WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
7 Feb 2013 | Commentary | News

Racism, Violence continue for Afro-Colombians

Dear Congressional Black Caucus Aides,

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) wishes to bring to your attention the following developments concerning Afro-Colombian rights in Colombia.

Racial Incident against Professor in Cartagena

On January 19, 2013, Afro-Colombian Professor Claudia Mosquera Rosero of the National University of Colombia was the victim of racial insults in Cartagena, Colombia. Prof. Mosquera has filed a suit against the aggressor. El Heraldo reports that in 2012 and 2013, Afro-Colombians were subjected to other derogatory and racist comments. In May 2012, Bogotá’s councilman Jorge Duran Silva stated that the legislative crisis affecting the city was akin to “a herd of blacks.” Also, in May 2012, a Representative from Antioquia made a racist comment about how investing money in the Afro-Colombian region of Choco was a waste of time. He was later removed from office for five months by the Prosecutor General’s office. On January 11, 2013, a former beauty queen was told at an airport from an employee that “she was just a simple black woman that should not talk.” On January 29, 2013, Colombia’s Presidential Program for Afro-Colombians denounced the racial discrimination suffered by Prof. Mosquera.

Alarming Human Rights Situation in Tumaco, Nariño

In December 2012, the Catholic Diocesis of Tumaco released an alarming report on the human rights abuses faced by Afro-Colombian and indigenous peoples in Nariño Department. The report that covers January 2011 until June 2012 details the impact of actions taken by the FARC and ELN guerillas, the paramilitary groups (Rastrojos and Aguilas Negras), and the Colombian armed forces on civilians. The FARC guerillas detonated explosive devices at police stations that killed and wounded civilians. On June 2, 2012, for example, a FARC explosion placed at the Chilvi station in Tumaco killed Jorge Moya, his wife, and two other civilians. Another explosion that took place the next day in Tumaco’s main street left one civilian and two police dead and another 13 civilians wounded. Combat operations resulted in civilian deaths, displacement, and exposure to landmines. Paramilitary activity included torture, murder, death threats and extortion of civilians. Various persons were forcibly disappeared by unknown men and later found dead. The indigenous Awa group suffered multiple abuses from illegal armed groups. Women have been deeply affected by the violence. In 2012, the Pastoral received over 500 women who were victims of different abuses. The cases documented by the Pastoral include three cases gender violence, 10 cases of sexual abuse, 82 cases of torture, 165 death threats, and 30 cases of extortion.

Murder of Afro-Colombian Leader Miller Angulo of AFRODES

On December 1, 2012 unknown assassins murdered Afro-Colombian leader Miller Angulo, a member of the Association for Internally Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES) and high profile activist for IDPs in Tumaco. Mr. Angulo leaves behind a wife and two children. This murder came after he had received various death threats from illegal armed groups. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees and UN Office on Human Rights in Colombia also condemned Miller’s murder.

Miller’s murder took place after a November 13, 2012, email death threat issued by paramilitary groups that includes several Afro-Colombian, indigenous, human rights and labor groups that work closely with WOLA. Partners listed include AFRODES (the recipient of WOLA’s 2010 human rights award), CODHES, INDEPAZ, SINALTRAINAL, MINGA, CCAJAR, MOVICE and numerous regional Afro-Colombian women and IDP organizations. The women’s groups include the Association of Women of Northern Cauca (ASOM) whose work was featured in the PBS Series Women, War and Peace’s episode “The War We Are Living” and the Liga de Mujeres Desplazadas in Cartagena.

AFRODES Protest and Calls for Security for Afro-Colombian Leaders

On December 11, 30 displaced Afro-Colombian leaders affiliated with AFRODES from different parts of the country took the opportunity of their participation in the launch of the Forum on Human Rights Public Policy organized by the Colombian government to engage in an act of non-violent civil disobedience. When Vice President Dr. Angelino Garzón launched the human rights policy an IDP leader lay down on the floor in order to protest the murders of Afro-Colombian leaders to call attention to the fact that as they do their work they are not protected and the Colombian government does not take the security of Afro-Colombians seriously.

AFRODES USA initiated a Change.org petition to the U.S. Embassy encouraging Ambassador McKinley to intervene on behalf of AFRODES leaders seeking security and the organizations threatened by paramilitaries on November 13, 2011. The petition has received over 1,300 signatures. The U.S. Embassy responded to requests for intervention is engaging Colombia’s National Protection Unit (NPU) on security concerning AFRODES. As a result, steps towards obtaining appropriate protective measures for some of AFRODES’s leadership have advanced. Currently the NPU is dialoguing with AFRODES to develop a pilot program for collective security measures that is being coordinated with several Colombian government agencies. This pilot program will include visits to six different Afro-Colombian communities that AFRODES represents, in order to have an inclusive meeting with residents and talk about their desires for structuring collective protection schemes.

While the steps underway are positive, we wish to reiterate that AFRODES leaders who have requested measures since July 2012 have not yet been granted such measures, and, that as such the leaders remain highly vulnerable to harm. In January, AFRODES leaders experienced new security incidents including a physical attack against its President Marino Cordoba. Further, on January 17, a suspicious unknown man was spotted surveying the AFRODES office in Bogota and he appeared to be watching the comings and goings of staff.

Critical Security Situation Faced by Afro-Colombian Women in Buenaventura

On November 17, the Black Communities Process (PCN) issued a disturbing report on the security situation faced by Afro-Colombian women in Buenaventura. The overall security situation in Buenaventura has significantly deteriorated in recent months. In the month of October, at least 30 persons were killed, numerous displacements have taken place and civilians were subject to some 35 shootouts between the illegal armed groups. This situation, along with that of Tumaco and Quibdó where similar violence is taking place, prompted the Dioceses of Tumaco, Buenaventura and Quibdó to put out an SOS urging national and international intervention to protect the lives of civilians.

In Buenaventura, Afro-Colombian women are being subjected to br
utal acts of violence. In the past three years, the practice has been for illegal armed groups to torture and butcher women by tearing their limbs off their bodies, beheading them and then displaying them publicly. These brutal acts are meant to send gruesome message of terror to Afro-Colombians living in this area that the paramilitaries dominate the area and that everyone should do exactly what they order persons to do and not cross them.

We also take this opportunity to re-circulate the USW and WOLA Colombia Reports commentary on labor rights that summarizes recent developments concerning Afro-Colombian workers.

We encourage the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) to closely monitor developments concerns Afro-Colombian human rights and the labor rights of Afro-Colombian workers and that the Caucus increase visibility of abuses taking place against these communities.

In terms of the cases listed above, we ask that the CBC suggest to Ambassador McKinley that he make a public statement condemning murders and threats against Afro-Colombian leaders and their communities.

Colombian authorities should be encouraged to provide the individual protective measures requested by AFRODES and other groups listed on the November 13th death threat. Colombia should also investigate Miller Angulo’s murder and bring the perpetrators to justice. The U.S. Congress should become engaged in the pilot collective measures program headed by AFRODES and the NPU by tracking its progress and guaranteeing its funding through USAID.

The recent racial incident in Cartagena underscores the importance of the U.S.-Colombia Racial Action Plan. WOLA encourages the CBC to become more active in guaranteeing that this plan effects change towards combating racial discrimination in Colombia.

Given that the Buenaventura port is key to the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement and that in particular the area where these femicides are taking place is the same area designated for port expansion to accommodate the commerce that will increase as a result of the FTA, we strongly recommend that the CBC take action to address this situation.

We appreciate your attention to these most important matters. For further information please contact Gimena Sanchez of WOLA at [email protected] or (202) 797-2171.