Washington, DC—WOLA (the Washington Office on Latin America) adamantly condemns the June 7 murder of Bernardo Cuero Bravo, leader of the Association of Internally Displaced Afro-Colombians (Asociación Nacional de Afrocolombianos Desplazados, AFRODES) and extends its deepest condolences to his family and his colleagues at AFRODES.
In 2010, AFRODES—a coalition of 96 internally displaced Afro-Colombian organizations with over 90,000 members—was honored with the WOLA Human Rights Award for its leading efforts to seek justice, dignity, and basic rights for millions of IDPs in Colombia, despite tremendous obstacles. Mr. Cuero Bravo was a bastion of hope for the displaced people from Colombia’s Pacific region and those displaced to the Caribbean coast.
Every day, Mr. Cuero Bravo advocated on behalf of displaced families who, due to the conflict, had lost their lands and whose lives were destroyed by violence. He fought against prejudice and racial discrimination against these families. Since 2005, WOLA has stood by and supported AFRODES leaders in their fight for justice, and we will continue to do so.
In 2012, gunmen killed Miller Angulo, another human rights defender with AFRODES, in Tumaco. Immediately AFRODES and WOLA launched a national and international campaign to seek protective measures and adequate responses to prevent further deaths from taking place. At the forefront of this campaign was Mr. Cuero Bravo, who fought to ensure the protection of others while at the same time facing deteriorating security challenges himself. Bernardo had already survived several attacks against his life due to his work. In a 2013 hearing, Mr. Cuero Bravo, along with the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights and AFRODES, brought the dire security situation faced by Afro-Colombian leaders before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) at the Organization of American States (OAS). WOLA accompanied him in this effort, as well as in his visits to U.S. policymakers to urge them to demand Colombia respond to this protection crisis.
The Colombian government, and in particular the National Protection Unit (Unidad Nacional de Protección, UNP), made numerous promises to guarantee protection of Afro-Colombian leaders, yet it did not deliver. Since then, AFRODES, together with WOLA and others including Representatives Hank Johnson (D-GA), James McGovern (D-MA), and Keith Ellison (D-MN) acted on multiple occasions to ensure that Colombia live up to its commitments to protect Afro-Colombian leaders, particularly displaced leaders. However, much of these efforts were ignored, and have led to the tragic deaths of Mr. Cuero Bravo and others.
To add insult to injury, the UNP issued a statement after Mr. Cuero Bravo’s death arguing that it did not grant him protection measures because the threats he faced were not linked to his human rights work. Not only does this statement re-victimize all AFRODES leaders facing death threats, but it is inaccurate and creates the false idea that human rights leaders exaggerate the security risks they face. It also increases the likelihood that attacks will be perpetrated against them.
WOLA demands that the U.S. Congress urge Colombia to investigate the UNP’s actions regarding AFRODES, Mr. Cuero Bravo’s murder, and sanction all those responsible for wrongdoing.
WOLA will continue to fight for the just cause that Mr. Cuero Bravo led while he was alive.