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Saravena-Arauca, 10 May 2017                                                                                      EARLY ALERT

Since last year, we have been reporting on the recrudescence of paramilitary activity in Colombia at a national level. The toll has included the murder of over 150 social movement leaders and human rights advocates in 2016 and 30 more to date in 2017, as well as the distribution of pamphlets delivering threats against the Congress of the Peoples and the country’s social processes in general. Despite these complaints, the national government continues to insist that the paramilitaries do not exist, while making little to no progress on criminal prosecutions.

Our region, like others, has been affected by this situation. On 9 May 2017, 11 individuals were detained in the downtown core of the municipality of Arauca, nine of them from Antioquia, one from the coast, and one from Arauca. Weapons, ammunition, and three high-powered motorcycles were seized. Unfortunately, the supervisory judge ordered the release of the suspects, apparently due to flaws in the way the arrests were carried out.

This happened following complaints of threats against social movement leaders, as in the cases of José Vicente Murillo of the Movimiento Político de Masas Social y Popular del Centro Oriente and Yudith Rodríguez Cuenza of the Arauca community movement; cases of extortion by the AUC (paramilitary groups) against residents of the region, and complaints filed by residents of the village of Las Galaxias (municipality of Tame) about trucks coming up from the Cravo Norte savannah carrying paramilitaries. Members of the National Army have also acknowledged that paramilitaries are operating in the region.

We therefore exhort the authorities to investigate the allegations; to take the measures necessary to protect human rights advocates, social movement leaders, and the whole population, and to trigger the early alert system, with the corresponding risk reports, all with a view to preventing attacks on the life and integrity of these people or acts designed to curtail their social action.

In the case at hand, we demand that penal and disciplinary investigations be conducted in order to understand how it is that an armed group from outside the region, traveling on high-powered motorcycles, could have been released after being detained; or, more generally, how it is that a judicial system so effective at prosecuting social movement leaders and human rights advocates could prove so incapable of bringing these murderous elements to justice.

It is important to recall the consequences of paramilitarism for the people of Arauca: with the direct participation of security forces, political leaders, and transnationals, the paramilitaries have been implicated in over 2000 targeted killings as well as cases of torture, forced disappearance, sexual violence, extortion, and forced displacement of villagers, with many of these criminal acts being supported by public funds.
We trust it is not necessary to rehearse the whole blood-soaked history in order for the competent authorities to act immediately in taking the necessary measures.

We call on the communities to stay vigilant and take measures for their individual and collective self-defence, in addition to reporting any fact or incident that may affect them.

We call on the national and international community to monitor and publicize this grave situation.