Correspondence with Paula Gaviria, Presidential Advisor for Human Rights

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On 10 October 2017, ABColombia, along with a group of Irish and UK parliamentarians and ABColombia member organisations Christian Aid and SCIAF, sent a letter of concern to the Colombian Presidential Advisor for Human Rights, Paula Gaviria, about the precarious human rights and security situation of communities in Chocó and Buenaventura. This letter was sent following a parliamentary delegation to Colombia led by ABColombia in August 2017.

The parliamentary delegation consisted of three Irish and UK parliamentarians: Fiona O’Loughlin TD, Senator Catherine Noone and Baroness Jean Coussins. They visited Afro-Colombian communities in Chocó and the Wounaan Indigenous people living near Buenaventura, who voiced concerns about the pollution of mercury in the rivers Atrato, Bajo Calima and Bajo San Juan as a result of illicit mining, as well as the violent effects of paramilitary presence in these areas.

The suffering of the communities that we met in Chocó, Buenaventura and along the rivers of Bajo Calima, Bajo San Juan and Rio Quito, was something that we found quite profoundly disturbing. Combats between the ELN and neo-paramilitaries for control of resources is causing particular hardship, as was, the lack of State protection despite the presence of State Security Forces. State Security Forces were present in all the areas we visited, and yet, illegal armed groups appeared to transit with ease.

In their letter, the parliamentarians also raised concerns about the worrying increase in killings of Human Rights Defenders, and the high levels of impunity for such crimes against Human Rights Defenders.

Also concerning is the number of human rights defenders killed in recent years (458 between 2009 and 2016). According to Somos Defensores 57% of the 51 defenders killed so far in 2017 were killed by neo-paramilitary groups. We heard very similar reports whether leaders were defending environmental, labour or community. All defenders were experiencing stigmatisation, threats and attacks, and most identified the perpetrators as neo-paramilitaries, others the ELN, and there were a large number where the perpetrator was unidentified. In addition, the use of excessive violence by ESMAD during the policing of protest marches was raised both in Buenaventura and Quibdó.

To read the letter ABColombia and the parliamentary delegation sent to Paula Gaviria, please click on the button below:

In her response to the letter of concern from ABColombia and the parliamentary delegation, Paula Gaviria wrote about the issue of violence against Human Rights Defenders:

[…] Regarding the risks for Human Rights Defenders, according to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia, 46 Human Rights Defenders were killed between 1 January and 16 October 2017. It is important to highlight that, the diverse factors of vulnerability combined with the plurality of the alleged perpetrators of violence, as well as, the high number of leaders affected, present the biggest challenges for the State in establishing and implementing an effective strategy of prevention and protection. To confront these challenges, we have created spaces for dialogue, such as El Puesto de Mando Unificado (Unified Command Post) and the Subcomisión de Garantías (Sub-commission of Guarantees), where all state entities, together with civil society, are developing ideas to respond holistically to these challenges. […]

To read Paula Gaviria’s full letter in English or Spanish, please click on the buttons below.