Posted by Kirsten Begg on Jun 4, 2009 Leave a comment

Colombia biofuel production violates human rights: UN, NGOs

The United Nations (UN) and human rights groups denounced the cultivation of
biofuel crops in Colombia because they believe their production is violating human rights.

The Colombian government is in favor of national biofuel production and proudly announced that Colombia is the second biggest producer of biofuels in the world.

Human rights organizations believe the cultivation of biofuel crops such as palm tree oil is threatening the lives and land of Afro-Colombians, farmers and indigenous Colombians, BBC World reported Wednesday. The report expressed concern that Colombians are being forced to leave their land so taht it can be used to grow biofuel crops.

The UN requested the freezing of all investment in biofuels because it believes their production is contributing to the global food crisis. According to BBC World, the UN is concerned that biofuel crops are taking precedence over food crops.

Colombian Agriculture Minister Andres
Fernandez defended biofuel production saying it is a government objective that the industry “continue to grow”.  He said that development of the industry is no longer just government policy but State policy.

In response to UN concerns that biofuel crops occupy land that could be used to produce food, Fernandez said that food and biofuel crops do not “compete” for land in Colombia.

“I think that that is just a fallacy disseminated by people who don’t believe in biofuels,” he said.

Fernandez said that the development of the biofuel industry has had a “wonderful” effect on the lives of farmers, who now have work “where before there were no crops, nor food, nothing.”

Eustaquio Polo Rivera, a farmer from the municipality of Carmen del Darien in the north-west Choco department, told BBC World that he and his neighbors cultivated bananas, corn and rice until paramilitaries arrived in the area in 1996 “to murder the farmers”.

“They used the argument that they were there to remove the guerrillas but we later realized that their objective was to kick us off our land. We resisted leaving but the army told us that they wouldn’t help families who stayed,” he said.

According to Rivera more than 500 people fled the area.

“When we tried to return to our land, it was full of palm trees,” he said.

“There has been no willingness on the part of government to ensure the return of our territories, because the paramilitaries are still there and they are in partnership with the business,” he said.

Human Rights Everywhere (HRE) is one of the NGOs that denounced the forced displacement of Afro-Colombian communities so that palm tree crops can be planted on their land.

Fidel Mingorance, president of HRE, said forced displacements to plant palm tree oil crops have been happening since 2005 and that the case from Choco has been brought before the Inter-American Human Rights Court.

Mingorance said that “all the violations, displacements, murder,
invasion of land, are connected to the expansion of the paramilitary, who supposedly demobilized some time ago.”

Leonidas Tobon, director of Technological Development at the Ministry of Agriculture, said that the reports of human rights violations are unfounded.

He said that 30 percent of palm tree crops belong to small scale producers. He did acknowledge the case of forced displacement in Choco but said “it was only one time and the government is compensating those affected”.