Social and campesino organizations stand outside the Palace of Justice in Florence, Colombia as part of a peaceful demonstration to protest the arrest of Community leader Yuberney (Nelly) Oyola Luna who is being held on kidnapping charges.
Police officials took Luna into custody in January, arresting him from his home in Los Alpinos in Caqueta for allegedly organizing the kidnapping at least 14 members of a police anti-narcotics team. Officials say the social leader was acting in response to the violent eradication of illicit crops in the area.
The accused will be attending a hearing for his case as numerous social activists send their support from outside the judicial building, awaiting the final verdict which they hope will bring Luna home.
Colombia’s social groups and human rights activists have been the target of police aggression in the country’s rural sectors with over one hundred leaders falling victim police crackdowns.
Just hours after attending a town meeting with community leaders, Alfonso Perez Mellizo, president of the Community Action Board (JAC) in Pan de Azucar, was cut down by a rain of bullets, the latest fatality in the wave of violence which has taken 32 lives in the area so far.
There is a desperate need for justice for the victims and protection for the agricultural communities, Cauca Department Secretary Maribel Perafan said. Earlier this week, the Ministry of Defense stated the cause of deaths could have been an act of revenge due to a personal disagreement. Activists immediately rejected this explanation, calling for action from the state and for the government to uphold the terms of Colombia’s Peace Agreement.
The Government’s failure to properly investigate the scores of murdered social leaders demonstrates a lack of interest to the plight of the people, Human Rights Network of the Colombian Southwest coordinator Deivin Hurtado said.
"In Cauca there are ways to demonstrate how this situation is due to the political exercise (...) Two comrades this year, entered their homes and were beheaded in distant places, one in Mercaderes and another in Piedmont," said Hurtado, adding that one numerous instances leaders reported receiving threats to police only to be slaughtered thereafter. One one occasion, video footage from 2016 shows officers standing by as an activist is shot down.
In a session with the press Tuesday, Colombia's Attorney General Nestor Humberto Martinez identified "systemic criminality" in the assassination of social leaders — something the government has always denied, despite the evidence presented in numerous human-rights reports.
"The origin has multiple causes, but we are already identifying a few concerning phenomena," he said, evoking the "eventual presence of what is left of the Self-Defense Units, who would be acting with some level of systematic pattern in a few regions."
Several reports by human rights groups have denounced the resurgence of paramilitary activity in recent months, despite the official demobilization of the Self-Defense Units in 2006 during the presidency of Alvaro Uribe.
The attorney highlighted the importance of raising public awareness about the "possibility that systemic criminality can affect social leaders." He also linked the assassinations with ongoing land conflicts in Colombia.
In the rural and agricultural sectors, continued militarized aggression by paramilitaries and the forced eradication of coca farmers has resulted in the deaths of more than 130 activists so far.