ACSN Condemns Killings, Disappearances and Threats against Afro-Colombian and Land Rights Activists
The Afro-Colombian Solidarity Network (ACSN) strongly condemns the recent murders of land activists, forced disappearances of Afro-Colombian members of La Toma and Cajambre community councils, and new paramilitary threats against Afro-Colombian, indigenous and internally displaced leaders. These attacks and threats are part of a strategy to deny Afro-Colombians, indigenous populations, and mestizos of their rights to the land. ACSN calls upon U.S. authorities to urge the Government of Colombia to protect human rights defenders and bring the perpetrators and intellectual authors of these crimes to justice.
On March 26, 2011, six men wearing ski masks entered the hamlet of Del Hato Santa Marta, La Toma (Northern Cauca) and attempted to steal gold that was mined over the course of one week by the small mining company owned by the community council of La Toma. These men threatened and intimidated the persons who were present and proceeded to take Mr. Rafael Ararat hostage. This incident comes after members of the community of La Toma received death threats on multiple occasions in the past two years. Activists including ACSN have denounced these threats to the Colombian and U.S. authorities. Colombia agreed to take action at an Inter-American Commission Hearing at the Organization of Americans States. Yet up until now, Colombia has done little to guarantee the protection of members of this community and to strengthen their land rights.
On March 2nd, Ana Julia Rentería, Afro-Colombian leader and President of the Community Council of the Cajambre River, and her husband, Miguel Santos Rentería, were forced by unknown men to attend a “meeting” away from their home. There is no information on Ana Julia and Miguel’s whereabouts since their disappearance. Ms. Rentería is a prominent Afro-Colombian community leader and the mother of nine children.
The aforementioned disappearances of Afro-Colombians come after the February disappearance of environmentalist and former employee of CENSAT Agua Viva/Friends of the Earth, Sandra Viviana Cuellar Gallego. Ms. Cuellar was working with Yanacoca indigenous communities on the Cauca River and assisting with the Yumbó municipality environmental development plan. While her ID, cell phone and other personal belongings have been found, her whereabouts remain unknown. Ms. Cuellar is a long time advocate for the environmental rights of Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities.
On March 22 and 23, three community leaders that advocated for land rights were murdered within a 24 hour period. On Tuesday, March 22nd Bernardo Ríos Londoño, member of the Community of Peace San José de Apartadó (Antioquia), who has long fought for the community’s right to not be displaced from their lands, was murdered. The next day, March 23rd, David Góez Rodríguez, a leader from the land restitution process in Tulapas, Turbo municipality (Antioquia), was killed in a shopping center in Medellín. On that same day, Ever Verbel Rocha, a land rights activist in San Onofre (Sucre) was mortally wounded and later died. According to CODHES, over 44 internally displaced activists, many of whom were advocating for their land rights, have been assassinated in recent years. Other activists killed in recent months include Zoraida Acevedo Vargas from Tibú (Norte de Santander), who was murdered in front of her family on March 12, and Maussa Contreras, a land rights activist from Urabá who was brutally murdered in San Juan de Nepomuceno (Bolívar) in December 2010.
On March 14th, a long list of Afro-Colombian, human rights, IDP, indigenous organizations and prominent journalists received a new email death threat from the paramilitary group the Black Eagles. This threat follows several received in the last year with the latest arriving on February 15th. Several Afro-Colombian organizations advocating for their human rights and territorial rights in Chocó, Nariño, Cauca and Bogotá are listed on this threat.
On March 27, unknown men barged into the Justice and Peace Commission’s (Comisión de Justicia y Paz, CJP) office in Curvaradó and ransacked CJP’s archives and publications. Additionally, after CJP denounced the collusion of the armed forces and the Black Eagles during a hearing at the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR) on that same day, a Colombian general assigned by the government to the IACHR called CJP’s delegate a liar. These attacks on CJP occur in the context of a constant defamation campaign against the organization. CJP is a human rights organization that accompanies Afro-Colombian, indigenous, and mestizo communities in several regions of the country.
The above mentioned cases indicate that the Santos administration is not taking sufficient steps to guarantee the safety and security of land rights activists, IDPs and Afro-Colombian leaders. ACSN urges the U.S. State Department not to certify Colombia for complying with human rights requirements. Certification, and the subsequent release of military aid to Colombia, sends the wrong message in the midst of an environment where the safety and rights of Afro-Colombian, indigenous, and other human rights defenders is not guaranteed. U.S. members of Congress must also urge the Colombian government to significantly reduce impunity in land rights cases and strengthen and protect Afro-Colombian and indigenous territorial rights prior to consideration of the US-Colombia FTA.
*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.