Control bodies, such as the Attorney General’s Office, the Ombudsman’s Office and the Prosecutor General’s Office, all of which are now headed by officials of the government coalition, have taken two decisions that go against democracy and the Human Rights Protection Measurement System.

By: Zenaida Espinosa Cabrera

Political analyst Ariel Ávila announced this week that the government and the control bodies, such as the Attorney General’s Office, the Ombudsman’s Office and the Prosecutor General’s Office, all headed by officials of the coalition government, have taken two decisions that go against democracy and the Human Rights Protection Measurement System:

  1. The Attorney General’s Office will be the only one in charge of handling the figures on murders and victimization of social leaders. So far these data are handled by the United Nations (which are partial data); the Ombudsman’s Office, which handles higher figures; and organisations such as the Somos Defensores programme. The intention, according to the government, is to unify these figures, but in practice this is not sound, as hundreds of cases may be left out of the statistics due to the issue of territorial coverage.

  2. The Attorney General’s Office will be the only one on the ground to say how, why and whether or not they are a social leader. The issue of territorial coverage also plays a role here and once again takes this work away from the Ombudsman’s Office and other institutions that monitor the issue of human rights and the protection of social leaders, after this independence had been recovered in the framework of the Peace Accords, given that during the government of President Álvaro Uribe it had been designated solely to the Prosecutor’s Office, which means that we are going backwards in terms of security for social leaders.

Change in the Ministry of Defence

In addition to the above decisions, there has been a controversial change in the Ministry of Defense, following the death last week of the Minister of Defense Carlos Holmes Trujillo, who died of the Covid-19 virus. President Iván Duque has just appointed business administrator Diego Andrés Molano Apontes as his replacement.  With no experience other than having been a Bogotá Councillor and Director General of the Colombian Institute for Family Welfare (ICBF), Molano was appointed, despite controversy over his suitability for the position he is to hold.

This appointment is worrying for Colombians, especially for the defenders of peace and life, who have been hard hit during the last two years. Furthermore, this appointment comes in a year in which, in its first 33 days, it already reflects a human rights crisis with a balance of 10 massacres, which have left 35 victims; the assassination of 21 leaders and 5 peace signatories, according to the Institute of Studies for Development and Peace (Indepaz). In addition to the new minister’s lack of experience, Molano’s well-known animosity towards social protest and the implementation of the Peace Accords has been publicly expressed in various scenarios.

See: Criticisms of Diego Molano, the new defence minister, in a tweet

On 29 January another massacre took place in the municipality of Satinga, Nariño, where three young men were killed and two more were reported missing. Melanio Torres, one of the survivors and witness of the massacre, was left in the hands of the security forces at the military base in the municipality, and it is hoped that he will be given full protection and that this case will be followed up. On the same day, in less than 24 hours, 3 peasants were victims of another massacre in the area of El Catatumbo, department of Norte de Santander.  The victims were murdered in Tibú, a border area with Venezuela, which also generated another humanitarian drama, the displacement of 400 people from the sector.

On 31 January, Remberto Arrieta, a social leader who was part of the National Programme for the Integral Substitution of Illicit Crops (PNIS) and a member of the Community Action Board of the Primavera village, where he lived, was murdered in Tarazá, department of Antioquia, and from where he was taken and subsequently killed in Quebrada la Barrigona.

See: In Tarazá, Antioquia, illegal armed group assassinates peasant leader who was part of the PNIS.

Paramilitary terror is back in the news as in the worst times of the violent boom of the Self-Defense Forces. On 31 January in Yarumal, Antioquia department, the community leader José Miguel Barrientos Uribe, 39 years old, was murdered. After being shot twice, he was decapitated and then his head was exposed in the town square of the same municipality. The inhabitants of the region had already warned about the presence of groups with long arms and hooded men patrolling the villages. It was only after this atrocious event that the mayor’s office called a security council, at a time when the inhabitants were beginning to move out of fear of the cruelty of a new conflict.

See: Social leader murdered in Yarumal, Antioquia

On 1February, a new massacre was confirmed in which four young people were murdered. They had disappeared two days earlier in the municipality of Patía, department of Cauca, and were found murdered in Policarpa, department of Nariño.

On 2 February, an armed commando killed peasant leader and human rights defender Yordan Eduardo Guetio, who belonged to the Association of Peasant Workers Astrazonac in Corinto, Cauca.

On 3 February, Pier Kasamanchin, councillor of the municipality of Totoró, Cauca, was the victim of an attack when he was travelling to his residence in the Polindara Indigenous Reserve, when armed men shot at him from a motorbike. Fortunately, the political leader escaped unharmed and asked the government and police authorities to pay attention to his complaints of threats that he has been filing since 2018.

There are still nearly 18 months to go before there is a change of government, which is still an uncertain scenario, a scenario that worries the peace signatories and millions of Colombians who have bet on the defence and construction of a country without violence, where freedoms are respected and the Social State of Law, promulgated in the Political Constitution, is made effective.

More acts of violence

At the time of going to press, Indepaz has reported a new massacre, which would be the 11th of the year, where three people have been killed in the municipality of Argelia, department of Cauca, bringing to 24 the number of deaths in massacres so far in 2021.