Following a series of brutal attacks, death threats and murders, several international organizations have called on US and Colombian authorities to condemn ongoing violence against Afro-Colombian leaders and their communities.
The organizations are urging Colombia’s National Protection Unit (UNP) to employ security measures to protect the victims of these communities and have called on the Vice President’s Office to openly condemn the targeted violence.
“Despite the fact that Colombia has come to the US and said that they are advancing, despite the fact of (…) a hearing where they said they were advancing on these measures, its been almost a year without measures, and threats continue to take place,” Gimena Sanchez of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) told Colombia Reports.
“While the rhetoric of Colombian authorities regarding the human rights of Afro-Colombians has changed, the reality on the ground remains the same or worse for Afro-Colombian leaders and their communities,” according to the WOLA and other groups that sent the letter.
“The one area where we are not seeing any process is basically the protection issue [of Afro-Colombian] and that is protection of the human rights defenders, protection of displaced leaders, protection of civilians,” Sanchez added.
On February 1, the son of Ana Fabricia Cordoba, a leading activist for victims of forced displacement, was assassinated in Colombia’s second largest city, Medellin. He was the fourth member of the family who has been murdered by illegal armed groups.
“What is really missing here in terms of protections (…) is the actually protection measures, but another piece is public statements stating that it is wrong to kill Afro-Colombian leaders, it is wrong to displace Afro-Colombians or massacre an entire family. That’s not there, we don’t hear that from the Colombian government on the higher level,” said Sanchez.
The group has also voiced their concern about the members of the National Association for Internally Displaced Afro-Colombian Persons (AFRODES) and Afro-Colombian labor activists who they believe are in danger, following an episode on February 11 and 13, where armed men burst into the AFRODES office in Bogota and threatened a member who had reclaimed his legally protected right to ancestral land.
“We are concerned that the 140 members of AFRODES continue to not have protective measures despite the fact that Colombia has come to the US and said that they are advancing,” Sanchez said.
In what activists say is a representative case, Harold Viafara Gonzalez of the Afro-Colombian Labor Council (CLAF) had his protection removed by UNP despite ongoing threats made against his life.
A group of Afro-Colombian community councils in the state of Cauca (COCOCAUCA) has reported that their communities continue to suffer at the hands ofarmed groups. On January 6, two young men were killed by armed men, and an estimated 1,500 youths are at risk in the state. More so, combat operations have directly affected at least twelve communities in the region.
A series of brutal murders in the coastal seaport of Buenaventura, in the Pacific state of Valle del Cauca, saw four women of Afro-Colombian descent murdered in January. In the neighborhood of San Jose, many are said to be sleeping on the street, even in the midst of violence and frequent shootings that take place at night.
To date, no suspects have been named in the murders, as is the case in most of the violence against members of the Afro-Community, according to Sanchez.
“I don’t know of any cases involving Afro-descendant death threats getting any results. And in the cases of murder, they are all preliminary investigations (…) we don’t see people going to jail physically or a message being sent out to illegal groups or anyone who want to harm Afro-descendants,” the human rights advocate said.
The joint statement called on the illegal groups to refrain from these unlawful measures that go against humanitarian laws and for Colombian authorities to condemn these actions.
“They want to promote economic development for Afro-descendants, educational opportunities of Afro-descendants, combat racial discrimination — they also need to protect their lives,” the human rights advocate said.
- Interview with Gimena Sancheza (WOLA)
- “Colombia and the U.S. Must Prioritize Protection of Afro-Colombians” (Joint statement by international groups)