UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urged state authorities in Colombia on Dec. 15 to respond to heightened violence with concrete action and stronger protection. According to the UN Human Rights Office, 375 killings have been recorded in Colombia thus far in 2020. Of these killings, 255 people were slain in 66 massacres, and 120 human rights defenders have also been killed. What is more, since Colombia's peace agreement was signed in November 2016, a total of 244 demobilized FARC fighters have been slain. The killings continue to be committed "by non-state armed groups, criminal groups and other armed elements," in mostly in remote areas of Colombia, and particularly targeting "peasants, indigenous and Afro-Colombian people."
Some 10,000 participated in a cross-country march and motorcade through Colombia's southern Andes, dubbed the "Minga for Life, Territory, Democracy and Peace," culminating in a mass demonstration in Bogotá on Oct. 21. The Bogotá rally was swelled by thousands of students, teachers and labor unionists who walked out of classes and off their jobs. Called by Nasa and Guambiano indigenous leaders in the southern department of Cauca, the Minga (a traditional Andean word for "collective labor") was joined by Afro-Colombian and mestizo campesino communities in its 10-day trek to the capital. Chief among the marchers' grievances is the ongoing wave of assassinations of social leaders by illegal armed groups operating on indigenous lands. They charge that their communities have been betrayed by President Iván Duque's failure to fully implement terms of the peace accords with the demobilized FARC guerillas.
Local indigenous people on Sept. 16 toppled the statue of the conquistador Sebastián de Belalcázar in Popayán, capital of Colombia's southwestern Cauca department. The statue came down 84 years after local authorities had erected it atop of Morro de Tulcán, a hill that had been a sacred site for the Misak indigenous people. The Movement of Indigenous Authorities of the Southwest (MAIS) issued a statement saying the move to overturn the monument was taken following a decision by traditional elders of the Misak community. The monument to Belalcázar, who founded Popayán in 1537, had long been viewed as an insult to the native population of Cauca, Colombia's most heavily indigenous region. Maria Violet Medina, a leader from the local Nasa indigenous people, said: "The conquistadors brought disease, both physical and spiritual, to indigenous people. It was a genocide. That history isn't told. The statue of Belalcázar represents pain, revictimization, and causes resentment."
Amid the relentless and escalating wave of massacres and assassinations of social leaders in Colombia, President Iván Duque is adopting openly euphemistic terminology in an attempt to downplay the crisis. On Aug. 22, he acknowledged that massacres at various points around the country over the past days had left more than 30 dead—but refused to call them "massacres." Visiting Pasto, capital of Nariño department which has been the scene of several recent attacks, he said: "Many people have said, 'the massacres are returning, the massacres are returning'; first we have to use the precise name—collective homicides."
An indigenous journalist was among two killed when army troops were called in to evict a land occupation in Colombia's southern Cauca region Aug. 13. The lands of three haciendas had been under occupation for months by Nasa indigenous campesinos at El Guanábano, in Corinto municipality, as part of a land reclamation campaign dubbed "Liberación de la Madre Tierra." The elite National Police riot squad ESMAD was first mobilized to clear them, burning their huts and destroying crops. When the occupiers fought back, the army was sent in as back-up, and troops opened fire. Abelardo Liz, who was covering the confrontation for Nación Nasa community radio station, was shot in the abdomen, and died while being rushed to the hospital in Corinto. (El Tiempo, Las2Orillas, Las2Orillas, Bogotá, La Opinión, Cúcuta, Aug. 13)
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern in a Jan. 14 statement over the killings of human rights defenders in Colombia last year. The statement said the commission is "deeply troubled by the staggering number of human rights defenders killed in Colombia during 2019." The commission asserted that there were between 107 and 120 killings of rights activists in Colombia over the course of the year. It called on the "Colombian Government to make a strenuous effort to prevent attacks on people defending fundamental rights, to investigate each and every case and to prosecute those responsible for these violations, including instigating or aiding and abetting violations."
As Colombia's major cities exploded into protest amid a national strike on the nigt of Nov. 21, a truck-bomb attack targeted a National Police station in the southern department of Cauca, leaving three officers dead. Authorities blamed the blast in the town of Santander de Quilichao on "dissident" elements of the FARC guerillas who have remained in arms despite the peace accords. President Ivan Duque dispatched Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo and several of his top officials to Cauca after the attack to take stock of the security situation in the department. (El Espectador, Colombia Reports, Nov. 23)
Indigenous leaders in Colombia are raising accusations of "genocide" following the latest massacre, in which five members of the Nasa people were killed in southwestern Cauca department. Cristina Bautista, a Nasa traditional authority, or neehwesx, was killed along with four members of the Indigenous Guard, an unarmed community self-defense patrol, on Oct. 29. The incident took place at the community of La Luz on the Nasa resguardo of Tacueyó, Toribio municipality. The Indigenous Guard tried to stop a car at a checkpoint maintained in the community. The driver refused to cooperate and a stand-off ensued, bringing Bautista and others to the scene. Eventually, the occupants of the car opened fire. In addition to five slain, several were wounded in the attack, and the assailants escaped. They are believed to be members of a "dissident" band of the FARC guerillas, which has refused to honor Colombia's peace accords. The Indigenous Guard carry traditional staffs, but not firearms.