Seventy-two human rights defenders have been assassinated in Colombia since 2015 in disputes with companies, primarily multinationals, according to a corporate responsibility NGO.
The businesses implicated in most cases of economic violence are major companies like state-run oil company Ecopetrol, the Cerrejon coal mine that is a joint venture of Anglo American, BHP and Glencore, and AngloGold Ashanti, according to Business and Human Rights (BHR).
Other companies are Venezuelan salt miner Big Group Salinas and Medellin‘s public utilities company EPM.
You can’t blame everything on the narcos
While President Ivan Duque has consistently blamed drug traffickers for the mass killing of human rights defenders and community leader, but this is not true, according to BHR, which has been monitoring the situation in Colombia since 2015.
Between 2015 and October 2019, 72 human rights defenders were assassinated while in a dispute with private sector enterprises.
The NGO registered another 109 non-fatal acts of aggression like intimidation, assault, the criminalization of their opposition to certain business endeavors and judicial harassment.
Ninety percent of attacks were on defenders working on either mining, fossil fuels, agriculture and livestock, or hydroelectric plants and dams.
Business and Human Rights
Particularly the mining sector is problematic because of the involvement of illegal armed groups in illegal mining of resources that ultimately enters the legal market, said BHR.
Most violent sectors for human rights defenders
Source: Business and Human Rights
Little evidence of companies’ direct involvement in violence
Only in a minority of cases, there is evidence that the companies directly contributed to the violence, said BHR, adding that most of the violence takes place in regions with historically weak state presence.
Most of the HRDs under attack were leaders and members of affected communities, unionists, and Afro-Colombian and indigenous people – far exceeding the numbers of judges, lawyers and members of urban NGOs.
Business and Human Rights
According to the NGO, Colombia’s governments have “taken some important steps to address this situation but has so far failed to quell rising attacks on HRDs who raise concerns about business operations.”
Corporations against violence
Also some corporations have taken action to prevent violence.
Murray Energy, Drummond, Cerrejon and Glencore subsidiary Prodeco have publicly spoken out against violence, and death threats in particular, against opponents of their operations in northern Colombia in May last year.
We believe that peace and business activity is fundamental in building relationships of mutual respect, in dialogue and in the collective search for the improvement and transformation of social and economic conditions. Therefore, any violent action against workers, communities and social leaders is an attack on the coexistence of all.
Canadian energy company Isagen rejected violence in 2017 already.
Nevertheless, in line with a general trend of increased violence against human rights defenders, violence against opponents of corporate interests has gone up as well after a 2016 peace deal with the now-demobilized FARC guerrilla group.