Colombia: refugee leader murdered

On May 13 unknown persons riding a motorcycle shot and killed Julio Cesar Molina, a leader of refugees from Colombia’s internal conflicts who were displaced to the rural zone of Ansermanueva in the southwestern department of Valle del Cauca. On May 16 the Bogotá office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights condemned Molina’s murder and expressed concern for other refugee leaders in the area. The agencies indicated that Molina’s killing was “connected to his reports on the misuse of lands taken from narco traffickers and turned over to displaced persons. It is also feared that there was a connection with his work training victims about their right to reparations.”

Molina, a director of the New Dawn Humanitarian Foundation, was shot near the Germania estate, where he and his family had been living with 11 other refugee families since January 2007. Five years earlier the family fled from right-wing paramilitaries in Vista Hermosa in Meta department and sought land to farm in Valle del Cauca. At a ceremony on Dec. 20, 2004, right-wing Colombian president Alvaro Uribe Velez officially presented 20 families, including Molina’s, with three estates seized from the extradited landowner Alberto Monsalve. But the families weren’t able to use the land until legal issues were settled. They received threats after moving to the Germania estate, and Molina tried unsuccessfully from January of this year to get the local government to provide protection.

At his funeral in the town of Cartago on May 14, Molina was praised for his hard work for the refugees. “My daddy was all skinny when he died,” one of Molina’s five children said, “from suffering so much for us.” That evening the families in Germania were again threatened with death if they didn’t leave the region, and on May 16 men on motorcycles left death “sentences” for other refugee leaders, saying they would die if they talked. (Terra, Spain, May 16 from EFE; El Tiempo, Bogotá, May 17)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 18

See our last posts on Colombia and the paramilitaries.