WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
9 May 2014 | Commentary

ACSN Strongly Condemns Threats and Violence against Pacific Defenders of Afro-Colombian Rights and Community Activists

Afro-Colombian Solidarity Network (ACSN) Statement*
May 9, 2014

The Afro-Colombian Solidarity Network (ACSN) is gravely concerned about ongoing violence and atrocities in Colombia’s main port of Buenaventura and on-going intimidation of Afro-Colombian activists and persons who defend their rights.

Community initiatives to address violence in Buenaventura are threatened

The social and humanitarian crisis in the commercially important port of Buenaventura is extremely serious. In the past year, more than 19,000 residents have been displaced from their homes, and religious and civil society groups report almost daily that dismemberment, murder, femicide, enforced disappearances, torture, sexual violence, and recruitment of children to carry arms remain a reality. Unfortunately, despite all the media attention, a recent Human Rights Watch report that documents these abuses and the latest military intervention ordered by the national government, impunity in these cases remains the norm. The atrocities have not stopped and activists remain the target of the illegal armed groups.  

Despite the dangers, many communities with the support of the Catholic Church, courageous human rights groups and community leaders, have publicly united to reject violent actors and have organized peaceful ways to respond to the crisis that do not focus exclusively on militarization. Instead, they seek to address the structural socio-economic problems that exacerbated the social crisis in the port.

In the Puente Nayero sector of Buenaventura, on April 13th over 800 Afro-Colombian families of the La Playita established an urban humanitarian zone in an attempt to protect themselves. Unfortunately, as a result of this initiative, communities have received several threats from armed groups, including multiple death threats to community leaders, especially Orlando Castillo, as well as to Danilo Rueda and other members of the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission (CIJP), a Colombian NGO assisting the communities.

Leaders of displaced communities in Chocó threatened


In December 2013, nearly two decades after the mass displacement of Afro-Colombian communities in northern Chocó following the government action called Operation Genesis, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) ruled against the Colombian State for the human rights violations committed against the communities of the Cacarica River Basin, and ordered the Colombian government to take several steps to remedy these injustices, including public recognition of its responsibility including the public acknowledgment of its responsibilities as well as  assurances that the territories of the Community Council of the Communities of Cacarica will receive reparations and be fully restored to their rightful owners. Thus far, these measures have not been implemented.

At the same time, community leaders Marco Velázquez, Alirio Mosquera, Rosalba Córdoba and Jahaira Salazar have all been threatened with death and defamed on social media in recent days. Despite this, many protection measures from the National Protection Unit approved for the communities in March 2013 have yet to be implemented. Furthermore, members of CIJP, who work with the communities, have been defamed and threatened in recent days in connection with their work in the region. Residents of the area have reported the presence of paramilitary groups in the region.

Curvaradó & Jiguamiandó

The Afro-descendant communities of Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó, that were also displaced after Operation Genesis, continued to struggle to recover their collective territory from illegal occupiers, as ordered by the Colombian Constitutional Court. The ACSN remains concerned that theses communities have been forced to protest and denounce the exclusion of some historic community leaders from the restitution process.

Furthermore, the security situation in the community remains tenuous. Since January 2014, community leaders Yomaira Mendoza and Enrique Cabezas have received a series of very specific death threats via SMS and have been followed in their travels, including trips to Bogota.

Similarly, Manuel Denis Blandón, recently elected as Legal Representative of the Upper Council of Jiguamiandó, received two death threats via SMS. 

The ACSN calls on Colombian authorities to guarantee the safety and security of human rights defenders and Afro-descendant communities in Buenaventura, Cacarica, Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó, as well as for CIJP, and to implement the measures ordered by the Colombian Constitutional Court and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. We also call on the US and Colombian governments to protect the rights of Afro-Colombian communities as stipulated in the human rights conditions for Colombia’s receipt of military assistance. The US should withhold military assistance to Colombia until Afro-Colombians are protected and the Colombian justice system puts the perpetrators of the violence in Buenaventura in jail. 

*The Afro-Colombian Solidarity Network (ACSN) includes Global Rights, Chicago Religious Leadership Network (CRLN), the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), International Working Group of PCN, Colombia Land Rights Monitor, and activists and scholars Joseph Jordan, Eunice Escobar, Ajamu Baraka, Naila Rosario, Tianna Paschel, Arturo Escobar, and Nicole Lee (Lee Bayard Group). Peace Brigades International (PBI) serves as an international observer.

For more information, please contact:

Gimena Sanchez
Senior Associate, Washington Office on Latin America
Tel: (202) 797-2171
[email protected]

Photo of Curvarado courtesy of Charlotte Kesl, PBI.