“When pursuing their various “wars” on drugs and “wars” on terror, the U.S. and the governments it supports in these “wars” are apt to overlook human rights abuses committed by the militaries and police forces upon which they rely. A new report details how this has played out in the Mexican military”.
MEXICO CITY – A study published Tuesday by the advocacy group Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) has revealed the woeful inadequacy of the Mexican government in pursuing cases of human rights violations committed by soldiers against civilians — in spite of recent reforms that allow such cases to be heard by civilian, rather than military, courts. According to its website, WOLA is “a leading research and advocacy organization advancing human rights in the Americas.”
WOLA’s report, titled “Overlooking Justice: Human Rights Violations Committed by Mexican Soldiers Against Civilians are Met with Impunity,” examined data made available by Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR). The data showed clearly that the vast majority of investigations, even those in which abundant evidence exists to show proof of wrongdoing, fail to result in punishments for those accused of abuses of human rights, such as extrajudicial killings, torture, kidnappings and the use of excessive force. In all, only 16 of the 505 criminal investigations PGR launched between 2012 and 2016 ended with a conviction.
Furthermore, of those 505 cases, only two involved commanding officers — with the vast majority examining the conduct of rank-and-file soldiers, many of whom claim to have been following the orders of their superiors. WOLA cited this trend as a strong indication that Mexico’s military leadership operates with relative impunity.
At 6:30 p.m. on Friday, 8 September, Community Judge Celedonia Zalazar Point was murdered along with her husband, Tito José González Bendles, while they were at home in the community of Tungla in the remote territory of Prinzu Awala of the Municipality of Prinzapolka. It seems that the day before they had received a warning from a stranger.
According to the Center for Justice and Human Rights of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (CEJUDHCAN), Celedonia Zalazar was the substitute judge for the indigenous territory and her murder, carried out with firearms, could be related to a dispute over territorial property between settlers and indigenous people.
Celedonia Zalazar is the second defender of indigenous territory murdered in the Caribbean Coast. In November of 2016 Bernicia Dixon Peranta was shot dead along with members of her family. It is estimated that the conflict over land in the North Caribbean has so far caused 50 deaths, 3 disappearances, 80 injured people and hundreds of displaced persons, in a context of total impunity and omission on the part of the Nicaraguan State.
Human rights organisation IM-Defensoras issued a statement in which they said “we regret and condemn this crime and given the clear evidence of systematic discrimination against indigenous people in the justice system, often shown by the failure to investigate cases in which indigenous people are victims, we demand that the Nicaraguan authorities carry out an effective, expeditious and unprejudiced investigation, so that justice is done. This case should not become yet another example of the prevailing climate of impunity…Finally, we call on international human rights organisations and bodies to remain vigilant about the grave situation facing the indigenous communities of the Caribbean Coast”.
We are happy with peace, but they are killing us. The movement of human rights defenders is on high alert because of the significant increase in the murder of social leaders since peace was signed with the FARC. The authorities are not taking strong action to protect the lives of these activists or to carry out effective investigations to identify those responsible for the killings and as a result the killings continue unabated. This wave of deaths can not only destabilise the peace process but risks destabilising the whole country if it is not acted on right now. Figures for the period January – June 2017 below.
Between January and June 2017, the Colombian Human Rights Defenders Reporting System (SIADDHH) recorded a total of 335 individual attacks against defenders who were targeted in 225 threats, 51 murders, 32 attacks, 18 arbitrary detentions and 9 cases of prosecution. The increase in attacks against human rights defenders during the first half of 2017, compared to the same period in 2016, was up by 6%, going from 314 to 335.
Of these 335 attacks, 76% of the targets were male and 24% of the targets were female. The trend identified in our 2016 Annual Report, “Against the Ropes” regarding the increase in attacks against the life and physical integrity of defenders, is reflected in the current pattern of homicides and attacks. Since the signing of the peace accords in September 2016 until June 2017, 82 human rights defenders have been murdered and more than 50 have been victims of attempted killings.
Killings of HRDs in general have increased increased by 31% while killings of women human rights defenders increased compared to 2016 with a total of 7 in this period. The defenders most affected by this crime are community, peasant and Afro-descendant leaders in rural areas. Of particular concern is the practice of disappearance of the victims prior to killings in several recorded cases, as well as the use of extremely brutal torture in cases such as in that of José Yimer Cartagena in Córdoba who was stabbed 32 times and had his nails removed and his tongue torn out. An equally extreme case was that of Edenis Barrera in Casanare who was raped, impaled with branches and suffered stab wounds in different parts of her body. with sharp arms.
Among the alleged perpetrators of the 335 attacks reported by SIADDHH, we note that the paramilitaries are implicated with assumed responsibility in 197 cases (59%), unknown actors in 107 cases (32%), state agents in 30 cases (9%), And guerrillas in 1 case (0.1%)
In relation to the political context, the report states that despite innumerable announcements, commitments and statements by the national government and entities of the Colombian state related to the protection and prevention of aggression against human rights defenders in Colombia, the figures present a compelling picture of a very different reality. For example the Office of the Attorney General of the Nation is finally taking action but not at the pace needed to address the issue; there have been historic breakthroughs but these cannot keep pace with the volume of cases that are recorded on a daily basis.
While it is important to acknowledge that progress has been made in some cases, (cases which historically would have simply ended up in a file) it is still the case that violence against human rights defenders, while acknowledged by the state Is still far from being completely under control. It would be better if the Attorney General could use his position to produce concrete results to show who is behind this violence.
On the other hand the report points out how the issue of violence against defenders has been well and repeatedly flagged. At least 5 reports by state agencies, civil society organisations and academic institutions have identified the dangers faced by social leaders and human rights defenders. What is the government doing with these warnings? Why are the attacks not prevented? It is time for the government to PREVENT these killings and stop promising high-level special committees and committees for the protection of hard-working activists.
“Acúzate” (Wake Up) as this report is called, is a call not to lose hope that achieving peace ( a historic commitment of the human rights movement), in Colombia is possible but is also a call on all sides to ensure that human rights defenders don’t lose their lives in the process. This warning also refers to the forthcoming elections, since in previous years there has been evidence of higher levels of territorial violence in election periods. Hopefully, on this occasion, this trend will not be repeated.
“Agúzate” is also a strong message from Colombian civil society and the human rights movement to the entities of the Government and Colombian State to take without delay, substantive policies, aimed at generating the necessary guarantees for the exercise of social leadership and the defense of human rights. For example, to give impetus and strength to the National Security Guarantees Commission, created to design public policy related to the dismantling of paramilitarism and similar groups, or to the Attorney General’s Office to investigate in depth all cases, and not cherry pick only those that are seen as having the best chance of success.
“AGUZATE” They are killing us
The complete figures of the System of Information of violence against human rights defenders in Colombia SIADDHH for the period January-June 2017 and other periods can be consulted at www.somosdefensores.org
P.S. In September 2017 we will publish 3 special reports on the most important issues faced by defenders and how to confront them.
STOP WARS – Stop the War on Defenders (…) Coming soon.
On the morning of Wednesday 9 August, the body of Idaly Castillo Narváez was found among coffee bushes in vereda Bella Vista in the province of Cauca. Idaly had been strangled and the body also showed signs of torture and sexual abuse.
Idaly Castillo Narváez was vice president of the local Junta de Acción and was also an active member of the local victims’ group the “Mesa de Participación de Víctimas del Municipio”. While the authorities have sent a technical team to carry out an investigation there is no immediate evidence to explain the circumstances of the killing.
This week Colombian NGO Somos Defensores will launch its new report, covering the period January June 2017, and which documents the killing of 51 HRDs since the start of the year.
Nidio Dávila was a member of Asociación de Trabajadores Campesinos de Nariño (Astracan) which works to protect the rights of peasant farmers and which, under Article 4 of the peace process, is active in promoting the substitution of coca production with other crops. Nidio was also part of the National Coordination of Cultivators of Coca, Poppy and Marijuana, Coccam, and the political and social movement Marcha Patriotica in Nariño.
Nidio attended the last meeting of the Association on Sunday 6 August. About 80 members of the local peasant community attended the meeting which discussed the substitution programme which Nidio actively supported. That same day members of paramilitary group Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC) took Nidio from his house. Initially they demanded that he pay a tax but he refused. He was then taken to the neighbouring town of El Cable where he was shot dead in front of the community and his body was dumped in the river Verde. The body was recovered from the river the next day in Vereda San Rafael.
According to witnesses, the killing was the work of paramilitary forces, members of the AGC who wanted to intimidate the community. They believe that this killing was a way of sending a message to the community that they should not take part in, or support, the coca substitution programme. The AGC have held two meetings with peasants in the area at which, in addition to issuing threats, they said that they were there to impose a tax on coca dealers. They also promised to raise the price of coca leaf as a way of attracting new producers into the business.
This is an area which has traditionally had extensive coca production and the community is divided between those who think that there is no alternative to cooperating with the AGC and those who support the substitution programme but do not have confidence in the ability or commitment of the government to following through on the programme by protecting the community.
Next week Colombian human rights ngo Programa Somos Defensores will launch a new report, entitled Agúzate, which documents the killing of human rights defenders in Colombia for the period January – June 2017.
The report highlights the fact that despite the peace process and despite the fact that overall levels of violence have decreased, the number of targeted killings of human rights defenders has actually increased.
The report documents the fact that since January 2017, 51 HRDs have been killed up to the end of June. This figure represents a 30% increase over the same period last year. The response of the Colombian government to date has been to maintain the position that these are isolated incidents rather than part of a consistent pattern of paramilitary activity. The basic premise of the report is that given the failure of the state to take action, the only option is for HRDs to organise to protect each other.
Somos Defensores has produced a short video to promote the report which paraphrases the words of a popular song to state – “Wake up – they’re watching us – they’re listening – they’re hunting and killing us”.
Please distribute this video as widely as possible to create awareness of the forthcoming report. Please do what you can by sending it to your media contacts and partner organisations.
At around 09.00am on the morning of 6 July, Ande Latuan was travelling by motor bike with a female companion, Alang Kaligunan, to bring sacks of corn to the local market, when five members of the right wing Alamara paramilitary group, who have been identified by the eye witness, forced them to stop. Ande Latuan said that if they were going to kill him they should spare the woman. He had just finished speaking when he was shot dead.
The gunmen then told Alang that she shouldn’t report the incident or it would be her turn to die. At that point some other members of the Lumad community, who were also on their way to market by motor bike, arrived and the killers fled. Ande was rushed to hospital but was declared dead on arrival.
It was a week before Alang could bring herself to speak of the killing to a friend who reported it to the police. It turned out that there was already a case outstanding against the five named members of the paramilitary group in Malaybalay City.
Ande Latuan was at least 30 years of age, and a member of the Pigyayungaan indigenous tribal association which has been actively seeking justice for the victims of the Alamara, who were killed by the group because they were accused of supporting or conniving with the rebel group, the New People’s Army. Pigyayungaan has struggled for many years to protect the ancestral lands of indigenous communities against destructive investment projects that are often backed by the Alamara, who are in effect acting as security for these major investment projects.
On Wednesday, 19 July, Ezequiel Rangel was buried in the cemetery in Guamalito, in the Catatumbo region.
Ezequiel was seen leaving his home around 5pm on Sunday 16 July and later that evening he was seen travelling as a passenger on a motor bike. At 5am the next morning his family received a call telling them that Ezequiel’s body had been found. He had been shot several times.
Ezequiel Rangel was a 35 year old farmer and father of two sons. He had a small farm where he grew coffee, bananas and vegetables. Ezequiel was also the local leader of Asociación Campesina del Catatumbo (Ascamcat) which, in addition to working on issues of rural unemployment and the rights of small farmers, had been active in working to secure the full implementation of the Peace Accords with FARC. This was a particularly sensitive issue in a region which had seen extensive activity by paramilitary groups including the FARC, EPL and the ELN. There had been repeated attempts over the years to smear the members of Ascamcat as having links to the “guerrilla”.
It has been suggested that the killing was linked to programmes, sponsored under point 4 of the Havana Agreement, to replace the growing of coca with legitimate crops. However, this has been disputed by a spokesperson for Ascamcat who said that this programme had not yet started and that Ezequiel has been focused on delivering an education programme about the Peace Accords. While some of Ascamcat’s policy demands may have coincided with some of those espoused by FARC, there is no evidence of any active connection.
According to Ascamcat spokesperson, Pablo Téllez, “Ezequiel Rangel, as a leader, was someone who was totally committed to securing peace”.
“186 community leaders and human rights defenders killed since January 2016”
Just one day after the Human Rights Ombudsman, Carlos Alfonso Negret, announced that 52 community leaders and human rights defenders had been killed since the start of the year, there was yet another killing in Cauca department. According to El Espectador “Ni las alertas, ni las advertencias ni las estrategias de las autoridades han servido para evitar que más líderes sociales sean asesinados en el país”, (Neither alerts, nor warnings nor official strategies have helped to prevent the killing of community leaders and human rights defenders in the country”).
Héctor William Mina was a defender of the rights of the Afro-descendant community. He was a member of the Francisco Isaías Cifuentes Network of Human Rights Defenders, the Human Rights Commission of Marcha Patriotica, and was also president of the Civil Defence Board of the municipality of Guachene, Cauca.
At 11.45 on the morning of 14 July, he was having breakfast in the restaurant in the public park of Caloto, when 4 men surrounded his table, two on each side, and shot him several times. According to eye witnesses, after the attack Hector ran into the interior of the restaurant where people called for help. One man took him to the central hospital on his motor bike. On arrival at the hospital it was decided that he needed to be transferred to the Clínica Valle del Lili but he died from his injuries while en route.
According to the Ombudsman, there have been 186 killings of community leaders and human rights defenders in Colombia since January 2016. This latest killing brings to 53 the number of such killings so far in 2017, while there have been more that 500 instances of threats. Most attacks on human rights defenders occur in the departments of Cauca, Antioquia, Norte de Santander and Córdoba.
Raimundo Mota de Souza, known as Junior, was 38 years old, married and one of a family of 10 brothers in the Quilombola (Afro-descendant) community of Jibóia in Bahia state. On the evening of 13 July, Junior was working in the fields with his brothers. He and one brother were working some distance away from the rest of his brothers and nephews when four men pulled up in a car and opened fire on Junior. He was hit 10 times while his brother had to hide in a ditch to avoid being killed. The 4 men kept firing as they drove off.
Junior was the regional coordinator of the “Movimento dos Pequenos Agricultores na Bahia” (Movement of Poor Farmers of Bahia) and had undertaken courses in community leadership and legal studies so that he could help in the struggle to legally establish the land rights of the Quilombola community.
Following the killing of “João Bigode”, another member of the Quilombola community, in April 2016, Junior had become even more involved in the activities of the community to defend their rights. There has recently been a spate of attacks on members of the Quilombola community, none of which has been adequately investigated. On 16 July, 35 year old farmer Lindomar Fernandes Martins, was shot dead when a group of armed men burst into his home in the early hours of the morning and shot him dead. Brazil is now one of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to be a land rights defender. The government of Brazil has failed to address the scale and consistent pattern of these killings.