Washington, D.C.—Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) released a letter addressed to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, expressing concern over the ongoing security threats facing human rights defenders. The letter specifically requests that the Colombian government reevaluate the measures employed for protecting threatened individuals from marginalized Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities. In place of these ineffective protective measures, the letter calls for a new strategy protecting the lives, interests, and safety of these groups.
The letter, first published on December 21, 2017, was sponsored by Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA), and Keith Ellison (D-MN) and is co-signed by five other Members of Congress. Signatories to the letter cited their concern over the security threats faced by ethnic and social activists in Colombia’s Chocó department, including various Afro-Colombian community councils, such as La Larga council and Tumarado-COCOLATU. Four community leaders were recently killed in Chocó’s Bajo Atrato region.
Demands from U.S. Members of Congress
The letter asked for several specific actions from the Colombian government. First, signatories requested an explanation for why Afro-Colombian and other social leaders in Colombia’s Pacific region, particularly Chocó, have been granted the protective measures they currently receive. Second, the letter asks that social leaders in Chocó’s Belen de Bajira region be provided with sufficient security measures, so as to allow them to travel with a guarantee for their personal safety.
The signatories also requested that the Colombian government work with communities to implement security measures that take their region and culture into account. Finally, the letter calls for the strengthening of the collective security systems of ethnic peoples, recognized at the national and international level, including the Indigenous Guards (Guardia Indigena).
On December 30, following an attempted attack against leaders of the San Jose de Apartado Peace Community— a community that declared itself neutral in Colombia’s armed conflict more than 20 years ago—Congressman Keith Ellison wrote a similar letter to Colombian Ambassador to the United States Camilo Reyes expressing deep concern about the attack, and requested further information about measures taken by the Colombian government to prevent these type of attacks.