle with his wife and 5 year old child after buying some school supplies in the town centre in Quezon, Bukidnon when suddenly another motorcycle, with three unidentified men on board, drove alongside and shot Renato Anglao twice in the head. He died instantly. The three men, wearing hoods over their heads, sped off after the incident. Renato was rushed to hospital but was declared dead-on-arrival. Renato’s wife and child, though still in shock, were uninjured.
Renato Anglao was an active member of the TINDOGA, an indigenous peoples’ organisation representing the Manobo-Pulangion tribe in Brgy. Botong, Quezon, Bukidnon. TINDOGA staunchly opposes the entry of agri-business plantations which are encroaching on their ancestral lands. They won back their ancestral land and had secured its legal title two years ago despite moves by Rancho Montalvan, owned by Maramag Vice Mayor Pablo Lorenzo, to introduce a plantation on it.
The members of TINDOGA have been accused of supporting the CPP-led New People’s Army which killed three military personnel in an armed clash on February 1.
Two weeks after the killing of Goldman Environmental Prize winner Isidro Baldenegro Lopez another indigenous and land rights defender Juan Ontiveros Ramos has been killed in the same area. The killing took place at a time when there were hundreds of police in the area monitoring a protest against a gas pipeline.
On 31 January, unidentified armed men broke into the family home of Juan Ontiveros Ramos in Guadalupe y Calvo municipality, beat him and other family members and forcibly took him away. Witnesses heard gunshots immediately after. On 1 February, Juan Ontiveros’ body was found elsewhere in the same municipality.
Just days before Juan Ontiveros had taken part in a meeting with indigenous leaders and representatives of the State Prosecutors office, as well as state and federal officials, to discuss the increasingly dangerous situation in the region.
Juan Ontiveros and members of the community have been campaigning to protect the forests of the Sierra Madre from the depredations of illegal loggers who use criminal gangs to intimidate the community. In 2013 community leaders Jaime Zubías and Socorro Anaya Ramos were killed in similar circumstances. To date there has been no progress in the investigation into their deaths.
You will find further information on the killing of Juan Ontiveros Ramos here