Two years since the signing of the Peace Agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla, the long process has begun towards the agreement’s implementation. This year has been intense, but it will also be remembered as the year that the former FARC guerrilla, now converted into a political party called the Alternative Common Revolutionary Force (Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común), participated for the first time in the national elections, leaving behind their weapons once and for all in favour of a political process.
Nevertheless, 2018 was also a year in which attacks against social leaders and human rights defenders increased, putting the peace process at risk. There are different figures related to the number of defenders killed in 2018 and, as highlighted by Alberto Brunori, there have not yet been sufficient results to stop these attacks. Certain regions such as Bajo Cauca, Catatumbo, Chocó and Nariño have seen the return of armed confrontation leading to forced displacement and confinement. According to the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (Consultoría para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento – CODHES), 2018 has seen the highest number of forced displacements since 2010.
Other illegal armed groups, whether paramilitary successor groups or FARC dissidents, are now fighting for control over the regions abandoned by the FARC. These groups have regrouped or become consolidated in different regions leading to a situation of open armed conflict and social and territorial control which is impacting on the lives and security of the civilian population. A recent publication by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) highlights the existence of five armed conflicts in Colombia, according to definitions under International Humanitarian Law (IHL).
In this article we will summarise some of the year’s most notable events.
The year 2018 began with the end of the ceasefire between the Colombian government and the National Liberation Front guerrilla (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN). AS an agreement was not reached to prolong the ceasefire, this led to a reactivation of the guerrilla group’s war activities.
It was a fateful month for human rights defenders, with 23 defenders and social leaders killed, as well as threats and other kinds of attacks against this sector.
On 13 January, Blanca Nubia Díaz was the victim of a kidnapping in the city of Bogotá. She was set upon by two men who took her away, sedated her and cut her hair. Blanca Nubia is a leader from the Wayúu indigenous people, member of the Movement of Victims of State Crimes (Movimiento de Víctimas de Crímenes de Estado – MOVICE) and a victim of paramilitary violence in the La Guajira region.
On 27 January, Temistocles Machado, a leader in the Buenaventura Civic Strike, was killed by gunmen who shot him while he was on his property. He was a noted defender of his community and his territory, over many years. Maria Cecilia Lozano, victim of the Mapiripan massacre and leader of the Association of Victims of Mapiripan, (Asociación de Víctimas de Mapiripan – ASOMUDEM), was the victim of an attempted murder.
On 29 January, the trial began against Santiago Uribe Vélez due to his alleged links and role in the founding of the paramilitary group “Los Doce Apóstoles” who wrought terror in the North of Antioquia in the 1990s.
As agreed in the negotiations between the Colombian Government and the Buenaventura Civic Strike Committee, on 19 February, after 22 days of striking in the city, by the Government formally recognised the Committee.
The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó carried out its annual commemoration of the Massacre of Mulatos and La Resbalosa that took place on 21 February, 2005. This activity was carried out just a few weeks after a new attack against the Community on 29 December, 2017, from which the Community was still recovering.
The Ombudsman’s Office Early Warning System (Sistema de Alerta Temprana – SAT) issued an early warning against the high risk situation for human rights organisations and defenders in different regions of the country. The SAT also made 18 recommendations to the national government to prevent risk situations and protect leaders and defenders.
In March, the XIV Asturian Delegation for the Verification of Human Rights in Colombia visited several regions of the country, met with human rights organisations and published its report which describes concerns regarding the risk situation for communities in different regions and the lack of implementation of the Peace Agreement in Colombia.
The parliamentary elections, in which the FARC participated for the first time as a political party, took place in March. These elections were the least violent in the history of Colombia according to the national press.
In the Magdalena Medio region an environmental disaster hit the city of Barrancabermeja where the largest oil refinery in the country is located. This disaster was caused by a spill of crude oil due to a fault in the Lizama 158 oil well.
The month of April marked the 30th anniversary of the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz – CIJP), who PBI has accompanied since our arrival to the country in 1994. It was an emotional moment in recognition of this organisation and the work it has done in favour of communities who are victims of the armed conflict. Nevertheless; this month was also sadly marked by two tragic events: the murder of Doris Valenzuela, a leader from Buenaventura who was a refugee in Spain, by her partner; and the forced disappearance of three members of the community council of the El Naya collective territory (Valle del Cauca): Obdulio Angulo Zamora, Hermes Angulo Zamora and Simeon Olave Angulo. These disappearances led to an emergency situation in the community, and showed the reconfiguration of the armed conflict in this region.
On 20 April, the Regional Corporation for Human Rights (Corporación Regional para los Derechos Humanos – CREDHOS), which represents victims of the armed conflict in the Magdalena Medio region, was the first NGO to deliver a report to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz – JEP), compiling information on cases of human rights violations and infractions of IHL.
On 4 May, during a humanitarian mission with the Ombudsman’s Office, Iber Angulo Zamora was disappeared; the fourth person from the El Naya community council to be forcibly disappeared this year. The Ombudsman reported the events in a public statement.
On 7 May there was an emergency in the North of Antioquia and Bajo Cauca caused by landslides from the Hidroituango dam. A succession of landslides caused the forced displacement of thousands of families throughout the area. This situation was monitored and reported by the Ríos Vivos Antioquia Movement (Movimiento Ríos Vivos Antioquia) and their allies, for which they have received numerous threats.
On 10 May, the Universal Periodic Review of Colombia was held for the third time at the United Nations Human Rights Council. During this session, Colombia received 211 recommendations from the different States present and accepted 183 of them. Many of the recommendations focused on attacks against human rights defenders and leaders.
On 17 June, Iván Duque (the Centro Democrático party candidate) was elected as President of the Republic of Colombia with more than 10.3 million votes, against Gustavo Petro (the Colombia Humana candidate) who gained more than eight million votes.
On 22 June the embassies of France and Germany visited the offices of the Nydia Erika Bautista Foundation (Fundación Nydia Erika Bautista – FNEB), to support the work of this human rights organisation which is accompanied by PBI. They heard testimonies from several people who had travelled to the event from different regions to share their concerns about the situation there. The British Embassy visited the Urabá region, and in particular the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó and communities in the Bajo Atrato area.
The month of July began with the presentation of a report by several human rights organisations, including the “José Alvear Restrepo” Lawyers Collective (Colectivo de Abogados “José Alvear Restrepo” – CCAJAR) and the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz – CIJP), to the Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Coexistence and Non-Repetition, on the situation of people who defend human rights and territory. This report compiles information on ten cases that occurred during the last four governments and that show patterns in attacks against human rights defenders. As Luis Guillermo Perez told PBI in an interview: “The report will also serve as input to ask the Colombian State questions about the deep crisis represented by the continuous extermination of human rights defenders”.
During this month, two massacres occurred that left the country in mourning: on 5 July, a massacre was committed in the municipality of Argelia (Cauca) in which seven people were tortured and killed; and a further massacre was committed in El Tarra (Norte de Santander) in which eight people were killed by a firearms attack while in a commercial establishment.
Michel Forst, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, also made an academic visit to Colombia this month, and took the opportunity to meet with civil society organisations, defenders and social leaders as well as State institutions. This visit led to an official invitation from the Colombian Government for a subsequent visit that took place in November.
On 7 August, Iván Duque took office as the new President of the Republic of Colombia. Coinciding with the 19th anniversary of the murder of noted comedian Jaime Garzón, the former deputy director of the Administrative Department of Security (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad – DAS), José Miguel Narváez, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for his role in instigating the crime, which was also recognised as a crime against humanity.
The Social Corporation for Community Advice and Training (Corporación Social para la Asesoría y Capacitación Comunitaria – COS-PACC), together with the Committee for Solidarity with Political Prisoners (Fundación Comité de Solidaridad con los Presos Políticos – FCSPP), delivered a report to the JEP compiling information on cases of extrajudicial killings in the Department of Casanare.
The month of September was a month of commemorations: we celebrated CCAJAR’s 40th anniversary and the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. Germán Graciano Posso and María Ligia Chaverra were awarded the Diakonia National Prize for the Defence of Human Rights, in the catergories of defender of the year and a whole life dedicated to human rights, respectively.
On 28 September, PBI lost our dear companion Juan Carlos Solís, who will always be remembered and honoured within our organisation.
That same day, the XVII Army Brigade that has jurisdiction in the Urabá region filed for constitutional protection (acción de tutela) against the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, for the alleged violation of their right “to honour” and “to a good name”, due to the repeated public statements made by the Peace Community related to the presence of neo-paramilitary groups in the San José de Apartadó area.
In October, PBI organised an event in the city of Barrancabermeja, to launch our magazine Land: Culture and Conflict. Women human rights defenders from the Magdalena Medio region met and exchanged opinions about the challenges and proposals for the defence of territory in this region of Colombia that has been so hard hit by the armed conflict.
In order to understand first-hand the vulnerable situation of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, the Regional Office in Antioquia of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) made a visit to “La Holandita”, the Peace Community’s main settlement.
On Sunday 11 November, the 30th anniversary of the Segovia massacre was commemorated, in which tribute was paid to the 46 victims of this paramilitary incursion. On 20 November Michel Forst’s official visit started. Mr Forst visited several regions of the country to meet with human rights defenders and assess their risk situation.
On the 29th of the same month, the launch ceremony of the Truth Commission (Comisión de la Verdad) was held, which will aim to clarify the serious events that occurred in during the armed conflict.
In the last month of the year, while the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was being commemorated, German Graciano Posso, legal representative of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, received notice of an arrest warrant against him for contempt of court . Due to a national and international mobilisation in favour of the human rights defender, the sentence was annulled, however; an order to comply with the sentence continues to exist.
On the night of 6 December, the community of the Nueva Esperanza Humanitarian Zone, in the collective territory of Jiguamiandó, relived their fears of the past when they heard bombings and gunfire within walking distance of their settlement. The reasons for this bombing near the civilian population are still not clear.
 According to the Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría del Pueblo), between 1 January 2016 and 30 November 2018, 423 social leaders and human rights defenders were killed; Colombian NGO Indepaz reports the killing of 226 defenders between 1 January and 17 November 2018, El Tiempo: Van 226 líderes sociales asesinados en el país en lo que va de año, 23 November 2018
 Representative in Colombia of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
 El Espectador, Colombia 2020: “Medidas para proteger a líderes sociales no han dado resultado”: Alberto Brunori, 22 November 2018
 CICR Colombia: Cinco conflictos armados en Colombia ¿qué está pasando?, 6 December 2018
 El Heraldo: Fin del cese al fuego: ¿qué viene ahora entre el Gobierno y el Eln?, 9 January 2018
 Tele Sur: Indepaz de Colombia: Asesinan a 23 líderes sociales en enero, 2 February 2018
 Movice: Denuncia Pública: Blanca Nubia Díaz fue secuestrada en Bogotá, 19 January 2018
 El País.com.co: Asesinan a líder social de Buenaventura, Temistoclés Machado, 27 January 2018
 Humanidad Vigente: DENUNCIA PÚBLICA: Atentado contra la vida e integridad de MARÍA CECILIA LOZANO, víctima de las masacres de Mapiripán y líder social del Meta en el proceso de reparación colectiva y restitución de tierras, 30 January 2918
 El Mundo.com: Este lunes inicia el juicio contra Santiago Uribe Vélez, 29 January 2018
 El País.com.co: Gobierno Nacional otorga reconocimiento a comité de paro en Buenaventura, 19 February 2018
 Pacifista!, 2018: el primer año de la Farc en la política colombiana, 26 December 2018
 Semana: Algo huele mal: lecciones del desastre ambiental en Barrancabermeja, 31 March 2018; El Tiempo: No cesa el afloramiento de crudo en zona rural de Barrancabermeja, 22 March 2018
 El Espectador: La historia de la líder social que habría sido asesinada por su esposo en España, 12 April 2018
 Hacemos Memoria: “Hicimos un informe que incluye la voz de las víctimas”: Iván Madero, 13 May 2018
 El Espectador: Nuevo derrumbe en Hidroituango obliga a evacuar trabajadores, 26 May 2018
 El Tiempo: Colombia amarra ante el mundo procesos de paz con Farc y Eln, 15 May 2018 ; El Espectador: Así fue el examen de derechos humanos a Colombia en la ONU, 10 May 2018
 Semana: Petro: el candidato de izquierda que más cerca estuvo de llegar a la presidencia, 17 June 2018
 Semana: Condenan a José Miguel Narváez a 30 años de cárcel por el crimen de Jaime Garzón, 14 August 2018
 CNMH: Conmemoración de la masacre de Segovia, ¿quién tiene la verdad 30 años después?, 6 November 2018
 El Espectador: Germán Graciano, premio nacional de Derechos Humanos, será arrestado por desacato, 4 December 2018