WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

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12 Aug 2021 | News

Prioritize Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Rights and Tackle Racism in Colombia: Message by 16 U.S. Congressional Representatives to Secretary of State Blinken

On August 10, U.S. Representative Hank Johnson (D-GA) led 15 other members of the U.S. House of Representatives* in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, once again urging the U.S. Department of State to prioritize ethnic rights and to more forcefully denounce police brutality in Colombia. Over 36 U.S and Colombian civil society organizations** including human rights, labor, religious, and ethnic organizations endorsed this call to action.

In the absence of strong U.S. actions to curb the violent repression of protests in Colombia, more abuses continue to occur. NGO Temblores has documented over 4,285 incidents of police violence, including physical altercations, improper use of weapons, arbitrary detentions, disappearances, sexual violence, and 43 recorded homicides. The racialized aspects of this violence escalate with practices of racial profiling and territorial exclusion, all of which deepen the discrimination against Afro-Colombian and Indigenous peoples.

The Members of Congress want the State Department to temporarily withhold security assistance until Colombian security forces—particularly the national police and anti-riot police (Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios, ESMAD)—cease its disproportionate use of force, misuse of crowd control weapons, and abuses against rightful protestors. These cases of abuse must be investigated and brought to justice, and Colombia must undertake a comprehensive reform of its police forces.

The Members of Congress also ask that high-ranking U.S. government officials denounce the racial violence in the country, a critique to the subdued response by the Biden administration on the protests’ horrific violence and the way it affects Afro-Colombian and Indigenous peoples. They reiterated requests made in a May 2021 congressional letter, which called upon the State Department to freeze police aid and sales of crowd control equipment to Colombia, and added specific recommendations that address racism and uphold ethnic minority rights. 

The United States has previously spearheaded efforts to address human rights abuses committed against ethnic minorities, investing much political and financial capital to advance the 2016 peace accord and guarantee the inclusion of its Ethnic Chapter. It has worked with Colombia to enact the U.S.-Colombia Racial Action Plan and the U.S.-Colombia Labor Action Plan. The State Department must build upon this positive role to further strengthen the relationship between the United States and Colombia.

The missive also highlights an El Espectador op-ed piece written by U.S. actor Kendrick Sampson where he recounts his personal experiences with police brutality and racism in Colombia, including several stop and frisk incidents and an assault. 

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) is grateful to Representative Hank Johnson and the 15 other Representatives for taking a stand to uphold the rights of Afro-Colombian and Indigenous persons and work towards addressing racism in Colombia.


Read the full letter here.


*The following Members of Congress expressed support by signing the letter:
Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Val Butler Demings (D-FL), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Maxine Waters (D-MO), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Dina Titus (D-NV), Danny K. Davis (D-IL), Jesús G. “Chuy” García (D-IL), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), André Carson (D-IN), Pramilla Jayapal (D-WA), Jamaal Bowman, Ed. D. (D-NY), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).

**In addition to the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), the following U.S. and Colombian civil society organizations endorsed the letter:
Afro-Colombian Peace Council (CONPA), Ethnic Commission for Peace and Territorial Rights, Association for Internally Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES), Black Communities Process (PCN), National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), Afro-Colombian Pastoral Center Corporation (CEPAC), National Conference of Afro-Colombian Organizations (CNOA), Afro-Colombian Labor Council (CLAF), Network of Afro-Colombian Women “Kambiri,” Indigenous Women and Black Women Returning Together to Their Roots, Movement of Indigenous Authorities of the Southwest (AISO), Association of Afro-descendant Women of Northern Cauca (ASOM), Afro-Caribbean Women’s Network, Inter-Ecclesial Commission for Justice and Peace, the International Institute on Race and Equality, Latin America Working Group, Amazon Watch, Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America, Colombia Human Rights Committee, US Human Rights Network, Cities Alliance, Afropresencia, Global Exchange, Oxfam America, United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries, Human Rights Cities Alliance, A Healing Paradigm, Afrolatin@ Project, African Diaspora Six Region of Illinois, United Methodist Church-General Board of Church and Society, Presbyterian Church (USA), ActionAid USA, AFL-CIO, Portland Central America Solidarity Committee (PCASC), MADRE, Kentucky Interfaith Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean, and Priority Africa Network (PAN).