September declared black month in Colombia after record number of death threats

(Photo: El Lider)

More than 150 death threats have been made against human rights activists, journalists and politicians since the start of September, a record since the start of the peace talks between guerrilla group FARC and the government in 2012.

Local news sources reported that this morning further threats were made against journalists in Cali and Buenaventura in a pamphlet allegedly published by Los Urabeños, a powerful drug smuggling gang.

These recent threats only add to a concerning level of threats of death and violence which have taken place this month.

The high volume of threats began on September 8 when a list of 91 names were published by paramilitary group Aguilas Negras, who gave the named activists two weeks to leave the country or face assassination.

MORE: 91 Colombian human rights defenders receive death threat over email

Further threats were published in the following days by the paramilitary group Los Rastrojos with direct threats made against journalists, politicians and activists.

Carlos Guevara, head of NGO Somos Defensores which campaigns for the safety and protection of human rights activists and journalists in Latin America reported that September had been the worst month since 2009, and that levels of intimidation of this type were unheard of since the start of the government FARC peace talks in November 2012.

Guevara stressed that his organisation was unsure as to the origins of all of the threats, and that he found it unlikely that the paramilitary groups Aguilas Negras and were genuinely responsible for all of them.

“The question I seek to answer is who is benefiting from this climate of panic, because we believe that although they are using the letterhead of Aguilas Negras and Los Rastrojos there are other people behind the threats too,” said Guevara.

Why now?

Ariel Avila from the The Peace and Reconciliation Foundation has noted that Los Rastrojos have made pacts and alliances with other criminal groups in the north of Colombia, which apparently do not need to be kept in the south.

It is suggested that it may be local allies of Los Rastrojos who are behind the threats, for example farmers and large landowners who are at risk from the ongoing peace process, because it will uncover many truths and lead to reparations for victims who have been stripped of their land.

Aside from death threats, September also saw a direct attack on Alberto Yepes, coordinator of the human rights observatory of the Colombia-Europe-United States Coordination, made up of 240 NGOs.

Yepes – who featured on one of the death lists – was attacked by masked gunmen on motorcycles, who stole mobile phones and laptops containing important information related to human rights abuses and the False Positive scandal which has rocked Colombia in recent years.

MORE: False positives fact sheet

As a response to the high level of threats and intimidation against human rights activists, politicians and journalists this month, the U.N has called on the Colombia government to provide protection for those involved.

In response to the September 8 threats, the U.N commissioner said that he had worked with many of those featured in the ´blacklist´ and said that “they were making a valuable and legitimate contribution to respect for the rights of people in Colombia”.

2013 was labelled the worst period of safety for human rights workers in Colombia in Colombian history and saw the murder of 37 human rights defenders in less than 6 months, between January and June 2013.

Avila, head of the the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation in Havana, notes the need to provide government protection to those threatened and their families, but also states that the current economic situation makes this impossible.

The National Protection Unit (NPU) which should be providing protection to those on the lists is currently in a budget crisis and is facing a deficit of 100 billion pesos by the end of this year.

This means that those requiring government protection will most often need to pay for private companies out of their own pockets.

While to date no one who featured on a threat list has been murdered, September marks a dark period for those involved in Human rights and attempting to push forward the peace talks in Havana.


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