An international human rights organization has denounced the assassination of a human rights activist who opposed a controversial damming project in Colombia. The autonomous human rights commission of the Organization of American States (CIDH) published an official statement Wednesday, denouncing the assassination of activist Nelson Giraldo in Colombia’s Antioquia department, and calling on the Colombian government to take more proactive steps in assuring the safety of the human rights community, as well as using whatever resources necessary to bring the killers to justice
Giraldo, founder of the Living Rivers Antioquia social and environmental action group, was a longtime vocal opponent of the Hidroituango Dam, a controversial project that protesters say will displace thousands of local residents and destroy the regions ecosystems.
Just over a week after a departmental court gave the Antioquia government six days to assign the special protection units being asked for by Giraldo and other protesters faced with repeated death threats, Giraldo himself was found dead, with his throat slit and bullet wounds in his chest and legs.
Giraldo, whose corpse was found washed up on a shore in the Cauca River Canyon, had reportedly been living for over six months in the National University’s former Coliseum in Medellin, along with some 600 other protesters from the Ituango region who claim they are being displaced by the Hidroituango project.
Giraldo was captured and murdered on September 17th, after temporarily leaving protests to tend to his wife and children in the Ituango municipality, located 106 miles from Medellin. His death is believed to be related to his prominent activism, and to the various death threats he had received in the weeks and months preceding his murder. The threats are thought to have come from right-wing neo-paramilitary organizations still active in the area, but no group has accepted responsibility for the attack.
Earlier this week, the general manager from the publicy-owned company behind the Hidroituango dam, EPM, released a statement later echoed by the CIDH report, asking that all necessary public resources be allocated to bring Giraldo’s killers to justice, and asserting EPM’s commitment to adhere to all environmental and social laws and regulations regarding the expansion of the Hidroituango project.
Protesters, however, have since repeated previously expressed sentiments to local media sources, placing the blame for Giraldo’s murder on the Antioquia government and EPM for neglecting their obligations to human rights — EPM, too, is a function of the Antioquia government.
Construction on the Hidroituango project began in 2010, and the dam, which will be Colombia’s largest, is set to be finished by 2018. The project requires that close to 10,000 acres of surrounding territory be flooded, and protesters say the flooding, and the diversion of the Cauca river’s course, will force much of the local community to leave their homes.
No public accusations of wrongdoing have been made against the company regarding Giraldo’s murder, and company spokesmen declined Colombia Reports’ request for a comment on the claims of protesters, most of whom are reportedly safe in their makeshift refugee camp in Medellin.
Officials from the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Justice also declined to comment on any potential ongoing investigation into Giraldo’s death.
- OEA official press release
- La CIDH condena el asesinato de un defensor de derechos humanos (El Mundo)
- Asesinado el activista Nelson Giraldo, enfrentado a una hidroelectrica (Europa Press)
- Empresas Publicas pide a Fiscalia esclarecer asesinado de integrante de Rios Vivos (El Colombiano)
- Asesinan al lider del Rios Vivos en Antioquia (Caracol Radio)
- Asesinado el lider colombiano de Rios Vivos en Antioquia (Prensa Latina)