We call for immediate and holistic action from Colombia’s government to address the grave human rights situation currently facing Indigenous, Afrodescendant and campesino communities in the municipality of Puerto Asís in the Putumayo region after the most recent escalation of the armed conflict between the Frente Carolina Ramírez (dissidents of the FARC-EP) and the Comandos de Frontera Segunda Marquetalia fighting over control of the territory and emerging drug trafficking routes. Over 1,100 families are currently affected according to official figures.
Since mid-September, communities have experienced the closure of schools, health services and both river and land transport services by armed actors. Many of them are confined and facing significantly restricted access to their livelihoods and freedom of movement. These events particularly affect the lives of the Indigenous communities who have found themselves impeded from exercising their spiritual and self-government activities, particularly their political leadership and the Indigenous guard face serious threats to their integrity.
Communities are also trying to evacuate all young people, as the armed actors are actively targeting children and young people for forced conscription. Thirteen children, boys and girls, were displaced from their community without the accompaniment of their parents, and under community care to flee from recruitment by armed actors. For various days, all phone signal was lost, leaving communities in a situation of isolation; the responsiveness of state institutions has been mediated by bureaucracy, and has been slow and insufficient. Meanwhile, armed actors have occupied communal facilities, and have stolen food supplies and community goods.
These armed groups are directly threatening any community members speaking out publicly about their rights violations, and have made it clear that any person who denounces the situation before public authorities or civil society organizations will be a target of the armed group.
A medical brigade, along with food supplies was able to arrive in the area thanks to the coordinated efforts of Colombia’s High Commissioner for Peace and rights organizations to secure a temporary ceasefire between armed actors and the opening of a humanitarian corridor that was later suspended. Temporary humanitarian corridors are not a viable solution to this deepening crisis.
The communities in the area, and the rights organizations that accompany them have made an urgent appeal to the Colombian state and President Gustavo Petro to take immediate, integral and sustained measures to safeguard the lives and rights of local communities, and to ensure the safety of human rights defenders, including Human Rights Defender and member of Amazon Frontlines, lawyer Lina Maria Espinoza, who is facing death threats issued by armed actors. We need an end to the violence and the securing of a holistic peace for all.
We call on Colombia’s state and relevant authorities to:
- Take immediate action to protect affected communities in the municipality of Puerto Asís, including the Siona communities of Gonzaya (Buenavista) and Piñuña Blanco, declared at risk by of physical and cultural extermination by Colombia’s highest court, and with precautionary measures granted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
- Actively defend the liberty and safety of rights defenders in coordination with governments across the region
- Work with the communities to support their systems of self-government, their indigenous guard, their life projects and community development. Without the state’s active and effective presence to secure rights, there can be no peace in territories.
Indigenous communities and those organizations supporting them firmly believe in total peace. A dignified life in territories is impossible without peace. Right now, the territories of southern Putumayo see no peace or state presence – they only see the presence of war and armed actors fighting over strategic narco-trafficking routes. Today, once again, Indigenous, Afrodescendant and campesino civilians find themselves between the crossfire of armed actors, while being one of the most impoverished, excluded, and neglected populations in the country. The promise of peace has vanished.
It’s time for the Colombian state to ensure a peace with guarantees, reaching all of its territories, and in protection of its most vulnerable communities.
In support and solidarity, the following civil society organizations sign this letter:
- Acción Ecológica
- Alianza de Organizaciones por los Derechos Humanos del Ecuador
- Alianza Ceibo
- Amazon Frontlines
- Amazon Watch
- APT Norte
- Cabildo por el Agua de Cuenca
- Cáritas Ecuador
- Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)
- Chicago Religious Network on Latin America (CRLN)
- Colombia Acuerdo de Paz NGO
- Comité Permanente por la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos
- Consejo Indígena de Abya Yala CICA
- Corporación Instituto Internacional Raza, Igualdad y Derechos Humanos.
- Cultural Survival
- DePaul University – Chicago, USA
- Digital Democracy
- Earth Rights International
- Extinction Rebellion Ecuador
- Foro Indígena de Abya Yala
- Fundación ALDEA
- Institute for Policy Studies
- Land is Life
- Latin America Working Group
- Madres de Plaza de Mayo Línea Fundadora
- OMASNE (Observatorio de conflictos Mineros, Ambientales y Sociales del Norte del Ecuador)
- Oilwatch Latinoamerica
- Oilwatch Costa Rica
- One Earth
- Rainforest Action Network
- Rainforest Foundation US
- Red Nacional de Pastoral Ecológica
- Red de coordinación en biodiversidad
- REPAM Colombia
- REPAM Ecuador
- UNIÓN DE AFECTADOS POR TEXACO. UDAPT
- Universidad Central de Venezuela/Plataforma contra el Arco Minero
- Washington Office on Latin America
- Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective
- United Church of Christ, Justice and Local Church Ministries