Collective letter to the President of Colombia – Stop the violence against human rights defenders
In a little more than a year, ESCR-Net has sent a second collective letter to the President of Colombia, Iván Duque Márquez, regarding new threats allegedly from the paramilitary group Águilas Negras against Comité Ambiental en Defensa de la Vida and other human rights defenders and political leaders in Tolima (Colombia.)
On 20 July 20 2021, several social and political leaders received a threatening WhatsApp message allegedly from the paramilitary group Águilas Negras. The message declared several political, social, environmental, indigenous leaders and human rights defenders as military targets, describing them as "scum" (escoria) who seek to "destabilize" the country.
In the first letter sent in May 2019, the Network already denounced the paramilitary group for allegedly sending a threatening email to several members of environmental organizations in Cajamarca, accusing them of profiting from their human rights work and of being connected to guerrillas. The threat appeared to be connected to the organizations’ resistance to mining projects in the region. In March 2017, the organizations supported public consultations, in which the communities of Cajamarca rejected mining activities in their territory.
ESCR-Net reiterates its concern and alerts that Águilas Negras was included in the list of "new paramilitary groups" in a 2010 report by the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions.
The Network pinpoints the repeated threats in the historical and current context of violent violations by paramilitary groups in Colombia, aggravated after the National Strike (Paro Nacional) of April 28, when various sectors of the Colombian society exercised their right to protest as a result of proposed tax increases on basic necessities, fuel and public services. The protest was followed by widespread demonstrations which were severely repressed by Iván Duque’s government. In line with the statements issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), ESCR-Net condemned the repression in a collective statement.
ESCR-Net points to the responsibility of the Colombian government in the escalation of violence against human rights defenders: "The State's lack of respect for the human rights of demonstrators has given confidence to extreme right-wing groups in Colombia, such as the Águilas Negras," the letter states.
According to a recent OHCHR report, between March and June 2021 it received information about the killings of 49 human rights defenders in Colombia (5 documented and 44 under verification). A total of 71 killings have been reported in 2021 (7 documented and 64 under verification.)
The Network notes the importance of linking the threats to "an illegal effort to silence and impede the legitimate defense of human rights by human rights defenders."
In an open letter addressed to the national and international community and signed by Comité Ambiental en Defensa de la Vida, among others organizations, the escalation of insecurity in Tolima is described as an "affront against political participation, the right to opposition, freedom of expression, social protest and peaceful assembly, as well as the mechanisms of participation that have managed to raise the voice of the people such as the Popular Consultations, which have managed to confront and question the extractivist model that represents development for the elite".
Among other urgent actions, the letter calls upon the Colombian authorities to investigate the threats to find and sanction those responsible as well as to ensure the safety of members of Comité Ambiental en Defensa de la Vida and the other organizations and human rights defenders and political leaders; to undertake the necessary and appropriate measures to dismantle paramilitary groups in Tolima and the country; and to ratify of the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean (Escazú Agreement.)