The school that serves Carrá. On February 19, 2017, the Colombian navy engaged in a shootout with the AGC for 45 minutes behind the school. No one from the community was harmed during that confrontation, but residents told Human Rights Watch that they feared new fighting or abuses. 

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

(Washington, DC, March 27, 2017) Five community members were shot and killed in unclear circumstances in the western Colombian province of Chocó on the night of March 25, 2017, Human Rights Watch said today. The Colombian government should take immediate measures to investigate the deaths and aid families who have been displaced.

The killings took place in the Afro-Colombian community of Carrá in the municipality of Litoral de San Juan. Initial reports from community members said that victims were caught in the crossfire between the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas and the Gaitanist Self-Defenses of Colombia (AGC). A human rights official later told Human Rights Watch that, according to local residents, there was no such clash and men with the ELN emblem had appeared in town and begun firing indiscriminately into the community. Similarly, the mayor told the media that there was no clash and an armed group had shot “indiscriminately” at civilians. The Attorney General’s Office reported that seven ELN members apparently killed the civilians under unspecified circumstances and left an ELN flag in the community.  The ELN later denied the claims by the Attorney General’s Office and suggested that the AGC was responsible for the killings.

“Colombian authorities should carry out a prompt and exhaustive investigation and ensure that those responsible for the killings in Carrá are prosecuted and held accountable,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should also take immediate steps to assess the needs of displaced families and provide them with necessary assistance.”
 
The ELN guerrillas, a leftist armed group, started peace talks with the Colombian government in February after two years of exploratory talks. The AGC, which is not part of the peace talks, emerged after a flawed paramilitary demobilization over a decade ago. The groups are fighting at least in part for control over the San Juan river.
 
Unless authorities show up to protect victims, the promise of peace in Colombia will continue to be an empty promise for the riverside communities of Chocó.

José Miguel Vivanco

Americas director

The five civilians who died were: Yiminson Granados, Dider Arboleda, Julio Posso, Wilinton Posso, and Elcias Arboleda, a justice official told Human Rights Watch. The navy reported that some of them were authorities of the community council, a local body that governs in many of the country’s Afro-Colombian communities. A 14-year-old boy had a bullet wound in his arm, and 52 people fled to Docordó, the municipality’s capital, the night of the killings, a local human rights official told Human Rights Watch. Local authorities and aid organizations in the area told Human Rights Watch that the displaced families were housed in two residences in Docordó.
 
Human Rights Watch visited communities by the San Juan river, including Carrá, in early March as part of broader research on abuses committed by the ELN and the AGC in the area.
 
During the Human Rights Watch visit, Carrá residents said that on February 19, the Colombian navy had engaged in a shootout with the AGC for 45 minutes behind the school that serves Carrá. No one from the community was harmed during that confrontation, but residents told Human Rights Watch that they feared new fighting or abuses. “No one is going to stay here, we are all going to leave due to fear,” a resident said. After the confrontations, two members of the AGC were captured, the Attorney General’s Office reported.
 
Colombia’s ombudsman’s office reported that in July 2015, ELN guerrillas came to Carrá, demanding to see members of the community whom they said had cooperated with the AGC. Later that day, the ELN and the navy engaged in fighting close to the community. Community members told Human Rights Watch that 18 families then fled to Docordó for three days.
 
“Unless authorities show up to protect victims, the promise of peace in Colombia will continue to be an empty promise for the riverside communities of Chocó,” Vivanco said.