Observers


Two videos showing armed men executing several people in the middle of a mangrove forest in southwestern Colombia recently emerged on social media. 
Indepaz, a local organisation, reports that it is the 61st massacre to take place in the country this year. The number of massacres has been rising in spite of a peace deal signed in 2016 between the government and the FARC, which used to be the country’s most powerful guerilla group.


This screengrab shows the moment just before this man starts shooting in the 17-second video.

Four people were shot and killed in this massacre, which occurred on September 20, somewhere between the towns of El Charco and Mosquera, in the Nariño department, according to reports published in the local press and by Indepaz (short for the Institute for the Study of Development and Peace), which works on issues relating to conflict and armed groups. 

 

"Filming this kind of act allows armed groups to sow terror and fear amongst the population”

Leonardo González Perafán works for Indepaz, where he focuses on issues related to human rights and armed conflict.
 
We know the identity of the victims. A resident of El Charco informed us that they were thieves, all hailing from the same neighbourhood. But the fact that they were thieves isn’t justification for their murder. [Editor’s note: Local police said that they were conducting an investigation to establish the motive for the crime]. 

On the other hand, we don’t know the identity of the assassins. There are a number of armed groups operating in the zone, including Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia [Editor’s note: a paramilitary group also known as the Clan del Golfo], Guerillas Unidas del Pacífico, dissidents from the FARC [Editor’s note: The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which was the principal guerilla group in the group in the country until they signed a peace deal with the government in 2016], ELN [Editor’s note: the National Liberation Army, the principal guerilla group in the country currently]... so it is quite possible they are members of one of these groups.

"It’s relatively new to see a video like that”

It’s relatively new to see a video like that. Over the past few months, I’ve seen two similar videos, one filmed in Nariño, the other in Cauca. But I had never seen anything like that before. That said, I think that some groups would have filmed themselves back in 2000 if there had been as many cellphones then as there is now [Editor’s note: That year, there were more than 200 massacres committed in Colombia, according to the organisation InSight Crime.]

Killing people on camera allows armed groups to sow terror amongst the population and sends a message to other armed groups, showing just how brutal they can be. 

Cultivation of coca increased in this region after the peace deal [Editor’s note: Nariño is the department with the largest number of acres used for this crop]. There is also illegal gold mining and timber logging. Cocaine from the department of Putumayo is often transferred through this area on its way to the port in Tumaco.


Indepaz reports there have been 61 massacres in Colombia in 2020

Indepaz reports that 61 massacres have been committed in the country in 2020, totaling 246 victims (you can see a list in Spanish here). The department of Antioquia has seen the most massacres, followed by Nariño and Cauca. Indepaz defines a  "massacre" as the "intentional and simultaneous homicide of several people (three or more), who are protected under international human rights law and can’t defend themselves, [...] in the same location". This definition excludes those killed in combat.


Indepaz didn’t record the number of massacres in recent years. However, the organisation estimates that the number has increased in 2020. The United Nations has confirmed this. In mid-August, the UN stated that it had documented 33 massacres since the start of 2020 and that there were seven more it was in the process of verifying (at the same period, Indepaz had recorded 42 massacres). By comparison, the UN documented 36 massacres in 2019, which had been the highest number since 2014.
 

"Since the peace deal was signed, we’ve recorded an increase in confrontations between armed groups for control of territories”

Leonardo González Perafán offered several explanations:
 
We believe that there haven’t been this many massacres since the early 2000s, but confrontations between armed groups have increased since the signing of the peace deal. The FARC pulled out of quite a few zones that they had previously controlled. Other groups moved in and now they are fighting over the territories. That’s what’s happening in the department of Nariño.

Moreover, a lot of these armed groups are run by young people who aren’t capable of strong intellectual and political leadership. Committing massacres is a way to put themselves on the map and gain a certain notoriety. 

It’s also true that there is such a culture of impunity in Colombia that the perpetrators of these massacres think that nothing will happen to them. Quite a few of them have close ties to the military, some of whom are corrupt. Moreover, it’s the most militarised zones where the most massacres take place. 

The victims of the most current massacres vary immensely, they include young people who broke lockdown restrictions, Venezuelan immigrants, sometimes thieves. 


In mid-August, the UN declared that the massacres in 2020 took place in regions with high rates of poverty and active illegal economies, with a limited government presence and that 80% occurred in departments where there were "enclaves of illegal coca production".

The Colombian government has stated that "collective homicides" – their name for massacres – are essentially linked to "the growth of illegal crops and drug trafficking".