WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
21 Jun 2012 | Commentary | News

Colombian Human Rights Defenders Exposed to Grave Dangers

WOLA’s partners throughout Colombia have seen a concerning upswing of threats and attacks aimed at deterring their work in defense of human rights.

On June 20, 2012, staff of the Inter-Church Commission for Justice and Peace (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz, JyP) received a death threat targeting several of WOLA’s closest partners in Colombia. The following message was sent to a cellphone provided to JyP by Colombia’s National Protection Unit (UNP):

“The political wing of the FARC Marxists. We’re going to exterminate the indigenous in [Valle del Cauca], NOMADESC, political prisoners, ECATE, CPDH, MOVICE, CUT. They are the rural and urban ideological structures [of the FARC]. There is no truce with the terrorist guerrillas. For a Colombia without guerrillas. Death.”

The UNP has not adequately responded to JyP’s protection needs, thereby forcing them to suspend their work in Bogota and other parts of the country. The Attorney General’s Office investigations into death threats have not produced results.

Last week, unknown men intimidated Delis Palacios Herron, survivor of the 2002 Bojaya massacre and activist of the May 2nd Association of Displaced Persons (ADOM) organization. ADOM and other Afro-Colombian organizations have solicited protection for 22 activists including IDP, Indigenous and Afro-Colombian leaders who have suffered multiple death threats and intimidation since June 2011. Many of the activists under threat are victims organizing for justice in human rights, land rights, and forced displacement cases in Choco. On June 13, WOLA, Swefor, Diakonia and other international organizations sent the Colombian government a letter urging them to act to protect the victims of the Bojaya massacre.

These threats are part of a larger pattern of threats and intimidation against Afro-Colombians, indigenous and human rights defenders in Colombia who are advocating for justice for victims of the conflict. Recently, individuals have conducted surveillance outside of JyP’s office in Bogota, and threats against JyP staff have increased. Human rights and land rights leaders, such as Felix Banguero of the Black Communities’ Process (PCN), are increasingly detained on claims that they have ties to armed groups. WOLA has expressed grave concern regarding threats against JyP, NOMADESC, CUT, and MOVICE on several occasions, but there are rarely any results in the investigations. Impunity emboldens perpetrators and undercuts the crucial work of human rights defenders in Colombia.

The Colombian government should take every step possible to guarantee the security of these important human rights defenders. The United States Government has the responsibility to closely monitor threats against human rights defenders as 25% of U.S. military aid to Colombia must be withheld if the Government of Colombia does not comply with human rights conditions (See Sec. 7045). High level action must be taken by both governments in order to protect the lives of human rights defenders and the important work of their organizations.