WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
24 Jun 2014 | Commentary | News

June Human and Labor Rights Update in Colombia

The following is a letter sent to U.S. policymakers on recent human and labor rights violations in Colombia. 

Human Rights Developments

Leader of Buenaventura humanitarian space threatened again

As WOLA has been regularly reporting over the past two months, Orlando Castillo, a community leader in the Puente Nayero humanitarian space in Buenaventura, received new death threats on June 16, 2014. One of the paramiltiaries in the area gesticulated at Castillo that he would dismember the human rights defender. Investigation and prosecution of those responsible for this and the past wave of threats is essential.

Following landmark conviction, family of teens slain by Colombian army receive death threats

The family of Darvey Mosquera Castillo and Alex Hernando Ramirez, two young men from the city of Manizales, who were killed by members of the 7th Brigade, Battalion 57 of the National Army on February 8, 2008, received death threats just hours after seven members of the armed forces were found guilty for the executions. Community leader and mother of Mosquera, Alfamir Castillo, received the threat via text message at 8:49 p.m. on June 18, 2014. The message said: “Death and revenge begin today, you will die, you will die.” Denouncements of prior similar threats have gone unanswered by the Attorney General’s office, including after meeting with Congressmen George Miller and James McGovern in August 2013. Effective protection measures must be granted to Alfamir Castillo Bermudez, as well as the lawyers in the case Jorge Eliecer Molano and German Romero Sanchez. These threats must be investigated so they do not translate into murders.

Armed confrontation between ELN and Urabeños in the Choco necessitates immediate state action

A serious case of forced confinement and threats occurred in the days leading up to June 15, when armed groups entered into the Chachajo community, confiscated all telephones from the residents of this area of the Upper Baudo River, and used the local community as protection between the illegal armed groups. These latest armed confrontations have increased in frequency since 2013, when the paramilitary successor group, Los Urabeños, sought to contest the region. Leaders of the ACABA community council, as well as local human rights and religious leaders, called attention to this grave situation to the military commander in the area, but he refused to implement the Early Warning System, or move forces to protect the local communities.

MOVICE human rights defenders in Sucre receive threats

On June 18, at around 4 p.m., MOVICE members received two text messages from the number (300) 875-1552 saying that Juan David (Diaz) and Andres (Narvaez) would be killed. These threats come after the April 2014 Supreme Court conviction of Diana Luz Martinez Perez (former director of the Vega del Sincelejo Prison) and paramilitaries Emiro José Correa, alias ‘Convivir’, and José Tomás Torres, alias ‘Orbitel’ for the murder of Diaz’s father, Eudaldo Diaz. Similar death threats have also been received in the past year. In February of 2014, members of the Urabeños arrived at the Diaz family farm demanding money or the murder of their pets and workers; in April their dogs were found poisoned. On May 26, the police withdrew their protection measures for Juan David Diaz; he still has protection measures from the UNP and precautionary measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The UNP and Sucre police must ensure that these human rights defenders have the necessary protection and that the Attorney General investigates this and past threats.

MOVICE defenders in Atlántico receive threats

MOVICE technical secretary in Atlántico received a threat via email on June 18 from the address [email protected]. The threat, which also referred to Yesenia Perez Otero and Lesly Orosco of National Victims Roundtable, declared these three women human rights defenders to be military objectives for collaborating with guerrilla groups. They were given 48 hours to cease their activities or be assassinated. At least eight similar threats have arrived via text message and in person in recent months. Immediate action from both the national and regional governments is necessary to protect these defenders, and a full and complete investigation is necessary.

Santander peasant rights organization ASOGRAS receives death threat

On June 12, 2014, ASOGRAS received a death threat from the email [email protected], which alerted of a possible assassination attempt against Cesar Augusto Tamayo, departmental president of the Santander Campesino Association (ASOGRAS). The email, which appeared to be more of a warning than a threat, included a recording of the conversation about murdering Tamayo. As recently as May, other ASOGRAS members have received death threats because of their work. The organization has been working on confronting the negative effects of mining and environmental degradation in the region, particularly the Potosi Mine. The Attorney General and Inspector General must undertake an exhaustive investigation of the threats. Until those responsible are brought to justice, protection measures must be provided.

Black Communities Process calls attention to the presence of backhoes in Northern Cauca

The Black Communities Process (PCN) of Colombia called attention on June 19, 2014, to the new presence of 15 backhoes, likely for mining, in the Cauca region. This movement comes after a deadly mine disaster in nearby Santander de Quilichao. Oversight organizations must take action to protect the territorial and environmental rights of the local communities and the international community must monitor and intervene in this situation. Economic alternatives to illegal mining must also be developed in consultation with the affected communities.

Internationally-recognized human rights defender lacks necessary protection measures

Francia Marquez, featured in the PBS series Women, War and Peace for her work securing land rights for Afro-Colombian communities with the Black Communities Process (PCN), continues to lack the protection measures she needs given her security situation. She was assigned by the UNP a car with escorts, telephone and internet access, and relocation in Cali. Marquez at no point requested relocation from Suarez/the La Toma community council area, because this is her ancestral home and it would mean abandoning her human rights work. Furthermore, while moving her children would be a possibility, the UNP declined to guarantee education for them in the new location. A new protection scheme with a differential approach must be developed so Marquez can safely continue her work.

Cauca Valley residents protest violence in Buenaventura

Residents took to the streets of Cali on June 9 in protest of the violence in the port of Buenaventura. WOLA and the Afro-Colombian Solidarity Network (ACSN) issued statements supporting the local community in their efforts to demand an end to the violence and resulting humanitarian crisis in the country’s most important Pacific port.

Labor Developments

Vice President of the Sinaltrainal union survives assassination attempt

Jose Onofre Esquivel Luna, an employee of Nestle and SINALTRAINAL union leader, survived an assassination attempt at 7 p.m. on June 16 in Medellin. Onofre’s bodyguard returned fire at the assassin, killing one and leaving the other injured, whom the authorities later arrested. Unions and civil society organizations from throughout Colo
mbia and the region have called for a full investigation to clarify the actors behind this attack and ensure the long-term protection of Colombia’s labor movement.

Grenade thrown at entrance to SINTRAELECOL union headquarters in Caldas

On June 18, 2014, a grenade was thrown at the SINTRAELECOL office; authorities confirmed that the pin was left in, and thus did not explode. This attempted attack comes after past spurious legal attacks were launched against the President of the union and similar attempted bombings have occurred previously. The handling of evidence in this case and past cases has been questioned, and the attacks have gone largely uninvestigated.

CUT union leader in Buenaventura, Colombia receives threat

Ana Cristina Bermudez, a labor leader with the CUT union federation in the city of Buenaventura in Valle del Cauca received death threats for her work. The National Afro-Colombian Authority (ANAFRO) strongly encourages Vice Minister of the Interior, Natalia Gutierrez, to take action on this case and ensure protection of Ms. Bermudez in her labor and human rights work.

Palm oil workers form union

On May 4, Unipalma de los Llanos workers voted to form the Cumaral Meta local of the Sintraimagra union. They decided to unionize to highlight labor rights concerns, demand fair pay, and ensure better working conditions. The workers have encountered difficulty in securing recognition of their demands, though, because another union (affiliated with the CGT union federation) has signed an agreement through 2016. Labor rights concerns—including illegal subcontracting and negation of pension requirements—continue to be widespread in this Labor Action Plan priority sector, and labor struggles, like that of the Unipalma workers, must be allowed to continue unhindered.

Photo: Displaced village in Choco, Colombia