WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
15 Jan 2015 | Commentary | News

Afro-Colombian Activists Facing Increased Threats

WOLA Statement

WOLA has received several disturbing reports of increased death threats and security incidents against activists defending the peace process and Afro-Colombian territorial, labor, and civil rights. On January 12, former Afro-Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba, who recently participated in a delegation of victims to visit the peace negotiation table in Havana, Cuba, was sent a death threat in the form of a funeral bouquet.  The threat appears to have come from the paramilitary group, The Black Eagles (Águilas Negras), who have been targeting supporters of the peace effort.

Meanwhile, staff of the Inter-Ecclesial Commission for Justice and Peace (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz, CIJP) who are working on a number of peace process efforts, as well as protecting Afro-Colombian rights and humanitarian zones in Curvarado/Jiguamiando and Buenaventura, are being denied protection measures from the National Protection Unit (Unidad Nacional de Protección, UNP) despite their increased vulnerability due to recent legal decisions in favor of the communities they legally represent.

On January 4, Francia Marquez and Lisifrey Ararat, activists against illegal gold mining in the Afro-Colombian territories of Suarez and Buenos Aires, Guachane and Santander de Quilichao located in northern Cauca were forced to flee their homes due to intimation by illegal armed groups. While these activists and others from La Toma have been under threat for three years, their security situation has worsened since the national authorities have not complied with the agreements made with these communities on December 11. Such agreements came about after a group of Afro-Colombian women marched from La Toma to Bogota in November to call attention to illegal mining operations in their lands. The lack of initial response from the authorities led the women to stage a non-violent protest in offices of the Ministry of the Interior. As a result, the government agreed to take a series of actions of which 98% they have not taken.

In the municipality of Villa Rica, Cauca two armed men shot Jesus Enrique Cabezas, the driver for the Organizations of Unified Afro-Caucans (Unidad de Organizaciones Afrocaucanas, UOAFROC). Mr. Cabezas received three bullets in the head and remains critically wounded. UAFROC’s members were declared to be military objectives by the paramilitary group Los Rastrojos for their work in defending Afro-Colombian land rights against illegal extraction of natural resources.

Luis Ernesto Olave Valencia has become the target of public and private threats due his legal defense of Afro-Colombian political rights in the high profile Afro-Colombian curules case. In this case, two non-Afrodescendants with reported links to paramilitary-political networks are attempting to usurp Congressional seats designated for Afro-Colombians.

The majority Afro-Colombian Port Workers Union (Unión Portuaria), continues to face threats, sub-human working conditions, incidents of racial discrimination, and reprisals for attempting to obtain direct contracts for their  members in spite of the U.S. and Colombia’s promised changes in the U.S.-Colombia Labor Action Plan. Port workers in Turbo—who can only work if they accept temporary contracts—are forced into shifts of up to 96 consecutive hours. They get no overtime pay and are denied rest. In Buenaventura, a key commercial port for the U.S.-Colombia FTA, workers are denied union representation. Port operators are pressuring over 200 workers to quit the union and denying over 600 workers their pension.

In all of the above situations, perpetrators of threats, violence, and intimidation continue to act with impunity since none have been investigated and sanctioned for their actions. The protection situation is compounded by the fact that the recent crises and leadership transition in the National Protection Unit (UNP). The latter, has led to the UNP inadequately responding to emergencies. It has decreased—and in some cases taken away—measures for individuals in the above cases. WOLA calls on U.S. and Colombian authorities to implement the human rights conditions for Colombia’s receipt of military aide and the promises of the U.S.-Colombia Action Plan.