On June 5, the Colombian NGO Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission (Justice and Peace) reported that individuals associated with the palm companies were allegedly planning an attack against members of the community, Justice and Peace and Peace Brigades International (PBI), the international organization that provides them with unarmed international accompaniment. Colombia’s Constitutional Court has ordered the Colombian government to protect the inhabitants of the Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó Afro-Colombian collective territories, and to carry out a census to ensure that the land was violently, coercively and illegally oil taken over by paramilitaries who facilitated its use for illegal oil palm plantations and cattle ranching, is returned to its rightful owners. Currently, oil palm company representatives are being prosecuted for forced displacement, aggravated conspiracy to commit a crime and environmental crimes in the collective territories of Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó. This disturbing revelation comes after series of murders of Curvaradó community land rights activists and illegal surveillance, intimidation and threats against Justice and Peace staff.
Last week on June 16, a phone call was made to Justice and Peace’s office, in which the caller warned that they would be targeted for their work on the Curvaradó case. The next day, Catholic priest and Justice and Peace staff, Father Alberto Franco realized that his telephone was being intercepted, after he tried to make several calls and got put through to the GAULA unit of the National Police. On June 16th and 17th, Father Franco, and his colleagues Danilo Rueda and Abilio Peña, were followed by unknown men in Bogotá on several occasions, intimidated in the street, and their offices and homes were under obvious surveillance. As previously reported by ACSN, Mr. Rueda´s home was broken into in May by intruders who stole electronic media containing sensitive information on this and other human rights cases.
ACSN is particularly alarmed because a group of 20-30 paramilitaries armed with assault weapons (first spotted in Curvaradó in April) continues to be present in the area despite a high presence of Army units, the proximity of two stations of the National Police and international denouncements to the Colombian authorities. Last week, members of the community who participated in the census ordered by Colombia´s Constitutional Court were threatened and there are concerns that the land restitution process may be impeded. Currently, restitution is scheduled to take place in December 2011. While the Colombian government claims that they are moving forward on this case, international observers are seeing a marked increase in targeted threats and intimidation.
The Curvaradó case, which was in process prior to the Santos Administration’s land/victims law, is one U.S. policymakers should not take lightly. This is Afro-Colombian IDP case of land return that is emblematic of the tremendous security obstacles returning lands to IDPs are facing. ACSN notes that Colombia’s new Victims and Land Restitution Law (which does not address the collective land rights of Afro-Colombian and Indigenous persons), recently passed in the Colombian Congress in May is an important step for the recognition of victims’ rights in Colombia. While the law maybe symbolically important, the reality is that Colombia remains in an internal armed conflict and that in most of the country paramilitaries and guerillas continue to act with impunity.
Since Colombia’s passage of the land/victims law, ACSN notes with concern that more IDP and land rights activists have been murdered and threatened. As the OAS’s Inter-American Commission on Human Rights condemned on June 21, see http://www.cidh.oas.org/Comunicados/English/2011/59-11eng.htm the paramilitary group Aguilas Negras- Bloque Capital issued a death threat containing a list of human rights, IDP and Afro-Colombian organizations that work on land and IDP issues. The paramilitaries order those on the list to leave town in 20 days. Many listed on the threat are ACSN partners. These include Arco Iris, Sisma Mujer, CODHES, Movice, and Rosaliano Riascos, Luz Marina Becerra and Yovana Saenz all Afro-Colombian IDP activists who work with AFRODES. The United Nations agencies UNHCR and UNDP are also listed. So is Piedad Cordoba who has recently been active in denouncing the murder of her relative Ana Fabricia, IDP activist killed in Medellin, and Congressman Ivan Cepeda, advocate for victim’s rights as Congressman is problematic.
For land returns to be sustainable, IDPs’ right to life to be protected and the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement to be applied, it is essential that the Colombian authorities combat and dismantle illegal armed groups operating in areas of return and provide effective protection for IDPs and land rights activists. If Colombia does not properly address victims’ security then the scenario faced by IDPs, NGOs and international accompaniers in Curvaradó will be repeated in multiple IDP return cases that will be initiated under the new land/victims law. ACSN appreciates the U.S. government’s great interest and support for the restitution of land to IDPs and encourages the U.S. to support such efforts by encouraging Colombia to not return IDPs to their areas of origin without first combating or otherwise dismantling illegal armed groups and strengthening protections for land and IDP activists.
ACSN asks members of U.S. civil society to contact their U.S. Representatives:
- Encourage them to sign the Congressional Dear Colleague letter from Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA) to President Obama about the situation of Afro-Colombians and the pending free trade agreement with Colombia.To electronically contact your Member of Congress please go to the following LAWG action:http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/625/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY…
- Withhold advancement of the U.S. -Colombia free trade agreement until the safety of Afro-Colombian communities has significantly improved and the paramilitary and successor armed groups are effectively dismantled and fully delinked from sectors such as oil palm, extractive industries and large-scale economic development projects that are likely to benefit from the FTA.
- Prioritize U.S. assistance for the internally displaced population and for measures to increase the presence of civilian state entities in rural areas, such as the Human Rights Ombudsman and Ministry of Interior before, during and after land restitution processes, in order to provide human rights monitoring and protection on an ongoing basis; and
- Contact the U.S. State Department and Embassy in Bogotá to express concern for the safety of the Curvaradó communities and Justice and Peace staff. The State Department and Embassy should be urged to support an integral protection plan developed in consultation with the communities in which the Colombian Ministry of Defense coordinates Army and Police responsibility at the highest level to prevent regional penetration by illegal armed groups, particularly paramilitary and successor armed groups, from hampering efforts to provide security.
- State Department should also be urged not to certify that the human rights conditions for receipt of U.S. military assistance are being met until Colombia properly protects the Curvaradó communities and land rights activists and shows results in the threats and other cases against human rights defenders from Justice and Peace.
For further information please contact Anthony Dest of WOLA at email@example.com or 202-797-2171.