United States congressmen on Friday expressed “great concern” about the safety or lack thereof for Colombian indigenous leaders and land rights activists.
Seven U.S. members of congress sent a letter to Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos expressing their “great concern” regarding threats made against Colombian land rights activists and indigenous leaders specifically in the northwest department of Choco.
“We write to you to express our great concern about the recent security situation of the communities of the Curvarado and Jiguamiando river basins and the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission (CIJP)…which accompanies the communitites,” read the statement.
The municipalities of Curvarado, Jiguamiando and Cacarica, have experienced a rise in murders, death threats and harassment due to land activism.
“CIJP affirms that 45 leaders are currently under threat, including members of the designated Humanitarian Zones and Biodiversity Zones. Likewise, CIJP members have been a target of threat and harrassment, both in Bogota and in the regions where the organization carries out field work,” said the U.S. congressmen.
CIJP, a human rights NGO, focuses on environmental protection as well as securing the restitution of property belonging to persons of African American descent, indigenous peoples, and mestizos.
U.S. Representatives believe that the deteriorating security situation in these communities merits international concern. In collaboration with WOLA, they have been monitoring conflict developments and will reportedly continue to do so until the threats subside. WOLA’s mission is to protect human rights, democracy, and social justice by working with partners in Latin America and the Caribbean to shape policies in the United States and abroad.
All parties want to raise awareness due to the string of recent threats and murders of leaders specifically in the Curvarado and Jiguamiando communities.
WOLA and the U.S. Congress urged President Santos to guarantee protection for Afro-Colombian leaders and defenders. In summary, they have requested that Santos adhere to the following prevention course:
1. Investigate the incidents reported in the Curvarado and Jiguarmiando river basins, and prosecute those responsible for unlawful acts.
2. Implement an effective prevention, protection and removal of the bad faith occupants, as ordered by Colombia’s constitutional court.
3. Implement all protection measures agreed upon with the CIJP.
4. Investigate the surveillance, monitoring and threats made against the CIJP, and prosecute those responsible.
5. Publicly support the legitimate work of human rights organizations, and the important roles these organizations play in seeking a peaceful alternative to the conflict.
6. Take necessary measures to fully dismantle neo-paramilitary groups.