Washington, D.C.—In a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Representatives Jim McGovern (D-MA), Eliot Engel (D-NY), John Lewis (D-GA), Norma Torres (D-CA), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Hank Johnson (D-GA) released a letter signed by 73 Members of Congress, urging the Trump administration to pressure Colombia on the dangerous rise in attacks against human rights defenders in the country.
The letter calls on the Trump administration to leverage the resources of the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other relevant U.S. government agencies to come together and actively support the security and protection of human rights leaders and their communities in Colombia. The lawmakers—including fourteen ranking members of key committees in the House of Representatives—emphasized that the protection of human rights leaders is essential to the national security and economic interests of both the United States and Colombia.
“Since the signing of the historic 2016 peace accords, hundreds of human rights defenders have been murdered in Colombia. The U.S. government must pressure Colombia to prosecute those who orchestrate and carry out these targeted murders, and dismantle the economic and criminal structures that enable these attacks to take place with impunity,” said Gimena Sanchez, Director for the Andes at human rights advocacy group the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). “In some cases, even the families of assassinated human rights leaders continue to face threats. These ongoing attacks against community leaders damages Colombia’s ability to move ahead with the implementation of the peace agreement and establish rule of law in areas previously under the control of armed groups.”
Human rights defenders, advocates for land restitution, and Afro and indigenous leaders are facing an increasingly critical security situation in Colombia, as recently documented by WOLA. Many of the attacks and threats against human rights activists have been concentrated in ethnic communities along the Pacific coast—specifically in the departments of Chocó, Cauca, Valle del Cauca, and Nariño—that have long suffered the brunt of Colombia’s conflict. According to the most recent figures, one human rights defender is killed every three days in Colombia. The United Nations estimates that more than 100 human rights defenders were assassinated in 2017.
“U.S. authorities must continue to insist that the Colombian government prioritize the protection of human rights defenders. The U.S. government has invested 20 years to improve Colombia’s security and stability; this could very well be undone by the current lack of action in guaranteeing the rights and protection of communities,” said Sanchez.