The Washington Office on Latin America and the Association for Internally Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES), which will receive WOLA's 2010 human rights award next week in Washington, DC, have received an email death threat signed by the Colombian paramilitary group the Black Eagles.
"This is not an idle threat," said Gimena Sanchez, WOLA's Senior Associate. "It's extremely disturbing. In fact, two days after we received this threat there was an attempt on the life of an AFRODES leader in the city of Cartagena." The threat was e-mailed on October 10th and the attack took place on October 12th. The threat was also directed at over 60 organizations and individuals advocating for land rights in the regions of the Pacific and Caribbean coasts.
The threat states that the recipients should "consider themselves dead" and that "the time has arrived to finish all of you." The threat goes on to state: "we plan to exterminate the leaders […] those who continue to create obstacles by doing protests, meetings and events." This death threat follows previous ones received by WOLA in May and June 2010. Following these threats, Jair Murillo, Afro-Colombian activist and an AFRODES leader, was killed.
Many of the groups listed in the threats have frequently met with the U.S. Congress, the State Department, and the U.S. Embassy. As recently as August 2010, AFRODES leaders met with a Congressional staff delegation that visited Colombia.
Legislation requires the State Department to withhold aid to Colombia, unless it can certify that human rights defenders are being protected. "Clearly that's not the case," said Sanchez. "The Embassy and the State Department know about these threats, and they continue to certify Colombia's progress on human rights."
This is the third death threat directed at WOLA that includes U.S. citizens and Colombian human rights activists. WOLA will be meeting with U.S. officials today to call upon them to forcefully condemn and investigate these threats.
WOLA also urges Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to take bold steps to guarantee the safety of Afro-Colombian, Indigenous, internally displaced persons, human rights defenders and trade unionists. According to Sanchez, "The first step the Santos Administration should take is to publicly denounce these threats and then call upon the authorities to fully investigate and prosecute the perpetrators."
President Santos' new advisors for Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities should prioritize the establishment of effective protection mechanisms to safeguard the lives and activities of Afro-Colombian and Indigenous leaders. They should also guarantee that the government fully implements Constitutional Court Orders 200, 004 and 005 that protect Indigenous and Afro-Colombian displaced persons and leaders.
"AFRODES works to help Afro-Colombians, a community that has suffered massacres, disappearances, discrimination and violent loss of their lands," said Sanchez. "We are giving them the award to highlight their outstanding efforts to protect the human rights of over 4 million internally displaced in Colombia."
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