A human tragedy involving ethnic groups is unfolding in Colombia requiring actions of solidarity from the African diaspora. While the end of the fifty-year conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) lowered the level of conflict related violence, the dirty campaign to exterminate activists increased. In December, the United Nations reported that 105 Colombian social leaders were killed in 2017. Other organizations such as Colombian non-governmental organization INDEPAZ report that 167 social leaders and peace advocates were killed in 2017, representing a 45 percent increase from 2016. Recently, the Colombian military murdered a key Embera activist and sicarios ended the life of an Afro-Colombian activist who led the peaceful civil strikes that resulted in agreements favoring the poor in the port city of Buenaventura in May. 2017 saw the killing of Bernardo Cuero of the Association for Internally Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES) in broad daylight in his home despite repeated intervention from the OAS and U.S. policymakers.
The peace with the FARC is historic and should not be disparaged. We’ve seen positive developments for Afro-Colombians such as a reconciliation effort between the guerillas and Bojaya community. In May 2, 2002 more than 100 civilians seeking refuge from conflict in a church were incinerated due to a FARC pipe bomb. Another positive development of the peace process was the Ethnic Commission for Peace’s founding. A joint platform of the Afro-Colombian and indigenous peoples, it made sure that ethnic minorities did not get cut out of the peace deal. Along with Members of the Congressional Black Caucus and allies the Commission achieved inclusion of the Ethnic Chapter in the final peace accord. This Chapter guarantees the rights of Afro descendants and indigenous Colombians including their right to be previously consulted when it comes to their collective biodiverse rich lands that are highly coveted by national and global economic interests.
Support for the FARC peace process must be accompanied with addressing this security crisis. Today’s norm is that least one leader is killed on average per week. If the killings continue peace will not be sustainable in the long-term. In the first 28 days of 2018 2,560 persons were displaced, of whom 1,616 are ethnic minorities, according to the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement. Intimidations of Afro-Colombian leaders are at an all-time high. In December, over 23 threatened leaders traveled from the Lower Atrato (Choco) to sound the alarm on the security crisis these communities are facing. They were forced to wear masks on their faces to shield their identities due to fear of reprisals.
A lot can be done to address Colombia’s security situation. The FARC peace accord includes provisions that help to dismantle illegal armed groups and protect leaders. Colombia has a sophisticated early warning system for human rights abuses and protection mechanisms for activists. Nonetheless, these do not work if the political will does not exist and persons who commit these crimes and those who order them are not jailed. Affected communities have developed innovative approaches to protect themselves. They know exactly what is needed but their ideas are often ignored. For the problem to be paid attention to it needs visibility. This is why the African diaspora must make their concerns known. An international outcry is the only way to make those who can turn this around pay attention and act on this problem.
Marino Cordoba, is President of AFRODES and International Coordinator for the Ethnic Commission on Peace, and Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli, Director for the Andes, WOLA.