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Colombia News Brief for February 11 – February 25, 2021

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Welcome to LAWG’s Colombia News Brief, a compilation of top articles and reports on issues of peace, justice, human rights, and more in Colombia.

SPOTLIGHT

Organizaciones de la Sociedad civil internacional saludan los avances de la JEP y respaldan la legítima labor de las organizaciones defensoras de derechos humanos y las víctimas de ejecuciones extrajudiciales 
Las organizaciones internacionales de la sociedad civil, 24 de febrero de 2021
“La valiente y rigurosa labor de las organizaciones de derechos humanos y víctimas  colombianas ha sido clave en el esclarecimiento de la verdad sobre estos dolorosos hechos que  enlutan al pueblo colombiano y que deben ser fallados judicialmente. Pretender reducir dicha  labor a un intento de “desacreditación” del jefe del Centro Democrático, falta a la realidad y  pone en grave riesgo, una vez más, la vida y labor de las personas defensoras de derechos  humanos, cuya verdad es clave para la superación definitiva del conflicto en Colombia. Rechazamos esta nueva estigmatización y alertamos al Estado y al Gobierno de Colombia,  sobre las graves consecuencias que, en materia de seguridad, pueda tener sobre las víctimas,  defensores y defensoras que han venido denunciando estos casos durante años”.

International civil society organisations welcome the progress of the JEP and support the  legitimate work of human rights organisations and victims of extrajudicial executions 
International civil society organisations, February 24, 2021
“The courageous and rigorous work of Colombian human rights organisations and victims  has been key in clarifying the truth about these painful facts that are mourned by the Colombian people; and that must be prosecuted. Seeking to reduce their work to an attempt to  “discredit” the leader of the Centro Democrático political party, not only constitutes an affront,  it is untrue and puts at serious risk, once again, the lives and work of human rights defenders,  whose truth is key to finally overcoming the conflict in Colombia. We reject this new stigmatisation and call to the attention of the Colombian State and  the Government, the serious consequences this could have in terms of security for the victims and the human rights defenders who have for years been denouncing these cases.”

COLOMBIA FAILS TO PROTECT HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS
James P. McGovern (D-MA),  U.S. House of Representatives, February 24, 2021
“That is why I am calling upon the Biden Administration to make the protection of human rights defenders and social leaders one of America’s highest priorities in its relationship with Colombia. The Biden Administration and Congress should review the Human Rights Watch report and determine how U.S. policy and aid can advance the full implementation of the peace accord, support its protective and justice mechanisms and help fulfill its promises of economic development in neglected areas. And I call upon all my colleagues to stand up for peace, human rights, and an end to the violence against human rights defenders and social leaders in Colombia.”

La JEP hace pública la estrategia de priorización dentro del Caso 03, conocido como el de falsos positivos
Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz, Gobierno de Colombia, 18 de febrero de 2021
“En seis territorios del país se concentra la primera fase de investigación del Caso 03: Muertes ilegítimamente presentadas como bajas en combate por agentes de Estado’. Así lo dio a conocer, a través del Auto 033 de 2021, la Sala de Reconocimiento de Verdad y Responsabilidad, cuando presentó a los sujetos procesales, intervinientes especiales, víctimas acreditadas ante la JEP y a la sociedad en general, cómo se aplicaron los criterios de priorización en ese proceso judicial”.

GOVERNMENT-FARC PEACE PROCESS

UN urges Colombia to fulfill peace deal, stem violence
Luis Jaime Acosta, Reuters, February 23, 2021
“The UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights tallied 133 murders of activists and community leaders last year, up 25 from the year before. The government said on Monday it had recorded just 66, but that 63 others were being investigated. The full implementation of a 2016 peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels, which initially led to a reduction in violence, is key to stemming the violence, the UN body said. ‘The most important thing is to put the peace deal in the center of the government’s response, reinforcing the mechanisms created by the deal’ for this situation, Juliette de Rivero, the U.N. office’s Colombia representative, said in a virtual press conference.”

La JEP recibió informe sobre reclutamiento forzado de niños que siguen desaparecidos
Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz, Gobierno de Colombia, 15 de febrero de 2021
“El pasado viernes la Sala de Reconocimiento de la JEP recibió el informe ‘Raptado de los brazos de su madre: Relatos de reclutamiento y utilización de niñas y niños desde los ojos de sus madres, hermanos, hermanas y padres en proceso de búsqueda’, por parte de un grupo de víctimas, apoyado por la Coalición contra la vinculación de niños, niñas y jóvenes al conflicto armado en Colombia (COALICO). El informe se recibió de manera virtual en el marco de la conmemoración del Día de las Manos Rojas, que recuerda la entrada en vigor del Protocolo Facultativo de la Convención sobre los Derechos del Niño relativo a la participación de los niños en los conflictos armados”.

Colombia peace update: February 13, 2021
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), February 14, 2021
“El Tiempo revealed a February 6 communication that the Cuban embassy in Colombia shared with the Colombian government, the chief of the UN Verification Mission, and two Catholic Church representatives. It reads: ‘Our embassy received information, whose veracity we cannot assess, about an alleged military attack by the Eastern War Front of the ELN in the coming days. We have shared this information with the ELN peace delegation in Havana, which expressed total ignorance and reiterated the guarantee that it has no involvement in the organization’s military decisions or operations.’”

GOVERNMENT-ELN PEACE PROCESS

Gabino en Cuba, Juan Manuel Santos e Iván Cepeda: la carta de advertencia del embajador
Semana, 21 de febrero de 2021
“Una serie de cartas, reveladas por SEMANA en su portada, revelan los complejos movimientos que se hicieron durante el gobierno de Juan Manuel Santos para que el líder del ELN, ‘alias Gabino’ pudiera viajar a Cuba en el año 2018. En ese entonces, el jefe del ELN no tenía ningún papel oficial en el proceso de paz que se adelantaba con el gobierno colombiano y por cuenta de eso, su presencia en la isla no tenía sustento legal”.

Al menos 85 familias indígenas están en riesgo de desplazamiento en Chocó por combates entre ELN y Clan del Golfo
Semana, 20 de febrero de 2021
“Nuevamente, los enfrentamientos entre estructuras armadas ilegales en inmediaciones de resguardos indígenas en Chocó dejan a la población en estado de vulnerabilidad. El más reciente combate tuvo como protagonista al ELN y el Clan del Golfo, muy cerca de Alto Baudó, donde falleció una nativa por cuenta de una bala perdida”.

COVID-19

Coronavirus crisis bankrupted 500K of Colombia’s small businesses
Adriaan Alsema, Colombia Reports, February 25, 2021
“Between business owners and employees, the bankruptcies destroyed approximately 13% of the 7.7 million jobs provided by small businesses in 2019. Almost 88% of these small businesses have no employees. Notwithstanding, small and medium sized businesses provide most employment in Colombia and were the most affected by the pandemic, according to the DANE.”

HUMAN RIGHTS

El duro choque que los falsos positivos desataron entre Uribe y Human Rights Watch
El Espectador, 21 de febrero de 2021
“Vivanco hizo referencia a una de las tantas afirmaciones que Uribe ha hecho luego de los datos publicados por la JEP y, en un hilo de ocho trinos publicado en Twitter, argumentó. “Uribe dice que “nunca se ofrecieron recompensas a integrantes de Fuerzas Armadas, mucho menos por bajas en combate”. Falso. Hubo directivas que otorgaban recompensas y hay evidencias claras de estos pagos. Vean estos testimonios y fragmentos de libros militares de la época”, fue la primea publicación del directivo de esa ONG”.

Comment by UN Human Rights Office spokesperson Liz Throssell on Colombia’s investigation of “false positives” during the armed conflict
United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, February 19, 2021
“We welcome the progress in the investigation in Colombia of the so-called ‘false positives’ cases where people were falsely presented as having been ‘killed in combat.’ On Thursday, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, which was set up to prosecute crimes committed during the armed conflict,  announced that it was investigating the killing of 6,402 people, far higher than the initial figure of some 2,000 that they received to investigate. We take this opportunity to recognize the extremely important and legitimate work that victims’ groups and NGOs have carried out to fight impunity in these cases and to obtain justice. Their contribution is essential for the realization of the rights to truth and reparation for victims.”

Peace court: Colombia army ‘behind 6,400 extrajudicial killings’
BBC, February 19, 2021
“After having investigated kidnappings carried out by the Farc rebels, the court has now turned its attention to the ‘false positives’ and crimes committed by government forces. Colombia’s public prosecutor’s office had acknowledged that there had been 2,249 ‘false positives’ between 1988 and 2014 in a report it handed to the JEP last year. The investigation suggests the real figure is almost triple that.”

Colombia Report Triples Number of Known False Positives Victims
Parker Asmann, InSight Crime, February 19, 2021
“A special tribunal has stated the number of victims connected to Colombia’s false positives scandal is almost three times higher than previously reported, dramatically expanding the scope of one of the darkest phases of the country’s recent history. Colombia’s Special Jurisdiction for Peace (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz — JEP) identified at least 6,402 victims between 2002 and 2008, during which time members of the military lured primarily poor young men away from their homes to be murdered, according to a February 18 press release. Soldiers dressed the victims in military fatigues and placed weapons next to their bodies to pass them off as being active guerrilla members — or false positives — in order to boost the government’s body count of enemy combatants, a practice used to justify US aid to the military.”

Falsos positivos en Colombia no fueron 2.248 sino 6.402: JEP
Cristina Navarro, Caracol Radio, 18 de febrero de 2021
“El 17 de julio del año 2018 cuando el Tribunal de Paz recibió el expediente por parte de la Fiscalía General de la Nación, se reportaron 2.248 víctimas de falsos positivos en Colombia, entre 1988 y 2014. Pero dos años largos de Investigación de la JEP, este tribunal, después de contrastar toda la información de este macro-caso tiene su propia cifra y es que son 6.402 las víctimas de estas ejecuciones extrajudiciales, es decir 4.154 víctimas de las inicialmente reportadas. Además, esos crímenes ocurrieron en menos tiempo, entre los años 2002 y 2008, que son los primeros seis años del periodo presidencial de Álvaro Uribe Vélez”.

Ex-FARC commanders accept Colombia war crimes accusations
Oliver Griffin, Reuters, February 18, 2021
“Former commanders from Colombia’s demobilized FARC guerrillas on Thursday accepted accusations by a transitional justice court that they committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the group’s 50-year war with the state. The ruling in January by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), created under the 2016 peace deal between the government and the rebels, was the first time the JEP attributed criminal responsibility for hostage-taking to former leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The former commanders were also accused of other war crimes connected with the treatment of kidnap victims, including murder and torture, among others.”

Colombia registers 12th massacre so far this year
Adriaan Alsema, Colombia Reports, February 18, 2021
“Colombia’s 12th massacre horrified locals of a picturesque town in the country’s coffee growing region on Wednesday as violence continues to increase. The massacre of five alleged coffee pickers took place in Andes, a town in the usually calm southwest of the Antioquia province, which has seen four massacres so far this year. The defense minister offered a $28,000 reward for information that would lead to the perpetrators of the massacre Molano claimed was committed by a unit of paramilitary group AGC. For more than a decade, the paramilitary group, a dissident group of now-defunct paramilitary organization AUC, has been terrorizing the province that has seen a recent escalation of violence that is putting a serious strain on Colombia’s peace process.”

Señor Gobierno, no más excusas
Pensamiento y Acción Social (PAS), 12 de febrero de 2021

“Como en otros años, este 2021, inicia con múltiples llamados al Gobierno Nacional, y a las entidades públicas con responsabilidades en materia de protección y seguridad de las y los Defensores de Derechos Humanos y líderes y lideresas sociales en Colombia. La cantidad de llamados nacionales e internacionales y la diversidad de actores que los profieren no es ya la novedad. Sin embargo, cabe reconocer el aumento de su frecuencia y el progresivo cambio de tono que hoy transita entre la angustia y el acento cada vez más fuerte”.

Report: Colombia failing to protect human rights defenders
Regina Garcia Cano, The Washington Post, February 10, 2021

“Colombia has failed to protect human rights activists in its remote communities, resulting in hundreds of slayings since the government reached a peace deal with the country’s biggest rebel movement in 2016, an international monitoring group said Wednesday. Armed groups, including some that emerged from the now-demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, are responsible for some of the killings, researchers with Human Rights Watch said in a report.”

Colombia: Protection Gaps Endanger Rights Defenders
Human Rights Watch, February 10, 2021

“Armed group killings of human rights defenders are pervasive across Colombia, yet the government is dragging its feet in carrying out policies to prevent them, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The 127-page report, ‘Left Undefended: Killings of Rights Defenders in Colombia’s Remote Communities,’ documents killings of human rights defenders in the country in the last five years, as well as serious shortcomings in government efforts to prevent them, protect defenders, and hold those responsible to account. Over 400 human rights defenders have been killed in Colombia since 2016, according to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). ‘Colombia has had the highest number of human rights defenders killed of any Latin American country in recent years, but the government’s response has been mostly talk, with little meaningful action,’ said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.”

DRUG POLICY

Colombia to target armed groups, restart coca fumigation, defense minister says
Luis Jaime Acosta, Reuters, February 11, 2021

“Fighting drug trafficking and dismantling armed groups are the top challenges for Colombia’s military in 2021, the country’s new defense minister said on Thursday, adding he is confident violence against human rights activists can be reduced. Colombia could restart aerial fumigation of coca – the base ingredient in cocaine – with herbicide glyphosate as early as next month, Defense Minister Diego Molano told Reuters in an interview. ‘What we want is security, security, more security,’ said Molano. ‘First, the head-on fight against drug trafficking, which is the biggest threat we have in Colombia to the stability of our democracy.’”

11 killed in eruption of narco violence in southwest Colombia
Adriaan Alsema, Colombia Reports, February 23, 2021
“At least 11 people were killed in Colombia’s most southwestern municipality over the weekend amid a turf war between drug trafficking groups. Defense Minister Diego Molano told press on Monday that eruption of violence was due to a conflict between “Frente Oliver Sinisterra” (FOS) and “Los Contadores” over who controls the coastal municipality in the Nariño province.”

Cocaine: Colombia weighs a new aerial war on drugs
Gideon Long, Financial Times, February 20, 2021
“The government of Iván Duque hails the eradicators as unsung heroes. And yet, the men in blue overalls are losing their war. Once they have cleared a field, coca growers invariably came back and replant. Or they plant elsewhere. Eradication by hand is also labour-intensive and dangerous — drug traffickers do not take kindly to having their bushes ripped up. Since Duque came to power in mid-2018, armed groups have killed 29 members of eradication teams, mostly soldiers and police officers. More than 200 have been injured, some maimed for life by landmines.”

Orion VI Campaign Deals Hard Blow to Narcotrafficking
Myriam Ortega, Diálogo, February 11, 2021

“On November 25, 2020, the Colombian Navy presented the results of the sixth phase of the Orion International Naval Campaign to Combat Drug Trafficking, a multinational effort consisting of combined and multidimensional operations (maritime, riverine, air, and land) in the Caribbean Sea, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, as well as Colombian border rivers. From September 15 to October 30, 29 countries and 51 international institutions took part in Orion VI, which seized more than 90 tons of cocaine hydrochloride, the Colombian Navy said in a statement.”

VENEZUELAN CRISIS

Colombia’s response to Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis
Alessandro Rampietti, Al Jazeera, February 24, 2021
“More than five million Venezuelans have fled their country – and almost half of them are in Colombia. Nearly two million people are living in the neighbouring country without stability or visas. Now, the Colombian government is offering an alternative for Venezuelans living there. Colombian President Iván Duque hopes this measure will get the country international help for one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world.”

Mandatarios locales son “aliados” para llevar el Estatuto a migrantes
Jesus Blanquicet, El Heraldo, 19 febrero de 2021

“Unas de las dudas que persisten con relación al Estatuto de Protección Temporal al Migrante es saber a fondo cómo será la implementación de la medida que acogerá, de forma legal, a unos dos millones de inmigrantes venezolanos que se encuentran dentro del territorio colombiano. El director de Migración Colombia, Juan Francisco Espinosa indicó que la socialización del Estatuto con la población migrante que no tiene acceso a los medios informáticos se dará con la presencia en los municipios, a través de campañas de difusión masiva. El funcionario detalló que los alcaldes y gobernadores serán aliados fundamentales para implementar el mecanismo”.

Colombia’s brave gesture of solidarity
Financial Times, February 16, 2021

“By the year’s end it will rival Syria as the world’s worst refugee crisis, on current trends. But it has grabbed far less international attention and received only a fraction of the aid money. Venezuela’s refugee crisis is not the result of war or natural disaster but the consequences are no less shocking. About 5.5m people, more than one in six of the population, have fled the catastrophic economic mismanagement and brutal political repression of President Nicolás Maduro over the past six years. The largest single contingent, numbering nearly 2m, has settled in neighbouring Colombia. A middle-income country with limited resources stretched further by the coronavirus pandemic, Colombia has problems of its own, notably the complex legacy of decades of guerrilla insurgency and paramilitary killings.”