WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
18 Feb 2014 | Commentary | News

Colombia and the U.S. Must Prioritize Protection of Afro-Colombians

To read the letter as a PDF, please click here.

Our organizations strongly condemn the murders, attacks, and death threats that Colombian illegal armed groups have perpetrated against Afro-Colombian leaders and communities throughout Colombia including the cities of Bogota and Medellin. We urge U.S. and Colombian authorities to protect Afro-Colombian leaders and communities at risk and to investigate and bring the victimizers to justice. Colombia’s National Protection Unit (UNP) must swiftly guarantee the safety of Afro-Colombian leaders and labor activists under threat. The Colombian Vice President’s office should publicly condemn the murder, death threats, and other attacks against Afro-Colombians. The international community should bolster its support for the peace talks between Colombia and the FARC guerillas that will bring an end to Colombia’s internal armed conflict and improved security for Afro-Colombians.

While the rhetoric of Colombian authorities regarding the human rights of Afro-Colombians has changed, the reality on the ground remains the same or worse for Afro-Colombian leaders and their communities. On February 1, 2014, Carlos Arturo Ospina Córdoba, son of Ana Fabricia Córdoba, the well-known Afro-Colombian IDP leader who was killed in 2011, was assassinated in Medellin. More than four members of the Córdoba Ospina family have been murdered by illegal armed groups presumably due to their having denounced crimes committed by paramilitaries. The remaining family members are at risk of harm and the perpetrators of this violence remain free.

Our organizations remain concerned about the security situation facing members of the National Association for Internally Displaced Persons (AFRODES) and Afro-Colombian labor activists. On February 11 and 13, armed men entered AFRODES’s national office in Bogota seeking one of AFRODES’s members who has received multiple death threats against him and his family due to his effort to reclaim his ancestral territories that were ill usurped by illegal armed groups. These are just two of the latest in a series of ongoing security incidents and threats received by AFRODES. We have not seen any progress in the implementation of protection measures (both individual and collective) for AFRODES’s leaders. The implementation of collective measures remains stalled and there exist problems with individual measures for several leaders who continue to be threatened. Members of the Afro-Colombian Labor Council (CLAF) continue to receive threats. Harold Viafara Gonzalez of the CLAF and USE trade union leader has had his protection measures taken away by the UNP despite the fact that he continues to receive death threats and has taken his case to Court. Afro-Colombian Raul Palacios, other Curvaradó land rights leaders, and their accompaniers remain highly vulnerable to harm and facing problems with their protective schemes assigned to them. On February 14, escorts for the Inter-Ecclesial Commission for Justice and Peace’s Curvaradó counsel Manuel Garzón intercepted suspicious men who were following him in Medellin.

Afro-Colombian and indigenous civilians in the Pacific Coast continue to be harmed, displaced and affected by the internal armed conflict. COCOCAUCA, the grouping of Afro-Colombian community councils in Guapi, reports numerous armed actions affecting the civilian population in Cauca. Among them is that on January 6, 2014 two Afro-Colombian youths who were traveling in the Saija River were apprehended by armed men and killed. COCOCAUCA also reports that actions by members of the armed forces contrary to international humanitarian law in the urban area of Guapi are placing at risk some 1,500 girls, boys and youths. Combat operations between armed groups in the Middle Atrato river area have negatively affected at least 12 Afro-Colombian communities and three indigenous communities. Explosions in areas like Tagachi from bombs placed by the FARC have injured soldiers and are causing panic in the civilian population.

The situation in Buenaventura, the location of Colombia’s most important international commercial port, remains dire. Since just January 2014, four women have been brutally murdered. On February 2, the body of one woman’s dismembered body without a head was found in La Bocana. On February 8, Maria Yenny Ortiza Camacho was killed due to repeated blows in Olimpio neighborhood. On February 9, another woman was shot in a billiards hall in the Americas area. In the neighborhood of San Jose, displacements are taking place due to violence perpetrated by armed groups. Members of this community are forced to sleep outside of their homes at night for fear of being killed when shootings take place during the night. The Buenaventura homicides and femicides and death threats against leaders remain without results in investigations by the authorities.

We call on all of the parties to the internal armed conflict to respect international humanitarian law and to refrain from actions that harm civilians and generate displacements. Colombian authorities must act to stop the activities of criminal groups engaged in femicides, homicides and displacements and protect Afro-Colombian leaders.

This statement is supported by the following organizations: Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), Solidarity Center, Proceso de Comunidades Negras, Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, Presbyterian Church (USA), Latin America Working Group, Global Rights, Colombia Land Rights Monitor, Center for International Policy (CIP), Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), AFRODES USA, Afro-Colombian Solidarity Network (ACSN), AfroColombia NY and the following individuals*: Tianna Paschel (Neubauer Family Assistant Professor, University of Chicago), Roland Roebuck (Afro-Latino Activist), Paloma Diaz, Ogechukwu Ezekwem (PhD Student, University of Texas at Austin), Ofunshi Oba Koso (Congo Global Voice), Natalie Goodnow (MFA Student, University of Texas at Austin), Maurice Carney (Friends of the Congo), Mary Cuevas, Manuel Guadalupe Galaviz (MA Student, University of Texas at Austin), Kiran Asher (Associate Professor, International Development and Social Change, Clark University), James Early (Institute of Policy Studies Board of Trustees), Gail S. Phares (Witness for Peace-Southeast), Eunice Mina Escobar (Afrocolombian activist, CRLN Board Member), Ernesto Mercado Montero (PhD Student, University of Texas at Austin), Dr. Whit Hutchison (Rutilio Grande House), Dr. Ruth Needleman (Professor Emerita, Indiana University), Dr. Jessica Heineman-Pieper, (Assistant Professor, School of Public Policy, George Mason University), Dan Kovalik (Senior Associate General Counsel, United Steelworkers), Charo Mina Rojas (PCN International), Bill Fletcher, Jr. (American Federation of Government Employees), Barbara Gerlach (Colombia Liaison, United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries), Arturo Escobar (Professor of Anthropology, UNC, Chapel Hill), Anthony Dest (PhD Student, University of Texas at Austin), Ambassador Shirley E. Barnes (U.S. Ambassador Ret.), Agustin Lao Montes, PhD (Associate Professor of Sociology, Center for Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino Studies, Afro-American Studies, University of Massachusetts at Amherst)

*For identification purposes only

For more information, please contact:

Gimena Sanchez, WOLA, (202) 797-2171
Pedro Cortes, AFRODES USA, (202) 594-4879
Carlos Quesada, Global Rights, (202) 822-4600 ext. 162