Armed attack on Civil Rights Defenders partner organisation in Colombia

On Wednesday night, Colombian human rights organization and Civil Rights Defenders partner, Fundación de Derechos Humanos Joel Sierra – Joel Sierra Foundation – was attacked by an armed group at their office. The attackers fired several rounds against the building and detonated a car bomb that destroyed the façade of the office and of several buildings in the area. One individual outside a neighboring building died, and five individuals suffered injuries.

The violent attack occurred in the Arauca department in eastern Colombia, just on the border with Venezuela. The Joes Sierra Foundation was hosting a meeting with civil society organizations of the region on the deteriorating human rights situation in the region.  

The participants had parked cars and other obstacles in a formation outside of the house when arriving as a protection measure. An action that effectively prevented the attackers from detonating the bomb outside the door, and thereby probably saved the lives of several individuals inside the office. 

The attack against the Joes Sierra Foundation should be seen in the context of increasing violence between the ELN-guerilla and dissidents of the now de-mobilized FARC-guerilla. During 2022 only, the fighting has led to more than 30 deaths and at least 3,000 displaced individuals.  

According to the Asociación Nacional Campesina José Antonio Galán Zorro, the attack occurred after the circulation of an audio message from the FARC dissidents; in which they threatened social leaders and members from the Community Action Board. 

One of many recent attacks

On January 9, a bomb exploded at the headquarters of a community aqueduct run by the Social and Popular Political Mass Movement (CPSMM) and on January 19, human rights defender and member of the Joel Sierra Foundation José Avelino Ortíz was killed.  

The situation along the border is also affected by drug trafficking and a large number of armed groups.  

The organizations affected by the attack urge the authorities to protect civil society in the region, and ask the international community to demand concrete measures from the Colombian state to protect human rights defenders. In 2021 at least 171 social leaders were murdered in Colombia

“Civil Rights Defenders reiterates the demands from civil society in Arauca, that the Colombian state needs to protect human rights defenders”, says Erik Jennische, Director Latin America Department at Civil Rights Defenders.

In 2021 Civil Rights Defenders supported the publication of a report written by Joel Sierra Foundation on the high number of arbitrary detentions and criminalization of human rights defenders in Arauca. The report was presented to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace to strengthen the demands for protection.

“The victims in the attack against the Joel Sierra Foundation and the murder of José Avelino Ortiz are however not only part of a violent and political conflict, but human tragedies that hit the heart of families in the Araucan civil society. Our solidarity is with all of those who have been affected by the brutal violence these last couple of weeks,” says Erik Jennische.