By Alexzandria Sanchez
Our partners from the Inter-Church Commission of Justice and Peace (Justicia y Paz) have seen an overwhelming increase in intimidation tactics and violent techniques used against social leaders and human rights defenders in Colombia.
Various human rights defenders from Justicia y Paz were threatened in person last week in Quebrada de Montería, Bajo Calima, and over text message in Putumayo.
According to reports by Justicia y Paz, on Tuesday, June 25 at 3:30pm, Heber Rentería and Luis Emilio Mena, president and prosecutor of the Community Council of Curbaradó, threatened Jesús María Hoyos and defenders of the Justice and Peace Commission.
Impeding on Hoyos’ property, Rentería and Mena were attempting to pressure Hoyos into abandoning his land. The Commission showed Rentería and Mena their published report denouncing the strategy of deforestation and dispossession at that location to implement agribusiness.
In response, Rentería and Mena said, “they are not responsible for what happens to the Hoyos’ family” and went on to insinuate that paramilitaries do not like the human rights denouncements made by the Justice and Peace Commission.
They also affirmed that they knew who was denouncing what was happening in the territory, referring directly to the defenders of the Justice and Peace Commission.
Adding to the threat, Rentería and Mena said they had also followed up on the meetings that Hoyos family and the defenders of Justice and Peace Commission had on June 22, at about 2:20 pm, and at 5:00 pm when they met in Bajirá in the house of Miguel Hoyos.
On that same day, in Bajo Calima at 3:40pm, defenders Vanessa Bustos, Diego Manzano, Luis Galindo, Santiago Mera, and Danilo Rueda were intimidated by six people dressed in mostly black, two wearing bulletproof vests on a boat.
These armed forces generated anxiety among the group, and interrupted the work of the defenders, who were trying to support black and indigenous communities along the San Juan coastline.
According to the villagers in the area, the same men flaunt their power to the population, often carrying weapons inside the boat that belongs to a criminal structure in the area.
On Wednesday, June 26 at 5:56 pm in the municipality of Puerto Asís, Carlos Fernández, a defender of the Justice and Peace Commission, received a threat through text message.
The text reads [translated in english],
“[obscenity] stop putting yourself in things that do not matter stop asking. You are going to get yourself killed for your [obscenity] denouncements."
Fernández has been subjected to harassment in Putumayo due to his work in protecting human, indigenous, and territorial rights of the indigenous Nasa people, including the Amazon Peasant Reserve Zone.
A few weeks before, the military threatened to shoot Fernández. He is now being covered with precautionary measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in order to protect his life.
These series of threats are serious and cannot be afforded to be swept under the rug.
Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective is very concerned and denounces the abuses, threats, and violence being used against human rights defenders in Colombia.
This broader trend of violence against social leaders has increased since the election of Colombia’s president, Ivan Duque. According to People's Dispatch, from January 2019 to April 2019, 50 social leaders have been killed in Colombia. At least 700 social leaders have been assassinated since the signing of the Peace Accords in 2016.
This figure doesn’t include the statistics for those who have been threatened, harassed, or attacked. These victims don’t only include former combatants of FARC, but indigenous leaders, Afro-colombians, and women and children.
Black and indigenous communities have limited mobility within their own territories due to constantly being terrorized by armed forces who impose themselves onto their land. The mobility of these armed forces intimidate and limit the development of work human rights defenders are able to accomplish in these areas.
President Duque’s government has failed to provide concrete guarantees to protect the lives of social leaders and former FARC combatants.