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Charges against Miller Dussan

Status: 
Facing charges
About the situation

On 6 February 2017, the Public Prosecutor at the court in Garzón recommended that the charges against Colombian human rights defenders, Miller Dussán Calderón and Elsa Ardila Muñoz, be dropped. The Prosecutor also declared that he will give his final verdict on this case on 22 February 2017.

Miller Dussán Calderón and Elsa Ardila Muñoz are respectively the director and the former director of ASOQUIMBO, an organisation that has been protesting against the dam El Quimbo since 2009. The hydroelectric project is operated by the local company EMGESA, a subsidiary of the Italian multinational ENEL. As a result of the dam, more than 11,000 people have been evicted and thousands of fisherfolk have lost their livelihoods.

In November 2015, EMGESA accused Miller Dussán Calderón and Elsa Ardila Muñoz of obstructing public roads and affecting public order. This charge, which carries between two to five years in prison, relates to a demonstration in 2012 that was organised by several local NGOs and civil society organisations, including ASOQUIMBO, to protest against the damage to a local bridge caused by EMGESA.

About Miller Dussán

Miller DussanMiller Dussán is a community leader, professor at the Universidad Sur Colombiana and President of ASOQUIMBO (Association of Those Affected by the Quimbo dam). The organisation is a collective of farmers, fisherfolk, academics, labourers and local families, who since 2009, have been resisting the Quimbo dam through peaceful protests, blockades, campaigns, and advocacy actions.

16 February 2017
Verdict on the case of Miller Dussán and Elsa Ardila to be given on 22 February 2017

On 6 February 2017, the Public Prosecutor at the court in Garzón recommended that the charges against Colombian human rights defenders, Miller Dussán Calderón and Elsa Ardila Muñoz, be dropped. The Prosecutor also declared that he would give his final verdict on this case on 22 February 2017.

Miller Dussán Calderón and Elsa Ardila Muñoz are respectively the director and the former director of ASOQUIMBO, an organisation that has been protesting against the dam El Quimbo since 2009. The hydroelectric project is operated by the local company EMGESA, a subsidiary of the Italian multinational ENEL. As a result of the dam, more than 11,000 people have been evicted and thousands of fisherfolk have lost their livelihoods.

In November 2015, EMGESA accused Miller Dussán Calderón and Elsa Ardila Muñoz of obstructing public roads and affecting public order. This charge, which carries between two to five years in prison, relates to a demonstration in 2012, that was organised by several local NGOs and civil society organisations, including ASOQUIMBO, to protest against the damage to a local bridge caused by EMGESA.

During the trial on 6 February 2017, the judge said that the charges should be dropped because the obstruction of roads was the result of a peaceful demonstration, and no illegal or violent actions were carried out. The attorney also said that proceeding with the trial would constitute a “limitation to the right to freedom of expression and association, and the right to protest”.

The lawyer representing EMGESA stated he would accept the decision of the judge and that he would not appeal. In the press release published following the trial, ASOQUIMBO wrote:

“EMGESA's attitude, in our opinion, is the result of the international solidarity campaign and the pressure put on the company. This is confirmed by the fact that outside of the court the lawyer representing EMGESA was overheard saying that in the morning he received a letter from Italy, saying he should not intervene during the trial”.

Although the charge of obstructing public roads might be dropped at the next court session, Miller Dussán Calderón is still facing a second charge. EMGESA also accused the human rights defender of instigating the occupation of land owned by the company. This second charge, which carries a sentence of up to eight years in prison, relates to land occupations in 2013 by small farmer communities, who were protesting against forced displacement and demanding just compensation from the company.

2 February 2017
Environmental defender Miller Dussan to appear in court on 6 February

The next hearing of the trial against Colombian human rights defender Mr. Miller Dussan will take place on 6 February 2017, at the Garzon Municipal Court in Huila. Because of his peaceful work protecting environmental and land rights, Miller Dussan is currently facing two charges and he risks being jailed for more than ten years.

In November 2015, local company EMGESA - a subsidiary of the Italian multinational ENEL, which built the Quimbo dam - accused Miller Dussan and Elsa Ardila, former president of ASOQUIMBO (Association of Those Affected by the Quimbo dam), of obstructing public roads and affecting public order. This charge, which carries between two to five years in prison, relates to a mobilisation in 2012, that was organised by several local NGOs and civil society organisations, including ASOQUIMBO, to protest against the damage to a local bridge caused by EMGESA.

EMGESA also accused Miller of instigating the occupation of land owned by the company. This second charge, which carries a sentence of up to eight years in prison, relates to land occupations in 2013 by small farmer communities, who were protesting against forced displacement and demanding just compensation from the company.

30 January 2014
Threats against environmental rights defenders from Movimiento Ríos Vivos

Since January 2014 environmental human rights defenders from Movimiento Rios Vivos – MRV (Living Rivers Movement) have been facing death threats, surveillance, break-ins, smear campaigns and harassment. In 2013, two members of Movimiento Rios Vivos were murdered.

Movimiento Rios Vivos is a movement in the defense of the territories and communities affected by dam constructions and mining projects in Colombia. The movement is constituted by active organisations in four different locations: In Antioquia Department, Rios Vivos denounces the negative impacts suffered by communities with the construction of the Hidroituango hydroelectric; In Santander Department, the Movimiento Social Río Sogamoso integrates the organisation and the community leaders who live in the territory of Sogamoso River; In Huila Department, the Asoquimbo organisation fights against the impacts of the construction of the Quimbo dam. Lastly, Rios Vivos is also active in the Caldas Department.

On both July 22 and 13 2014, environmental human rights defender and spokesperson of MRV, Isabel Cristina Zuleta, received messages on her social media account accusing her of being a member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) by an account reportedly identified as being part the National Army. The previous month on June 20, Isabel Cristina Zuleta's house was broken into and a hard disk with information from MRV was stolen. Since her participation in the social protests in 2012 and 2013 against the construction of the Hidroituango dam, the environmental right defender has been a victim of surveillance, interventions in her communications, death threats and criminalisation.

On July 6 2014, the company FOCUS along with Empresas Publicas de Medellin surveyed citizens in Ituango, Antioquia Department, regarding the current members of Movimiento Rios Vivos and enquired about the qualifications of their work. Rios Vivos had not given permission for the survey and viewed such actions as surveillance tactics, which could also put their members at risk. On 2 July in the Nueva Llanada community, the teenage daughter of Ms Asened Higuita Higuita, a leader of MRV, was followed by an unknown man in black clothes with his face covered when she was returning to her house. Members of the National Army have also questioned Asened Higuita Higuita and her daughter about her human rights work.

On June 27, 2014, human rights defender José Orlando Gonzalez Herrón from Movimiento Rios Vivos Antioquia, received a death threat at his work place. On January 2, 2014 two unknown men threatened Jose Orlando González Herrón, exhorting him to “abandon the village or we will find you in your house or in the mines”. José Orlando González Herrón is a leader in the municipality of Briceño, where the Hidroituango Dam is currently being constructed.

In 2013, on September 17, Nelson Giraldo Posada, environmental rights defender from MRV was found dead with bullets in his chest and legs by the banks of the Cauca River in the municipality of Ituango, Antioquia Department. Later that year, on November 30 2013, Robinson David Mazo, also a member of MRV, was shot at and killed with 7 bullets in the municipality of Toledo, northern Antioquia Department.

The surveillances, smear campaigns, break ins, death threats and killings of human rights defenders from Movimiento Rios Vivos are believed to be part of an ongoing campaign of intimidation and harassment against environmental rights defenders in Colombia. Front Line Defenders is deeply concerned with the safety of Isabel Cristina Zuleta and members of Movimiento Rios Vivos and believes they have been targeted due to their legitimate work in the defence of environmental rights.