While peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC guerillas continue, many of Witness for Peace's partners on the ground emphasize that a lasting peace with social justice requires more than just an end to hostilities between the state and the insurgency. The following statement from human rights defenders in the southwestern province of Cauca regarding the recent increase in attacks on human rights defenders illustrates why the U.S. must urge the Colombian government to protect human rights defenders in their important work and include civil society voices in peace building efforts.
By the Cauca Network for Life and Human Right (CIMA, CRIC, MCC, Acader, Ascap, Ruta Pacifica de Mujeres, Ordeurca and Cococauca)
We highlight the important advances that the peace talks in Havana have made regarding the FARC’s unilateral ceasefire, the discussions of a possible bilateral ceasefire and the reduction of hostile actions in civilian areas. However, the Cauca Network for Life and Human Rights denounce to the international community that the end of 2014 and beginning of 2015 has seen an increase in human rights violations in the province of Cauca. These include assassinations, assassination attempts and threats against human rights defenders and community leaders, along with an increase in femicides and extrajudicial killings.
The statistics gathered by our network’s Observatory on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law indicate that in December 2014 and January 2015 in Cauca at least 10 indigenous, campesino and Afro-Colombian organizations have been threatened via pamphlets, phone calls and text messages signed by “Los Rastrojos,” “Aguilas Negras” and other unidentified groups. Leaders are being threatened for opposing illegal and multinational mining operations in their territories. Among the organizations and leaders most affected are the members of the Untied Afro-Cauca Organizations (UAFROC) and the Afro-descendant Women’s Movement for Life and Territory from Suarez, who have also been victims of attempts on their life and forced displacement. Similarly, leaders from the National Afro-Colombian Advisory Council were threatened by pamphlets distributed in the Guapi, Cauca City Hall.
The member organizations of the Cauca Network for Life and Human Rights are on high alert in the wake of assassinations of human rights defenders. In two months, two community leaders and one public official were killed: on December 9, 2014 on the highway from Popayan to Purace, Elkin Dario Mompotes, a leader of the Indigenous Mining Company, was killed by hired assassins; on January 15, 2015, Emiro Medina Velasco, the Manager of the Municipal Legal Office in Caloto, was killed; and on February 4, men dressed in civilian clothing and driving a motorcycle assassinated Heriberto Narvaéz, a campesino leader from El Patía. To these we can also add the murder of Congreso de los Pueblos member and leader Carlos Pedraza, which occurred in the rural outskirts of Bogotá. Together they demonstrate the lack of protections for the work of human rights defenders and their participation in the construction of peace in this country.
Women are another group that has been strongly impacted during this period. The Observatory on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law has registered at least eight femicides, which represents a 50 per cent increase from the previous reporting period. Along with this there have been repeated threats and intimidations against Afro-descendant women from northern Cauca, who have been publicly demonstrating since last year in defense of their territory against illegal mining. This includes the forced displacement of leader Francia Marquez and her family.
This year also began with community reports of excessive force and abuse of authority by members of the 29th Brigade of the Colombian Military in the village of El Plateado, near the city of Argelia, Cauca. On January 18, Faiber Cuellar, 28 years of age, was assassinated by soldiers who indiscriminately opened fire after requesting him to stop at a checkpoint.
The beginning of this year has also seen an increase in common violence. As of the current date, in the cities of Santander de Quilichao, Popayán, Puerto Tejada and El Tambo at least 48 people between 18 and 30 years of age have been murdered.
The Cauca Network for Life and Human Rights urges the Colombian government to comply with its responsibility to protect lives and human rights, investigate and punish those responsible for these crimes and to create the conditions necessary to effectively protect human rights defenders and organizations. Peace will not be possible if there are no protections for the defense of human rights and no mechanisms for the participation of civilians, social organizations and social leaders in peace building.
Popayán, Cauca, Colombia