WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
13 Apr 2010 | News

Unprecedented Effort to Urge US Congress to Support Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Rights in Colombia

Today, an unprecedented number of human rights, Afro-Colombian, indigenous, religious and women's groups urged the United States Congress to give priority attention to the gross violence that displaced minorities and women face in Colombia.

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) along with over 50 US organizations and activists sent a letter to Congress in favor of US House Resolution 1224, which supports measures in Colombia to correct the systematic oppression and root causes of violence that internally displaced Afro-Colombians, indigenous peoples and women suffer on a daily basis.

"All of these signatory groups are calling attention to the millions of Colombians who live a life of tragedy.  Afro-Colombians and indigenous persons, including the over 4 million internally displaced, are violently chased out of their lands, harassed and even killed," said Gimena Sanchez, WOLA's Senior Associate for Colombia. "This movement of support for Colombia wants the US Congress to get more involved now." The letter comes just days after the April 8th massacre of eight Afro-Colombian miners allegedly by paramilitary forces in northern Cauca, Colombia — an area where WOLA has visited and monitored closely. In addition, another eight indigenous Awá were forcibly disappeared and murdered by different armed groups since February 2010 in Tumaco and Barbacoas (Nariño) alone.                                                                                   

The signed letter represents an unprecedented effort bringing together a wide range of supporters.  Signatories include all the major human rights platforms such as Techo Común which represents 1222 Colombian organizations (which incorporates the Coordinación Colombia Europa y Estados Unidos and the Asamblea Permanente de la Sociedad Civil por la Paz), the Monitoring Commission on Public Policy on Forced Displacement, the National Authority for Indigenous Government (ONIC), Afro-Colombian community councils and grassroots groups, as well as women's internally displaced peoples and peace organizations. HR 1224 also has the support of religious organizations and the Catholic, Mennonite and Evangelical churches. 

"We are very concerned with the spike in threats, killings and displacements of Afro-Colombians and indigenous persons," said Sanchez. In 2009, 280,000 new persons were internally displaced. Despite US aid to Colombia's justice and human rights sectors, rampant impunity in cases of extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, sexual violence against women and death threats leads to new displacements. Particularly affected are Afrodescendant and indigenous communities living in resource rich areas coveted by economic interests. Currently, thirty-four indigenous groups are at risk of physically disappearing and becoming culturally extinct due in large part to violence and internal displacement.

In 2009, Colombia's Constitutional Court took the bold step of acting to protect the rights of victims of displacement, issuing orders obligating Colombia to rectify the situation. However, the Colombian government has failed to enact the Court's orders. H.R. 1224– introduced in March by Representative Hank Johnson of Georgia and co-sponsored by twenty-two members of Congress– honors the crucial work done by Colombia's Constitutional Court to prevent new displacement and uphold the rights of these minorities.

"The resolution also affirms that Colombia's human rights record will be taken into consideration as Congress deliberates about bilateral relations with Colombia," said Sanchez.

For more information contact:
Kristel Mucino, Communications Coordinator
kmucino@wola.org; (202) 797-2171