WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

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3 Mar 2020 | Commentary

Letter to the Editor: Duque’s Failure to Protect Colombia’s Social Leaders

By WOLA Staff

Washington, D.C.—On March 2, Colombia President Iván Duque met with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House, with the official agenda focused on Venezuela’s political and humanitarian crisis. Duque also called on the international community to assist Colombia in responding to the needs of Venezuelan migrants and refugees in a recent opinion piece for the Washington Post.

The need for the international community to get involved in a humane, regionwide response to Venezuela’s migration crisis is critical. But in developing that response, the international community must also pressure Duque to address the systematic killing of social leaders and human rights defenders in Colombia, WOLA Director for the Andes Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli said in a response to the Colombian president’s op-ed, published today by the Post.   

“The Venezuelan migration crisis deserves attention and resources,” wrote Sánchez-Garzoli. “But in providing that assistance, the international community must recognize that it simultaneously needs to pressure Mr. Duque’s administration to protect social leaders.”

According to research and advocacy group INDEPAZ, 817 social leaders and defenders have been killed since the 2016 signing of the peace agreement, including 53 killed in the first two months of 2020. 

The Duque administration has fallen short in addressing this wave of killings, as in the vast majority of cases the perpetrators and those responsible for ordering the crime are neither identified nor sanctioned. Additionally, by defunding crucial aspects of the 2016 peace agreement, the Duque administration has signaled to the country’s most conflict-ridden areas that fulfilling the accords’ commitments on justice and rural land reform are not top priorities. The lack of government investment in these areas means that community leaders “are often the only people working to implement peace,” Sánchez-Garzoli wrote in her letter to the editor. This has left social leaders more vulnerable to threats and attacks by those protecting criminal and other interests. 

“If Mr. Duque’s government can’t commit to protecting the very people it needs to sustain Colombia’s long-sought-after peace, how will it fare in providing for the security of Venezuelans in vulnerable situations?” wrote Sánchez-Garzoli.

Read the full response to President Duque’s op-ed here

More background from WOLA

  • During public remarks following the White House meeting, President Trump expressed approval for the Duque’s administration’s efforts to restart aerial spraying of coca crops in Colombia, saying, “You’re going to have to spray. If you don’t spray, you’re not going to get rid of [coca].” In fact, years of data show that aerial fumigation does nothing to “get rid” of coca crops over the medium or long term. See WOLA’s full analysis on the costs of restarting aerial coca spraying in Colombia here