The department of Chocó is found on the Colombian Pacific Coast. It is home to Afro-Colombian, Indigenous and Mestizo communities. In spite of its cultural and natural diversity and wealth, the region has a history of marginalisation, state abandonment, corruption and underdevelopment. Its population is most affected by the internal armed conflict, defined by drug trafficking, illegal arms trafficking, forced recruitment, illegal mining and the dispossession of land for extensive agricultural projects and extractive activities. As a result, the quality of life of the population of Chocó is severely impacted. Chocó has the highest levels of poverty and unmet basic needs in Colombia.

About the Project

ABColombia formed part of an EU project developed by ABColombia member SCIAF and its partners, which was implemented by the Pastoral Social and the Dioceses of Apartadó, Istmina-Tadó and Quibdó in Chocó. The project’s main objective was to enable communities to obtain their territorial rights. The project was aimed at strengthening Afro-Colombian, Indigenous and Mestizo associations in Chocó to reduce poverty, improve the quality of life and increase access to fundamental rights for more than 22,000 people through organisational, cultural and agricultural work.

As part of this EU project, ABColombia published its report on self-protection mechanisms that have been developed by Colombian rural defenders and communities. ABColombia also organised an advocacy workshop with communities.

In the case of COCOMOPOCA, we have trained each and every one of the 42 legal representatives of the community councils. They have met on numerous occasions to receive specific training in political advocacy. Training which aims to take the organisation’s own plan for community development and turn it into public policies, such as the municipal development plans.

— Padre Sterlin Londoño, Diocese of Quibdó

I had no knowledge about Law 70, which concerns Afro-Colombian communities. I also learned about the right to prior consultation. Previously, any company or individual could come and do as they pleased, because we did not understand what environmental and social changes could be caused by a construction project. It’s all about protecting us from any damage to our communities and our society.

— Odalis Sierra Ricardo, Spokesperson of COCOMASECO

Illicit Economies

It is no coincidence that Chocó, a region rich in natural resources, has also been one of the focal points of the Colombian conflict, with thousands of people killed or forcibly displaced. Uncontrolled small-scale mechanised mining in Chocó has proved to be a lucrative business for illegal armed groups, helping to fuel the conflict and exploit it. These groups operate in territories belonging to indigenous and Afro-descendant communities, spreading violence and fear, with opponents of the mining threatened, attacked and killed.

The Afro-descendant communities along the Atrato River, together with the Interethnic Solidarity Forum of Chocó (FISCH) and Tierra Digna, achieved a landmark ruling in 2017, which recognised the Atrato as a holder of legal personhood and environmental rights that must be safeguarded alongside the communities’ bio-cultural rights. Bernadino Mosquera, Afro-Colombian leader of one of the communities in the Atrato River, is one of the Guardians of the Atrato that monitor the implementation of the sentence. In this video, he speaks about the devastating socio-environmental impacts gold mining has had in Chocó.

In this video, Padre Sterlin Londoño from ABColombia partner organisation, the Diocese of Quibdó, talks about the impact illegal gold mining has had on communities and the environment in Chocó. He criticises that illegal gold mining in Chocó operates without any social dialogue or control, and often without the appropriate environmental licenses. Environmental and human rights impact studies need to be conducted to avoid environmental disasters, which have a devastating effect on the communities.

Read ABColombia’s report Fuelling conflict in Colombia: The impact of gold mining in Chocó