Human Rights organizations have called for urgent action to be taken to protect Afro-Colombian communities following a recent spate of atrocities committed by paramilitary groups acting with impunity.
The Afro-Colombian Solidarity Network (ACSN) has released a statement documenting assassinations, displacement, intimidation, drug trafficking and forced conscription in communities around the country in the last two months.
In the Choco department, two people have disappeared from the communities of Curvarado and Jiguamiando in the last week alone. Thirty-two more have received death threats.
Paramilitaries operate openly, despite the presence of members of the Army’s 17th Brigade. Community members claim the army neither search nor arrest the paramilitaries who regularly transport coca through checkpoints.
They also claim the paramilitaries are offering $400 to community youths to join them. If they refuse their lives are threatened and they are forced to flee.
Earlier this month the brother of an Afro-Colombian leader in Cauca was kidnapped and brutally murdered. Following the killing, 300 people from the Sanson community fled their homes. The community has yet to be recognized as internally displaced by local authorities.
Church human rights workers in Choco, port union leaders in the city of Buenaventura and community activists in the department of Northern Cauca have also been subjected to death threats, equipment and information thefts and intimidation by paramilitary groups.
One campaigner against illegal mining in Northern Cauca received a call saying, “you people from the Community Council are the ones opposed to the machines working in the Ovejas River. The bumps in the road must be removed so that they don’t disturb progress.”
Many activists have complained the authorities have shown little interest in the cases. Port union leaders claim the Labor Action Plan agreed with the U.S. in April has not led to any progress in investigations into abuses, while the northern Cauca activists say that the authorities have not responded to reported death threats.
According to a report released by the Somos Defensores campaign on August 8, on average, a human rights defender was attacked or threatened every day-and-a-half between January and June this year – with 29 people assassinated and 145 attacked or threatened.
The ACSN has called on the U.S. government to delay the free trade agreement with Colombia while paramilitary groups continue to persecute Afro-Colombians with such impunity.