We are writing to express our serious concern with the human rights crisis that is unfolding in Colombia today. A week ago a number of national and local organizations in Colombia – among them Afro-descendant organizations, agrarian organizations and Colombia’s National Indigenous Organization (ONIC) – began an historic national strike. The protest is a response to the Colombian government’s failure to honor its commitments to agrarian reform, and a call for the government to protect the rights of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities.
Peaceful protestors have been met with brutal repression. The Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios (ESMAD) has used extreme force against these peaceful protesters, which has resulted in the death of three indigenous community members, and the injury of countless others. The government has also refused to engage in serious dialogue with leaders and has instead decided to remove protestors from the main roads in some regions in the country. We have close contact with a number of Afro-Colombian community leaders who are among the peaceful protestors in the North of Cauca, some of whom reported on June 3 that ESMAD forces were intermixed with regular police. This is bringing about an escalation of an otherwise peaceful protest at the same time that it may present violation of international human rights conventions. There are also numerous reports of racialized violence against protesters, including the use of disturbing racist slurs by ESMAD forces. Rather than treating these Colombians as peaceful protesters, the Colombian state has chosen to treat this as a declaration of war. We are deeply saddened by this situation and stand with the Colombians who find themselves on the streets, risking their lives to exercise their rights as citizens.
As the Colombian government continues to engage in peace negotiations with the FARC-EP in Cuba, it is important to note the blatant disregard for the rights of protesters is directly linked to the refusal to include an Ethnic Commission in the peace negotiations, which would help to mitigate the exclusion of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. This is despite a number of verbal commitments that were made in the last few months by Colombian state officials. These protests are, in part, a response to the systematic exclusion of these communities and organizations and the government’s failure to guarantee the individual and collective human rights of these communities. These rights are guaranteed in the 1991 constitution and in over two decades of subsequent legal norms and Constitutional Court decisions. We are appalled by the treatment of these peaceful protestors and the blatant disregard for civil rights that are unfolding in Colombia. This is especially disturbing because among the many protesters are people from Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities that have been historically marginalized and whose rights have been systematically denied.
Given this dire situation we urge the Colombian state to choose peace, to use restraint in dealing with protestors, and to respond to the concrete, and legally justified, demands that protesters have made. We also urge policymakers in the United States to look into this situation and to pressure the Colombian state to respect the rights of its citizens. The handling of this protest not only threatens to undermine the peace negotiations, it threatens to prospect for democracy and the rule of law in Colombia.
The Afro-Colombian Solidarity Network (ACSN) is an independent coalition of organizations and individuals in the United States (U.S.), formed in January 2008, working to promote international policies and programs that strengthen the territorial and human rights of Afro-Colombian communities. Working directly with grassroots Afro-Colombian organizations, ACSN undertakes strategic action in a number of areas including advocacy, visibility and fundraising. We support Afro-Colombian communities’ struggles for justice and self-determination.