Open Letter to the President of the Republic of Colombia regarding the imminent risk of a new massacre in the municipality of Bojayá.

Letter in Spanish (orginal)

17 November 2019

Dear President Iván Duque Márque,

On 21 April 2004, the ethnic-territorial organisations of the department of Chocó and the Diocese of Quibdó, addressed the then President of the Republic of Colombia, Dr. Álvaro Uribe Vélez, in an open letter on the crisis of legitimacy in the Atrato region. In it we notified the national government about the serious humanitarian crisis and the systematic violation of human rights and international humanitarian law against Afro and Indigenous communities in the municipality of Bojayá, being perpetrated by legal and illegal armed actors.

Fifteen years have now passed, and this same situation is being repeated, with a variant that, thanks to the Peace Accord, today the FARC-EP has left the territory. But in the absence of the implementation of the agreements in the Peace Accord, the ELN has occupied the space left by the FARC, has strengthened militarily and increased its aggressions against the civilian population. Likewise, the Government has not been effective in combating new forms of paramilitarism and criminal gangs, who today have increased their activities in the ethnic territories.

The above, Mr. President, is based on the following facts:

  1. The Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (Defensoría del Pueblo) in your government’s period of office has issued two ‘Early Warning Alerts’ (Alertas Tempranas) and five ‘Risk Reports’ (Informes de Consumación de Riesgo), addressed to the Intersectoral Commission for Rapid Response to Early Warning Alerts (CIPRAT), reporting the situation in Bojayá.
  2. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has documented and reported violations of human rights and international humanitarian law against the ethnic population, specifically in the municipality of Bojayá.
  3. Afro and Indigenous organisations and the Diocese of Quibdó, during the period of your government, have issued different public communiqués and denouncements, regarding the serious humanitarian crisis faced by the citizens of the municipality of Bojayá.

Despite the above, the Colombian Government has not been effective in guaranteeing the rights of this population. On the contrary, once again, we perceive the government as having a complacent and omissive attitude with respect to the actions of the armed actors. If this were not the case how is it that, in the municipality of Bojayá territorial control is exercised by the ELN and the paramilitary groups of the AGC in the river basins of Opogadó, Napipí and Bojayá.

It is evident that the systematic violation of the rights of the ethnic communities in the Bajo and Medio Atrato is intended to seize our territories, with the purpose of carrying out large-scale economic projects, specifically the exploitation of natural resources, mining, energy and monocrops, which is what we are encountering here.

In addition, illicit crops such as coca, are increasing and due to the territorial control, that is being exerted in the communities, there is pressure to plant marijuana. The forced recruitment of children does not stop, the confinement and displacement of ethnic populations, the assassinations, threats and accusations against leaders and ethnic authorities are the order of the day. Antipersonnel mines are been planted all over the ethnic territories.

The armed actors are present in the populated centres of the communities, imposing social, political, territorial and economic control, ignoring the internal regulations, autonomy and systems of government of the communities. Especially the paramilitaries, who exhibit their military power in men and arms, their supplies are openly transited in the Atrato river, in for example, motorised canoes and speed boats, which in some case are filled with hundreds of combatants. All this under the impassive sight of the Security Forces, in the Bajo and Medio Atrato.

Today, when Afro and Indigenous communities in the municipality of Bojayá are preparing to receive the mortal remains of their loved ones who were vilely slaughtered in the fateful Dos de Mayo 2002 massacre, and to give them a Christian burial, according to their rites, uses and customs. Once again there looms over our peoples and territories the threat of displacements, confinements, massacres, torture, disappearances, forced recruitments, violations. We believed these would be overcome with the signing of a Peace Accord together with the political will of the Government for the construction of a sustainable and stable territorial peace with guarantees of non-repetition.

Mr. President, in order that you legitimise that Colombia is a social State where the rule of law is exercised, we respectfully ask that you, as Head of the Colombian Military Forces and President of the Republic, honour the Peace Accord. Implementing it in a timely and comprehensive manner, specifically in relation to the Ethnic Chapter and provide constitutional guarantees to the Afro and Indigenous people of Bojayá. This same situation is suffered by numerous ethnic and peasant farmer communities in many regions of the country, especially on the Pacific Coast. We stand in solidarity with the suffering of all these communities and we urge you, Mr. President, to look for mechanisms to ensure that these events are never repeated.

Yours sincerely,

  • Foro Interétnico Solidaridad Chocó
  • Mesa Indígena del Chocó
  • Diócesis de Quibdó