Charo Mina Rojas
Human Rights and International Coordinator, PCN
April 26, 2018
International Letter Demands Freedom for Sara Quiñonez and Tulia Maris Valencia
Afro-Colombian Social Movement Leaders Detained on False Charges
For Immediate Release– Individuals and organizations from around the world sent a letter (en español) today to Colombian Attorney General Nestor Humberto Martinez demanding that the government drop its baseless charges against social movement leaders Sara Quiñonez and her mother Tulia Maris Valencia. Both women are human rights defenders from the Afro-Colombian Community Council of Alto Mira and Frontera and members of the Black Communities Process (Proceso de Comunidades Negras, PCN).
The human rights advocates face politically motivated accusations as a result of their work on behalf of the collective and human rights of Afro-descendant communities. At their arraignment hearing on April 25, a judge refused to release them pending trial. On April 24, Ms. Quiñonez and Ms. Valencia sent the following message from the courtroom in Cali: “We are women who defend the rights of Afro-Colombian peoples. We are innocent!”
Social movement leaders are particularly alarmed that the government is targeting advocates for arrest while failing to address the dramatic spike in threats and killings against human rights defenders in Colombia since the signing of the Peace Accords. Ms. Quiñonez and Ms. Valencia were forcibly displaced as a result of the threats against them. Following the murders of Genaro Garcia (2015) and Jair Cortes (2017), fellow members of the Community Council of Alto Mira and Frontera, Ms. Quiñonez was forcibly displaced with her family to another part of the country where she received protection measures from both Colombia’s own National Protection Unit and from the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.
Advocates are concerned the April 20 arrests signal that the government is criminalizing efforts to defend the constitutionally recognized collective and territorial rights of Afro-Colombian people. “We are concerned that these arrests are a dangerous harbinger of a possible return to the pre-Peace Accords period where human rights activists – and especially Afro-Colombian activists – were prime targets of the Colombian state,” said Jaribu Hill, Mississippi Workers Center for Human Rights and Black Alliance for Peace (BAP) Coordinating Committee.
The Afro-Colombian Community Council of Alto Mira and Frontera has been subjected to violence and dispossession at the hands of paramilitary groups, guerrilla groups, narcotics traffickers, soldiers, and multinational corporation over the course of decades. Ms. Quiñonez served as the President and later as the Vice-President of the Community Council, and Ms. Tulia Maris Valencia is also a well-known leader of the women’s group and serves on local committees in the Community Council. Thanks to their crucial work in defense of the community’s rights, the Community Council of Alto Mira and Frontera is one of the few cases prioritized in the Ethnic Chapter of the Peace Accords between the FARC and the Colombian government.
“Afro-Colombian women human rights defenders like Ms. Quiñonez and Ms. Valencia are at the forefront of the type of social justice movements that will lead to meaningful peace, and their work must be permitted to continue. We join with Colombian social movements calling for the authorities to drop the baseless charges against Ms. Quiñonez and Ms. Valencia, and immediately release them,” said Yifat Susskind, Executive Director of MADRE.