Afro-Colombian rights activists targeted by smear campaign

The recent threats against three Colombian human rights activists form part of an ongoing campaign to publicly discredit and smear their work of protecting Afro-Colombian communities in the Choco region, according to the Inter-Church Commission for Justice and Peace.

According to the commission, the threats against Danilo Rueda, Father Alberto Franco, and Father Javier Giraldo, which include accusations of terrorism and racial discrimination, death threats, kidnapping threats, and illegal phone and email intercepts, come as a result of their work to investigate human rights abuses by paramilitary organizations since 1996 in the Bajo Atrato region of the department of Choco, ALC Noticias reported Wednesday.

In addition, threatening messages have been written via graffiti across Bogota against Father Javier Giraldo.

A press release from the Center for Investigation and Popular Education, the Colombian NGO where Father Giraldo works, denounced the threats and vowed to keep fighting to protect human rights. “We reject these threats against Father Giraldo, who has tried to defend human rights and not leave the crimes against.. [human] rights to go unpunished.”

In regards to the activists’ operations in the Bajo Atrato region, an Afro-Colombian area severely hit by the conflict, the commission said that opponents to their work “seek to discredit and destroy the efforts [of the three activists] to protect life and land… The region is found within an internal conflict zone and the operations of businesses are destroying the ecosystems.”

Residents of the Bajo Atrato account for over 16% of the total displaced people in Colombia, according to the Citizen Commission for Monitoring Displacement. This is due to paramilitaries forcefully taking control of large portions of land for cultivation and to exploit the large quantities of natural resources.

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