Bogota, September 4, 2020.- The Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) held a virtual roundtable discussion with social leaders, government representatives, and Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR) member Margarette May Macaulay, who is the IACHR’s Rapporteur on the Rights of Afro-descendants and Against Racial Discrimination. The discussion was convened in order to discuss proposals for truth, justice, and non-repetition following the killing of five young Afro-Colombians in the Llano Verde neighborhood of Cali on August 11.
The webinar, titled Llano Verde Killings: Analysis and Proposals for Truth, Justice, Reparations, and Non-Repetition, was co-organized with the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). The panelists discussed the particular experiences of Afro-Colombians in Colombia’s armed conflict and the post-conflict context, in which many Afro-Colombians have been forced to leave their ancestral territories and now reside in urban areas where they face discrimination and structural racism.
The discussion generated the following proposals to ensure that the Llano Verde massacre does not fall into impunity and that the Afro-Colombian population does not remain vulnerable to such violations in the future.
The IACHR should pressure the Colombian government to give answers
Erlendy Cuero Bravo, coordinator of the Cali chapter of the Nacional Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES), asked Commissioner Macaulay to make an official visit to Llano Verde, an area that the Commissioner visited once before in October 2018 along with Commissioner Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño. Such a visit would allow the Commissioner to make recommendations to the Colombian State regarding truth, reparations, and reforms to guarantee non-repetition in her official capacity. “Peace cannot be built starting at the national level – it has to be built from within Afro-Colombian territories to be in line with the communities’ needs,” said Erlendy.
Listening to Afro-Colombian youth and ensuring their right to education
Yeison Tobar, coordinator of AFRODES’ youth initiative Semillero (Seedbed), discussed the need for both the Colombian government and civil society organizations to strengthen ties with young Afro-Colombians, listen to their concerns, and involve them meaningfully in development projects. “Many times, the response is ‘young people don’t want to do anything,’ but there’s not enough effort to look into the lives of young people or their beliefs and emotions,” said Yeison.
Yeison also said that young people in Colombia need greater access to education, including higher education and technical education, along with assistance to finish their studies. According to Yeison, “the best bet for young people is education.”
Improve living conditions and ratify the Convention Against Racial Discrimination
Commissioner Macaulay expressed her willingness to accompany an official truth and justice process for the Llano Verde killings, emphasizing the need for “comprehensive reparations,” that go beyond monetary compensation and address the living conditions of Afro-Colombian communities, including schools, universities, health centers and hospitals, and public transportation.
The Commissioner also called on the government to examine all acts of violence against Afro-Colombians thoroughly and bring those responsible to justice. She reminded the government that the Colombian State is obligated to guarantee the rights of Afro-descendants and indigenous people, which includes the duty to combat discrimination against these groups. She also reminded the audience that Colombia is one of the countries which has not yet ratified the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of Intolerance.
Economic opportunity and institutional presence
Cali city councilmember Fernando Tamayo stated that the Llano Verde massacre should not be viewed as an isolated incident, highlighting that community members had reported the presence of criminal groups and insecurity before the crime. For Tamayo, increased economic opportunity is a key step towards preventing such crimes. He highlighted two projects in the city’s development plan: a supply center in the eastern portion of the city and the proposed building of the District University of Cali. He also called for increased investment in institutions so that they are present and accessible throughout the city.
Respect for the Peace Accords
Luz Marina Becerra, secretary general of AFRODES, agreed with the previous speakers about the lack of educational and job opportunities that makes young Afro-Colombians “easy prey” for criminal groups, especially drug-dealing networks, and fosters violence. Luz Marina called for the Colombian Peace Accords to be fully implemented, including through improved living conditions for Afro-Colombians to reduce their vulnerability to crime. She also spoke about the importance of peace-building efforts led by Afro-Colombian women and efforts to apply traditional Afro-Colombian knowledge to healthcare and family well-being. She offered AFRODES’ Mujeres que Sanamos Mujeres project (Women Making Women Healthy) as an example.
Implementation of Law 70 and the Anti-Discrimination Law in urban areas
Alí Bantú Ashanti, an Afro-Colombian lawyer and member of the Racial Justice Collective, insisted on the need to develop specific implementation plans for Law 70 (which governs Afro-Colombians’ and indigenous people’s collectively held land) in urban areas, given that it was formulated with rural land in mind. Likewise, he argued that Law 1482, known as the Law Against Discrimination, has not had the expected impact, in part because it is not integrated with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).
Rejecting the efforts of some Colombian media outlets to downplay the Llano Verde killings by linking the five victims to criminal activities, Alí spoke of the role of structural racism in de-valuing Black lives: “The capitalist system has positioned Black people as subjects who can be killed, as lives that don’t matter, as mere criminals.”
Colombian Senator Alexander López closed the webinar by stating that international accompaniment is necessary for truth, justice, and non-repetition processes, including in Llano Verde. He affirmed that Law 70, the “Ethnic Chapter” that addressed Afro-Colombians’ rights in the Peace Accords, and all other legal instruments must be respected and fully implemented in the fight against structural racism and discrimination.
Senator López mentioned the fact that 9 million conflict victims are listed in the official registry, of which 14% are Afro-Colombian. He also alluded to the controversy about the 2018 Colombian census, which counted nearly 1.4 million fewer Afro-Colombians than the 2005 census due to failures in the National Statistics Office (DANE). “This has important implications, because the more that the Afro-Colombian population is reduced in official counts, the fewer public policies and resources will be devoted to them,” he reminded the audience.
To see a full recording of the webinar, click here.