WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
7 Jul 2011 | News

Members of Congress Urge President Obama to Protect Afro-Colombians before Moving Ahead with Colombia Free Trade Agreement

Washington, D.C.–President Obama should support Representative Hank Johnson’s (D-GA) initiative to strengthen Afro-Colombians’ territorial rights and prevent further displacement of Afro-Colombians before moving forward with the pending Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The letter that Rep. Johnson sent to Obama yesterday, which was signed by 24 members of Congress and supported by groups like WOLA, argues, “We must not tolerate economic inequality or persistent violence against Afro-Colombians and indigenous people.”

“President Obama should not ask Congress to approve the FTA without ensuring that Afro-Colombians and indigenous communities are protected from further displacement,” said Gimena Sanchez, Senior Associate at WOLA.

With over 5 million total displaced persons and new displacements continuing to occur on a weekly basis, Colombia has the world’s largest internally displaced population. While Colombia’s highest Court has ordered the State to take action to protect Afro-Colombians and indigenous communities from further displacement, Colombia has done little to implement these obligations. The recent land/victims law passed by the Colombian Congress does not address the collective land rights of ethnic minorities nor the prevention of and protection from further displacements. Since the passage of this law, Ana Fabricia Córdoba, a prominent Afro-Colombian leader, was murdered, and the Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES), along with other organizations working on the rights of the displaced, have received orders from the Black Eagles paramilitary group to get out of town within 20 days or suffer violent consequences.

“Colombia remains one of the most dangerous countries for internally displaced, Afro-Colombian and indigenous leaders,” said Gimena Sanchez.

The members of Congress call on President Obama to fully implement the April 7th Labor Action Plan and insist that Colombia’s Ministry of Interior and Justice protection programs include protection for Afro-Colombian labor activists that face political persecution. The signatories also believe that reform of the associative labor cooperative model (CTAs) is critical to any serious discussion of free trade with Colombia. CTAs, an employment model where workers are hired through sub-contractors, undermine worker protections and labor rights denying workers of the right to unionize. As WOLA documented in its brief Workers without Rights, CTAs employed in the oil palm, port, sugar, and other sectors lead to serious deterioration of protections for workers’ rights.

“The majority of Afro-Colombian workers in the formal economy are unable to unionize because they are employed by subcontractors that impede collective bargaining,” said Sanchez.“Workers in Southwest Colombia are dealing with bogus criminal charges and multiple death threats. This is emblematic of what happens to workers who try to improve their working conditions.”

WOLA strongly urges the Obama Administration to listen to the members Congress and work with them to guarantee that the U.S.-Colombia FTA does not lead to further violence, displacement, and abuses against Afro-Colombians and indigenous peoples.

Anthony Dest
Program Assistant
[email protected]
(202) 797-2171