Despite repeated calls by the international community regarding the alarming number of murders, acts of violence and threats against Colombian activists, their security situation remains dire. The violence deeply undermines the sustainability of peace.
Prompted by this situation, Congressmen Hank Johnson (Georgia) and Keith Ellison (Minnesota) wrote to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on April 28 urging that he take action concerning this troublesome trend. In the letter, the U.S Representatives point out the critical situation facing afro descendants and the indigenous in the Pacific region notably in Quibdó, Buenaventura, Cauca and Tumaco. They cite the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)’s 2016 report on Colombia that states that 389 human rights defenders suffered 389 attacks including 59 homicides. Representative Johnson recently visited Colombia with the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) where representatives of the Ethnic Commission noted that insecurity was one of the biggest obstacles confronting ethnic minorities.
The Congressmen urge the Colombian government to “investigate and bring to justice the persons responsible for the murders of ethnic activists, leaders and community members.” They highlight the importance of the armed forces to protect civilians in areas like the Choco and Tumaco, “where reports indicate that paramilitary groups operate in zones where the armed forces are present.” Furthermore, they opine on the current territorial dispute between the departments of Choco and Antioquia. The historic dispute over the territorial demarcation of Belén de Bajirá municipality largely calls into question Afro-Colombian access and rights over their ancestral homelands that form the basis of their African identity and culture.
WOLA welcomes this letter and echoes its recommendations. Further, we encourage the Congressional Black Caucus to take further action to stem the protection crisis facing afrodescendant and indigenous Colombians. Since January WOLA has issued 5 number of urgent actions calling upon U.S. policymakers to act to prevent further murders from taking place and to bring those responsible for these heinous acts to justice.