WOLA, Global Rights, and AFRODES USA Statement
October 2, 2013
On September 11, 2013, Diego Luis Balanta of the National Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians (Asociación Nacional de Afrocolombianos Desplazados, AFRODES) was attacked in Cali, Colombia. A noted human rights defender, Mr. Balanta was thrown to the ground by three men who were calling him a snitch (sapo). While he was able to escape, two of his fingers were broken in the attack. He has since had to leave his home for another location in Cali.
Prior to this, Mr. Balanta had solicited protection measures from Colombia’s National Protection Unit (Unidad Nacional de Protección, UNP). The UNP rejected his request, declaring his level of risk “ordinary.”
On September 24, 2013, the national AFRODES office received a threatening phone call saying they were going to kill members of AFRODES. These latest threats come after a number of prior threats and attacks against members of AFRODES throughout the country who are regularly targeted for their work on behalf of the victims of Colombia’s conflict.
These attacks also come just two weeks after the U.S. Department of State certified Colombia as meeting its requirements to—among other things—protect human rights defenders as a stipulation for receiving military aid. If Colombia is truly to “make progress on improving respect for human rights,” it must take concrete steps to protect Afro-Colombian leaders and ensure threats and attacks are fully investigated.
The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), Global Rights, and AFRODES USA urge the U.S. Department of State to call on the Colombian government to take the steps necessary to assure the responsible parties are brought to justice. Until that happens, the UNP must provide AFRODES with the necessary individual protection measures and work with the appropriate authorities to develop the legal framework for collective protection measures.
One hundred and twenty AFRODES leaders are currently under threat and many have not received adequate protection by the UNP. These latest threats and attacks represent the continuation of concerted efforts to derail AFRODES’s work on behalf of victims, and the Colombian government must take concrete actions to ensure protection and justice for the organization’s members.
Photo of Cali, Colombia, courtesy of Ben Bowes.