For years, international and national Colombia non-governmental organizations have insisted that the Colombian government dismantle the illegal structures and armed groups operating in the Pacific region of Colombia. Despite the obstacles, WOLA and its Colombia partners advocate for a politically negotiated solution to the conflict with the National Liberation Army (Ejército Nacional de Liberación, ELN). Besides the guerrillas, illegal armed groups including paramilitaries continue to exert violence and commit abuses against civilians as a way to control these populations. This situation is particularly problematic in the majority Afro-Colombian region and to a smaller extent indigenous territories of the Pacific.
Pressed by this situation, Congressmen Hank Johnson (D-GA), who visited the Pacific region with the Ethnic Commission and WOLA in 2015, wrote to Colombian Minister of the Interior Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez on October 24 urging that she take action concerning these illegal armed groups that undermine Colombia’s peace process and that present a severe security risk to civilians and social leaders. In the letter, Representative Johnson points out that Colombia’s efforts for the peace accord with the FARC is praiseworthy and that he is pleased that the Colombian government signed a negotiated agreement with the leaders of the 2017 Buenaventura civic strike. However, he is disturbed by the 330 social leaders killed since 2016, and that human rights abuses against Afro-Colombians and indigenous communities and on-going activities of illegal armed groups taking place in areas where Colombian security forces are present. In particular, he points to the disappearance and killings of four members of the Afro-Colombian Rio Naya Community earlier this year.
The Congressman asks that Colombia take steps to dismantle all illegal armed groups and criminal structures in the country, that it fully implement the FARC accord and move forward with negotiations with the ELN. Regarding Naya and Buenaventura, he urges the Minister to investigate and prosecute those responsible for these vicious killings and for the government to fulfill the commitments it made to the people of Buenaventura.
WOLA welcomes this letter and echoes its recommendations. Further, we encourage the Minister to take action to prioritize the Ethnic Chapter within peace accord implementation and to act boldly to halt the threats, attacks, and murders of social leaders and rights defenders in Colombia.