Colombian civil society reveals the vulnerability of indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant communities, campesinas, and social leaders victimized by the armed conflict

Bogotá, October 5, 2020.- At a thematic hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Colombian civil society organizations presented reports on the vulnerability of indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant communities, campesinas, and social leaders who were previously victimized by Colombia’s armed conflict to human rights violations. The presenting organizations asked to IACHR to deepen its efforts to support the implementation of the Colombian Peace Accords, especially Chapter 6.2 on ethnic minority groups, known as the “Ethnic Chapter,” and the Collective Reparations Program established by Law 1448 (2011) and Decree 4635 (2011).

The hearing, entitled “Reports of vulnerability among Colombian armed conflict victims: indigenous, Afro-descendant, and campesino communities and social leaders,” was requested by a coalition of organizations, including the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality). Representatives from the State of Colombia also took part in the hearing.

The Ethnic Chapter at risk

Together with Race and Equality, the Ethnic Commission for Peace and Defense of Territorial Rights presented an analysis on Colombia’s failure to implement the Ethnic Chapter, emphasizing that serious human rights violations have resulted from this failure. “The current government has been sabotaging the implementation of the Peace Accords and preventing the consolidation of peace and territorial rights to which ethnic groups are entitled,” stated Pedro León Cortés, an advisor to the Race and Equality office in Colombia.

Participants pointed out that, according to a recent report by the Kroc Institute (an international organization monitoring the Peace Accords’ implementation), barely 8% of the Ethnic Chapter’s commitments have been implemented, while other guarantees in the Accord, including mechanisms for protecting ancestral territories, have seen backsliding.

The organizations denounced disputes between illegal armed groups for control of land that rightfully belongs to Afro-descendant, indigenous, and campesino communities. These disputes, which the authorities have been unable to check, have resulted in the forced displacement of 30,000 people between November 2019 and June 2020. “Regarding the National Program for Substituting Illicit Crops, there is evidence of a strategy to undermine the voluntary eradication and crop substitution programs,” they added.

For Colombian civil society, these delays and omissions represent a failure to act on the fundamental principal of the Ethnic Chapter: the right to free, prior, and informed consent. However, they applauded efforts to apply an ethnic-sensitive approach in some areas of the peace process, particularly the Truth Commission and the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (the transitional justice mechanism trying conflict-related abuses).

Collective Reparations

Luz Marina Becerra, secretary general of the National Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES) and president of the Coordination of Displaced Afro-Colombian Women’s Resistance (Las Comadres), brought up official data on the implementation of the Collective Reparation Program established by Law 1448 (known as the Victims’ Law) in 2011. She pointed out that as of March 2020, 755 approved recipients of collective reparations were recorded in the official registry, of which 482 were ethnic communities. Despite this predominance of ethnic minorities among conflict victims, however, 78% of ethnic communities who have applied for recognition are still in the initial phases of the process and only 10% have actually begun to have their reparations implemented.

“To date, no applicant from an ethnic community has completed the process of reparations. We consider this lack of implementation to be a grave problem that is compromising the effective enjoyment of conflict victims’ rights,” she said.

Becerra mentioned weaknesses in inter-agency and federal-local cooperation, technical delays in developing reparations plans, long delays, and budgetary shortfalls as institutional barriers to reparations. In the post-conflict period, she stated, 392 cases of forced displacement affecting 130,079 people have taken place. 47% of these victims belong to ethnic communities. Meanwhile, 1,203 attacks against social leaders have taken place.

Crisis in Chocó

The Afro-descendant rights defender Luis Ernesto Olave submitted a report on the humanitarian crisis in Chocó department, reporting that President Iván Duque’s Peace and Legality program “has impeded the search for peaceful coexistence and a negotiated end to the conflict, allowing dissident FARC members to continue illegal activity while the ELN [an armed rebel group] and the Gaitanista Self-Defense Group [a paramilitary group] also remain present.”

Olave stressed that in Chocó’s Afro-descendant and indigenous communities, illegal groups confine people to their homes, forcibly displace them, and recruit young people through forced recruitment or promised rewards. Illicit coca cultivation and trafficking in drugs, weapons, and people are all on the rise, as are murders of social leaders. This year alone, 350 families have been forcibly displaced from the community of Alto Baudó, 66 from Medio Baudó, and 10 from Baja Baudó.

Recommendations

Implementation of the Ethnic Chapter

The organizations recommended that the State of Colombia immediately take steps to ensure the effective implementation of the Ethnic Chapter. These steps include strengthening the High-Level Special Board of Ethnic Peoples (a body made up of community representatives that coordinates with the government) and complying with pending Constitutional Court orders to respond to violence in ethnic territories. They also recommended that the IACHR prioritize efforts to monitor implementation of the Peace Accords.

Collective reparations

Participants recommended that the government develop a comprehensive plan to strengthen the  Collective Reparations Program, expand its capacity, increase the speed of its processes, and counteract existing barriers. They also called for mechanisms to supervise development policies and ensure their compliance with the Reparations Program and with the territorial rights of minority communities. Finally, they recommended developing a special strategy to accompany conflict victims and ensure that they benefit from post-pandemic economic stimulus efforts.

The participants requested that the IACHR dedicate some of its monitoring efforts in Colombia specifically to the monitoring of the right to reparations for conflict victims.

Regarding the situation in Chocó

Participants asked the IACHR to pressure Colombia to increase state presence in Chocó; re-start peace talks with the ELN; develop a humanitarian response incorporating all stakeholders, including armed groups; hasten responses to requests for protection by vulnerable people and groups; and investigate situations of vulnerability to rights violations. They also demanded full compliance with the Chocó ceasefire agreement of 2007 and with the court order of case T622 in 2016, protecting the vital Atrato river from degradation.

IACHR Reaction

The IACHR’s commissioners expressed concern at the slow pace of implementation; the violation of the right to free, prior, and informed consent; rural violence; attacks on social leaders; and the lack of federal-department-local coordination to address these crises.

Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay emphasized the continuity of violence that minority communities have faced during the armed conflict, transitional peace period, and today the COVID-19 pandemic. She also emphasized the need for the State to offer clear and specific information about the impacts of violence on Afro-descendant communities and about the reasons for delays in implementing the peace framework.

Interim Executive Secretary María Claudia Pulido stated that follow-up on peace implementation will be included in the section on Colombia of the IACHR’s 2020 annual report. The week before, she said, the IACHR had sent an official communication informing the State of this intention and requesting information.

The State’s response

On behalf of the State of Colombia, Ambassador to the OAS Alejandro Ordoñez referred to President Duque’s Peace and Legality program rather than respond directly to the issues being raised. When asked by IACHR President Joel Hernández about the issue of recruitment of minors by illegal armed groups, Ambassador Ordoñez declined to answer, stating that the question was outside the topic of the hearing.

Emilio Archila, Adviser on Stabilization and Consolidation, offered information about the Territorial Development Plans, an official instrument to prioritize state projects in areas most affected by violence and poverty. The Plans are currently active in 170 municipalities across the country.

Three more representatives from the Victims’ Unit, the Ministry of the Interior, and the National Protection Unit presented information about several governmental activities, but without explaining them in terms of their contributions to preventing human rights violations.

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