WOLA urges U.S. Policymakers to Act

On Friday, May 14, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) received a death threat allegedly from the Colombian paramilitary group The Black Eagles directed at over 80 Colombian human rights, Afro-Colombian, Indigenous, internally displaced and labor rights organisations and individuals. The threat states “as so called human rights defenders don’t think you can hide behind the offices of the Inspector General or other institutions... we are watching you and you can consider yourselves dead.”

The email goes on to falsely accuse the listed organisations of having links to the FARC guerillas and as such declaring themselves military targets. Organisations listed in the death threat are long time partners of WOLA who work on internal displacement, Afro-Colombian and indigenous issues. These include the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displaced (CODHES), the Institute for Development and Peace Studies (INDEPAZ), the National Association for Internally Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES), the League of Displaced Women-Cartagena, the Association of Cabildos of Northern Cauca (ACIN), the Jose Alvear Lawyers Collective (CCAJAR) and various Afro-Colombian community councils in the Pacific region. Several of the groups listed recently visited the U.S. in order to raise awareness of human rights violations linked to violent and illegal land take overs by illegal armed groups. Many of the groups recently met with UN special mechanisms on ethnic minorities, indigenous peoples and extrajudicial executions, U.S. Members of Congress and high level U.S. officials, where they informed such delegations of abuses. Many of these organisations also recently signed a collective U.S.-Colombian civil society letter in support of House Resolution 1224 in favor of honouring Colombia’s Constitutional Court for its orders on Afro-Colombian, Indigenous and women internally displaced persons.

While the Colombian Embassy is circulating a bulletin that claims that officials are working to defend the rights of human rights defenders, threats continue to take place. On April 10, U.S. NGOs sent a letter to U.S. Ambassador Brownfield alerting him to another threat against 60 organisations. Also in April, graffiti stating that WOLA partner Justicia y Paz are terrorists and calling for violence against Jesuit priest Father Javier Giraldo were found in different parts of Bogotá. WOLA has also received, in recent months, numerous reports of multiple other threats, sabotage of activities and baseless prosecutions against its partners, as well as killings of mainly Afro-Colombian and Indigenous community leaders, which it constantly reports to both U.S. and Colombia officials. The threat received by WOLA came the day after WOLA staff met with Ambassador Carolina Barco and expressed their deep concern for the safety of its partners in Bogotá, northern Cauca and Buenaventura. 

While WOLA appreciates high level officials of the State Department’s interest in protecting human rights defenders and Ambassador Brownfield’s visits to select human rights organisations in Colombia, we strongly feel that more is needed to send a message to Colombian officials that threats, murders and other forms of sabotage of human rights work is unacceptable. Also it must be made clear to Colombian officials that the rights to protection and assistance of internally displaced persons are guaranteed by Colombia’s own laws. Many of the IDP, Afro-Colombian and Indigenous organizations are merely advocating for implementation of Colombia’s own laws and commitments to these groups. 

WOLA recommends that U.S. policymakers do the following:

  • Publicly condemn all forms of intimidation, violence and threats committed against human rights, Afro-Colombian, Indigenous and IDP organizations. 

  • Refrain from certifying that the human rights conditions for Colombia’s military assistance are being met. 

  • U.S. Members of Congress should co-sponsor and pass House Resolution 1224 that upholds the rights of internally displaced women, Afro-Colombian and Indigenous persons and outlines steps to prevent further displacement from such communities to take place.  

For further information, please contact Gimena Sanchez, Senior Associate, WOLA (202) 489-1702