Death threats, attacks and assassinations. Human rights defenders and indigenous, afro-descendant, and IDP leaders in Colombia often face these terrors, but lately there has been a major spike in these actions—and we’re worried. This past week, LAWGEF and our partners released a public statement to the Colombian and U.S. governments, calling on the Colombian government to take action now to investigate and prosecute these threats and attacks, protect the people at risk, and make it publicly clear that human rights defenders’ work is legitimate and important.
Here are a few examples that we highlighted of what’s been happening:
- On April 8th, eight miners were assassinated by armed men in the municipality of Suárez, in the department of the Cauca, Colombia.
- On April 10th, death threats were issued in the name of “Los Rastrojos–Comandos Urbanos” to more than sixty Colombian human rights organizations, individuals and international organizations, such as CODHES, AFRODES, MINGA, MOVICE, Fundación Nuevo Arco Iris, UN Development Program, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, CCAJAR, the Social Ministry of the Diocese of Tumaco and many Afro-Colombian and IDP leaders. This same group issued a second threat on May 18th naming many of the same organizations and individuals as well as adding new targets.
- In mid-April, a series of death threats were anonymously leveled against a Jesuit priest, Javier Giraldo, S.J., a human rights analyst who manages the human rights monitoring database at Jesuit Center of Investigation and Popular Education (CINEP) in Bogotá. The threats culminated in the scrawling of graffiti upon the wall of the CINEP offices and other buildings throughout Bogota that read, “Against the Priest,” and “Javier Giraldo = Dead.” This graffiti also threatened the Interchurch Justice and Peace Commission (CIJP).
- On May 14th, the U.S.-based Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) received a death threat in its email allegedly from the Colombian paramilitary group the Black Eagles. The threat was directed at over 80 Colombian human rights, Afro-Colombian, indigenous, internally displaced and labor rights organizations and individuals, as well as at WOLA.
- On May 18th, human rights defender and farmer Rogelio Martinez was murdered by a group of hooded men. Martinez was a member of MOVICE in Sucre and an IDP leader who headed efforts to secure the return of land, allegedly stolen by paramilitary forces in 2001, to 53 families in an area known as Alemania Farm. He had been the recipient of multiple threats, and MOVICE has documented more than 50 incidents of attacks, harassment and threats against its members.
These threats and attacks must be taken seriously and dealt with immediately. Those who make these threats often claim that they are issued in defense of the Colombian government, as in the May 14th threat which accuses groups of “blocking the policies of the Colombian government.” This association makes it even more important for the Colombian government to denounce such threats publicly and support the activities of human rights defenders.
The U.S. government can and must send a strong message to the Colombian government urging them to investigate these threats and take action to protect those in danger. And as the U.S. Congress finalizes its decisions on what aid to Colombia will look like in the year to come, we have to keep reminding them to use that leverage to support our Colombian heroes.