Open letter from NGOs to the Embassies of Colombia in Spain and Ireland
Madam, Maria Carolina BARCO ISAKSON, Embassy of Colombia in Spain
Madam, Patricia CORTÉS ORTIZ, Embassy of Colombia in Ireland
Madrid, Dublin, 13th of April 2020
The civil society organisations signing this letter are respectfully writing to express deep concern about the impact the COVID-19 crisis is having on human rights defenders (HRDs) and social leaders in Colombia.
Colombia is one of the deadliest countries in the world for human rights defenders (HRDs) and social leaders. According to different Colombian national organisations such as the Ombudsman's Office, as well as the United Nations and local and international organisations such Somos Defensores and Front Line Defenders, in 2019 Colombia was the country with the highest homicide rate of HRDs in the world. This is a trend that has continued for a number of years and is so far without improvement in 2020. According to the Institute of Studies for Development and Peace, Indepaz, more than 70 HRDs and social leaders have been assassinated just in 2020.
In the current COVID-19 context, HRDs face even greater risks. The restrictions imposed to contain the pandemic have diminished state protection schemes. Being prevented from moving continuously to improve their safety, and with public security forces focusing on containing pandemic issues, attackers are aware that HRDs are on their own.
In recent days, we have received information on at least two cases in which protection schemes offered by the National Protection Unit were reduced. In one of them, due to the reduction in the number of his bodyguards, a HRD was forced to hide fearing an attack by the armed groups who had previously threatened him as a result of his work. Another defender had his nightly rounds withdrawn, which left him more exposed to attack.
Between the 19 and 24 March 2020, at least six people, social leaders and human rights defenders, were assassinated in Colombia. On 19 March, Ivo Humberto Bracamonte Quiroz, councilor of Puerto Santander and Director of the virtual newscast NPS, was killed. He was murdered while playing sports in the Beltranía neighborhood in Puerto Santander. The same day, three armed men assassinated Marco Rivadeneira, a leader of the Putumayo peasant communities and member of the National Guarantees Table, after abducting him from a peasants meeting in the Nueva Granada neighborhood located in Puerto Asís. Ángel Ovidio Quintero González, a social leader and president of the Council of San Francisco in the Department of Antioquia, was also killed that day. He was shot, but managed to escape; a few hours later, his body was found in a river.
On 24 March, the indigenous organisation “Organización Regional Indígena Del Valle del Cauca” (ORIVAC) reported the murder of two Embera indigenous leaders, Omar and Ernesto Guasiruma, in a rural area of the Municipality of Bolívar. The two leaders were murdered at their home while complying with the quarantine ordered by the government. Two members of the same family were also injured in the attack. Carlota Isabel Salinas Péres, leader of the NGO Popular Women's Organisation, was also murdered on 24 March in the municipality of San Pablo located in the department of Bolívar. At around 8 pm, various armed men broke into her home in the Guarigua neighborhood and shot him dead. Her partner is still missing.
On 24 March, Amnesty International published a series of recommendations to the States of the Americas to demand the alignment of COVID-19 responses with their international human rights obligations. UN experts have also urged States along the same lines.
In light of this situation, we ask your Embassy to convey to the authorities in Colombia our request that the government refrain from using COVID-19 preventive measures as a pretext to decrease or withdraw protection schemes for human rights defenders and social leaders. The State must maintain its provision of protection schemes and must generate collective protection strategies for communities in risky situations, while implementing preventive measures to contain COVID-19.
Signatories (with logo):
Signatories (without logo):
- Assemblea de Cooperació per la Pau
- Associació Catalana per la Pau / Centre Delàs
- Atabal – CEDSALA
- Colectiva de Mujeres Refugiadas, Exiliadas y Migradas
- Comissió Catalana d'Ajuda al Refugiat
- Entreiguales – Entrepobles
- Foro Internacional de Víctimas
- Fundación Indera
- Fundació Pau i Solidaritat
- CCOO Catalunya
- Justícia i Pau
- La Colectiva
- La Fàbric@
- LasSinCarpa Teatro Social Clown
- Lliga dels Drets dels Pobles
- Mujer Diáspora
- OADPI (Observatorio por la Autonomía y los Derechos de los pueblos Indigenas de Colombia)
- Oxfam Intermón
- Plataforma Unitària contra les Violències de Gènere
- Plataforma Valenciana de Protección Integral y Acogida de Dedensores y Defensoras de Derechos Humanos
- Programa asturiano de atención a víctimas de la violencia en Colombia
- Sindicalistes Solidaris
- UGT Catalunya