WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
6 Aug 2009 | News

Urgent Action: Recent Afro-Colombian Human Rights Violations

Dear Supporters of Afro-Colombian Human Rights,

This past week we received various reports of concern from our Afro-Colombian grassroots counterparts that we wish to bring to your attention. We kindly suggest that you contact the State Department and ask that they take action on the following cases affecting Afro-Colombian communities.

  • On July 30, members of the Colombian Marines arrived and stationed themselves at the Community of Bajito, in Mosquera (Nariño Department) in anticipation of an armed conflict against a guerrilla group in the area. The Marines proceeded to raid approximately 100 civilian homes and to install themselves in these homes without any regard for the inhabitants. According to the Ibarbo family and other families, the Marines allegedly took the personal identifications of persons residing in the homes they occupied without informing them. These families report that Eduar Cortez Ibarbo was abducted by the Marines, severely beaten-up, and accused of having ties with the guerrilla. The leaders of this community have been stigmatized and accused of supporting the guerrillas and engaging in illegal operations such as storing weapons. The community notes that the activities of the Colombian armed forces including the breach of international humanitarian law, harassment of community members on the part of soldiers and combat operations between the Colombian Marines and the guerrillas have generated the internal displacement of the entire community- approximately 700 Afro-Colombians.
  • On July 27th, the Displaced Women Collective of Valle del Cauca (COLMUDEVSA) announced that the government had not adequately responded to the critical humanitarian situation faced by internally displaced persons (IDPs) and that their lives and those of their families are in danger. Due to lack of a suitable government response to their plight, the Women's Collective and District Working Group of Buenaventura decided to peacefully takeover the headquarters of Acción Social (Colombian agency in charge of IDPs) in Buenaventura to demand immediate solutions to their situation of internal displacement. COLMUDEVSA is urging the Colombian authorities to implement the Constitutional Court's recent orders on internal displacement (092 of 2008 and 004, 005, 007, 008 and 009 of 2009).
  • On July 24th, Clara Portilla, member of the Organization of Displaced Persons (OPD) from the Nariño Department received a written racist death threat from the "The Black Eagles" paramilitary group. In this threat, the paramilitaries threaten to kill her if she does not leave town within 72 hours.
  • In July 2009, the Colombian military began a process of forced manual eradication in Bebedó located in the San Miguel Community (Chocó Department). The eradication provoked attacks from the guerrillas who killed civilian eradicators. It also has seriously undermined the security of the Afro-Colombian community living in this area. The community is concerned about the military's eradication project because it violates their Constitutional civil right to previous consultation. They are not opposed to eradication of coca itself but how it is being done without their consultation and consideration of their rights. They argue that eradication done without consultation with those affected will only exacerbate illicit activities, and at the same time hurt the community's licit economic activities. Members of this community have actively opposed the eradication efforts due to fear that such efforts could lead to attacks against them. Currently, there is concern that these protests may escalate into violent confrontations.
  • According to the Black Communities Process (PCN), the Colombian government granted a concession to the foreign mining company Anglo Gold Ashanti to mine in the northern Cauca Department without following the previous consultation process with the Afro-Colombian communities in the area. Granting a concession for mineral exploitation without prior consultation with the communities affected is a violation of Law 70 of the Black Communities (1993), the ILO Convention 169 and the Order 005 of the Colombian Constitutional Court. PCN states that this concession will result in the eviction of 1,502 families from the Afro-Colombian Community Council of La Toma on the 6th of August 2009. The traditional small scale Afro-Colombian miners and their families have inhabited these territories since 1636 and make a living primarily from small scale gold mining.

The Community Council of La Toma consists of five villages: Yolombo, Gelima, Dos Aguas, El Ato and La Toma. 6500 of the 7000 hectares have now been conceded to the Anglo Gold Ashanti company. Afro-Colombian leaders predict that as the Community Council of La Toma faces displacement, other Afro-Colombian communities in the municipalities of Suarez, Buenos Aires and Santander de Quilichao are likely to become displaced in the future. Ashanti and Consigo Resort, another mining company, are allegedly looking for permanent license to exploit the gold in these municipalities. Afro-Colombian leaders are concerned that this type of economic development done without the proper consultation mechanism will not benefit the local communities. Rather it will lead to displacement and leave hundreds of traditional Afro-Colombian artisan miner families with no means of sustaining themselves.

  • On July 2nd 2009 a sailor, linked to the company Harimar, named Gustavo Estrella, threatened a member of the Chanzara Community Council (CCL) which forms part of the Afro-Colombian community councils umbrella network COCOCAUCA. Estrella hassled the officer for the legal actions taken by the autonomous regional organization of Cauca (CRIC) against Harimar and accused him of blocking the progress of Harimar. The perpetrator said that if they were in Buenavista then ‘things would be different'; perhaps suggesting that he could be murdered or disappeared. One month earlier, during first week of June, another person linked to Harimar circled the Bellavista Community (where CCL is located) showing off his 9mm gun in a threatening manner.
  • On July 17th in Quibdó (Department of Chocó) the 34th Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerillas attacked a commercial establishment in the center of the city by launching a grenade into a crowded area. 11 civilians were wounded by this explosion including Michel Diana Hurtado Ortega, Deyvis Antonio Arrieta Perez, Freddy Antonio Diaz Hoyos, Jose Bertuqueo Molina Saenz, Elcy Rengifo Ayala, Sandra Correa Ospina, Julio Eduardo Herrera, Angela Largacha Cordoba, Oscar Herrera Hoyos, Danny Maria Largacha Cordoba and Belkin Palacios Cordoba. The FARC is one of various illegal armed groups present in Quibdó and the violence among these groups has increased in recent months. This is the 9th attack against a commercial establishment to take place in Quibdó in 2009.

We strongly urge you to contact Susan Sanford, Colombia Desk

Office of Andean Affairs, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (Tel: 202-647-3142; Fax: 202-647-2628) and Steve Moody, Foreign Affairs Officer – Human Rights and Labor, Asia and Western Hemisphere Affairs, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (Tel:  202-647-8301; Fax: 202- 647-8326) at the US State Department and ask that they:

–           Insist that Colombian authorities take strong action to implement human rights condition F of U.S. Military assistance to Colombia which state
s public forces are properly distinguishing between civilians and combatants in indigenous and Afro-Colombian areas. Cases of abuse on the part of the public forces in Nariño should be investigated and those found guilty brought to justice.

  • Urge the Colombian government to take immediate action to guarantee that protection measures are immediately put in place to protect the life of Ms. Portilla and the other Afro-Colombian IDP leaders and organizations found in this document.
  • Encourage USAID to work with the Colombian government to work with the community of San Miguel to create a coca cultivation reduction plan centered on alternative development projects developed by the affected Afro-Colombian territorial authorities. According to Article 52 of Law 70 (1993) of the Black Communities the authorities should support the creation of micro-financing associations to facilitate the gradual substitution of illicit crops. Additionally, the Ministry of Agriculture should be asked to regulate the exploitation of the forestry and mining sectors and the government should provide training opportunities to rural farmers on production, commercialization, and first-aid.
  • Ask that Colombian authorities adequately address the concerns of the La Toma community and Displaced Women Collective of Valle del Cauca (COLMUDEVSA) in a manner that respects their Constitutional Rights.
  • Recommend that the Colombian authorities take bolder actions to dismantle the operational structures (military, economic and social) of the illegal armed groups Black Eagles, New Generation and FARC in areas of the country, most notably Chocó, Cauca, Nariño and Valle del Cauca Departments, where Afro-Colombians live.

Click on this link to view a document including a list of threats and killings involving Afro-Colombians received prior to this week.

We thank you in advance for your actions on these important matters.


Gimena Sanchez
Senior Associate for Colombia
Washington Office on Latin America

Marino Cordoba, Charo Mina Rojas and Otoniel Paz
Association for Internally Displaced Afro-Colombians USA

Nicole Lee, Esq.
Executive Director
TransAfrica Forum

Joseph Jordan
Director and Associate Professor
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Carlos Quesada
Latin American Program Director
Global Rights

Kelly Nicholls
Executive Director
U.S. Office on Colombia

James Vondracek
Managing Director
Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America (CRLN)

Roland Roebuck
Afro-Latino activist
Washington, DC

Agustin Lao-Montes, PhD
Associate Professor, Sociology
University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Ajamu Dillahunt
Community Organizer
North Carolina Justice Center

Arturo Escobar
Professor of Anthropology
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill