WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
16 Mar 2011 | | News

Recent Violations of Afro-Colombian Human Rights

The Afro-Colombian Solidarity Network (ACSN) wishes to call attention to the recent setbacks regarding Afro-Colombian human rights:

Disappearance of Afro-Colombian Leader

On March 2, 2011, Ana Julia Renteria, President of the Community Council of the Cajambre River, and her husband, Miguel Santos Renteria, were forced to attend a meeting away from their home by unknown men. There is no information on Ana Julia and Miguel’s whereabouts since their disappearance. Ms. Renteria is a prominent Afro-Colombian community leader and the mother of nine children.

Colombian Soldiers Burn 119 Afro-Colombian Families’ Homes

On February 28, 2011, the Inter-Church Commission for Justice and Peace (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz) reported that soldiers from the 80th Battalion burned and destroyed the homes of 119 Afro-Colombians in the Lower Calima river area. The justification given by the military for burning down these homes, that  have belonged to these communities for the past 70 years, is that they are now the property of the economic development project- Industrial Port of Fresh Water S.A. (Puerto Industrial Agua Dulce S.A.). This community has suffered four similar incidents since 2005 leading to the destruction of 47 homes and subsequent displacement of residents.

FARC Endangers Afro-Colombian Civilians

On February 27, 2011, a canoe filled with explosives allegedly placed by the FARC blew up in the Santa Ana community of the Community Council of Los Manglares in the municipality of Lopez de Micay, Cauca. This explosion resulted in the deaths of three persons including an indigenous civilian and the wounding of three soldiers. This situation has led many members of the community to confine themselves in their homes out of fear of being harmed. Also, on March 7, 2011, members of the FARC urban militia launched a grenade next to the Lopez de Micay police station. While no one was hurt, this action caused panic and the displacement of local civilian residents.

Murders of Buenaventura’s Afro-Colombian Women

According to the Foundation for Women’s Development of Buenaventura (Fundación para el Desarrollo de la Mujer de Buenaventura, FUNDEMUJER), 65 women were assassinated in the Port of Buenaventura in the past three years. Fifteen of these women were killed in the past fifteen months. These attacks include the rape and murder of 15 year old Matia Mulumba whose hand was cut off prior to her death and Monica Lissete Duque aged 17 who was also raped and her throat cut. Most of the women killed were between the ages of 18-20. However, such cases also involve girls as young as 10-12 years old. The total number of cases is not known since persons are afraid to report them for fear of reprisals. While the motives behind these killings are not clear, it seems that the overall violent climate in Buenaventura, due to the internal armed conflict and drug trade, is a factor that leads to the mutilation, rape and violence of women. Impunity is the norm for almost all of these cases, leaving the possibility for perpetrators to act against new victims. 

120 Families at Risk of Displacement in Middle Atrato

The community of La Villa in the Bebara River (Middle Atrato River region, Chocó) is at high risk of displacement due to combat operations taking place between the Colombian armed forces and the FARC’s 34th Front. On February 20, 2011, combat operations left one soldier dead and another wounded, as well as 120 afro-descendant and indigenous families displaced. After the community’s decision to return and peacefully “resist” the permanent displacement from their ancestral territories, they remain at high risk of harm and displacement. Some of its members are also “confined” (unable to leave) the area due to continued combat operations and are facing a humanitarian emergency.    

PCN Member Who Denounced Corruption Attacked

On February 9, 2011, NGOs, activists, academics and other U.S. civil society groups wrote to the Colombian Minister of Interior and Justice German Vargas Lleras regarding allegations of corruption in the High Level Consultative Commission during the previous consultation process with Afro-Colombian communities concerning the Santos administration’s National Development Plan (PND). The denounced activities are troubling given that the Colombian authorities are required to previously consult with affected Afro-Colombian communities for all policies, programs and economic development projects (including the implementation of Constitutional Court Order 005 on Afro-Colombian IDPs) concerning Afro-Colombian communities.

On March 3, 2011, members of ACSN were informed that Teresa Cassiani, the person who denounced the corruption activities was physically attacked by another member of the High Level Consultative Commission Ms. Idalmi Minota. Ms. Cassiani is a member of the Black Communities’ Process (PCN) and forms part of the High Level Consultative Commission for the Department of Bolivar. PCN as an organization was also expelled from the January 28 High Consultative meeting for having denounced this corruption. We find it highly problematic that the High Level Consultative Commission has yet to investigate this matter and sanction those responsible.  
Steps Backwards in Emblematic Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó Case

We are deeply concerned about Vice President Angelino Garzon’s recent assertion on February 24, 2011 in Berlin, Germany declaring that the legal rulings demanding the return of Afro-Colombian collective lands in Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó (Chocó) to the displaced people have not been implemented because in his view it is not clear which persons are the legal owners of these lands. The Colombian judicial system has demonstrated that these lands were illegally and violently stolen from their rightful owners over the course of more than a decade. Vice President Garzon’s statement is a clear setback that ignores the various legal rulings made on this case. It is also a strong indication that the Santos Administration does not have the political will to uphold the rights of those displaced from these territories.

On January 15, 2011, the Municipal Inspector of Carmen del Darien ordered that the illegal occupiers of these lands evacuate. Up until now, the police have not acted to implement this order, and the area is currently occupied by illegal oil palm operations working in conjunction with paramilitary groups. Recent Constitutional Court Orders (May 18, 2010 and December 10, 2010) indicate the steps that the Colombian authorities must take to return the lands to their rightful owners, and the Ministry of Interior and Justice has put together a plan for how to implement this. While the Santos Administration travels to the U.S. and to Europe claiming that they are returning the lands to the displaced, they deny that right in one of the most documented and publicized cases of illegal land usurpation by economic and paramilitary interests.

Given the context of continued and systematic violence against Afro-Colombian communities, ACSN recommends:

The U.S. Congress and the State Department to take steps towards the protection of Afro-Colombian communities, justice in the aforementioned cases and implementation of 2009 Constitutional Court Order 005 on Afro-Colombian displaced persons.

All Colombian armed groups to cease activities that could lead to harming civilians, respect International Humanitarian Law and its principle of distinction between combatants and non-combatants.

U.S. policymakers to urge Colombia to protect the leaders and NGOs working in Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó and fully return, without reservations their collective territories. Doing so would be a sign that the new Santos Administration is genuine in its plans to return lands to IDPs.

Human rights organizations and activists to take action by sending letters and making calls to the Colombia authorities and encouraging them to act on these violations.

Activists are also encouraged to sign the change.org petition to President Barack Obama concerning the U.S.-Colombia FTA at http://www.change.org/petitions/stop-the-us-colombia-free-trade-agreement

Feel free to post, tweet and circulate this announcement to your websites

For further information please contact Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli of WOLA at (202) 797-2171; [email protected] or Charo Mina Rojas, PCN International Working Group at (434) 760-0663, [email protected]

*The Afro-Colombian Solidarity Network (ACSN) includes the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), TransAfrica Forum (TAF), Global Rights, Chicago Religious Leadership Network (CRLN), Peace Brigades International (PBI), U.S. Office on Colombia (USOC), International Working Group of PCN, and activists and scholars Joseph Jordan, Roland Roebuck, Eunice Escobar and Arturo Escobar.