Colombia: Marchers Highlight Human Rights Violations

“As marchers for dignity, we’re walking for life and in this way, we aren’t drawing attention from the national government. We’re sounding a warning call to the international community and human rights defenders, because its the State that is killing us.”

On June 25, around 40 social organizations from southwestern Colombia left the city of Popayán to march to Bogota, visiting more than 22 municipalities in the country to engage in dialogue with organizations that are victims of political violence and social injustice.

They arrived in Bogota on July 10 after traveling 500 km in 16 days.

One of the marchers’ demands is the withdrawal of all armed actors from the territories, and protection from the actions of multinational corporations that are polluting the soil, water and air. They’re asking the Duque government to implement an immediate action plan to stop the barbarity and killing of social leaders and human rights defenders.

The marchers’ objective was to go in Bogota to foster effective actions to protect the lives of social leaders and human rights defenders from the genocide; sound a call against the normalization of murders and the inaction of the Duque government regarding the events in the territories.

On July 13, marchers from other regions of the country joined the March for Dignity: the liberators’ column left Gibraltar, municipality of Toledo (Norte de Santander); the Comunero column started in Barrancabermeja (Santander). The marchers all have the same objective: to demand that the Duque government stop the genocide against the social movement, and denounce the murder and prosecution of human rights leaders and defenders.

Since 2006, human rights organizations have been demanding the creation of territorial roundtables to expose the murders, judicialization, and threats and propose solutions to put an end to this scourge. The national government has no political will to address these demands and none of the measures required to protect the people’s lives and integrity have been implemented, while false positive cases and mass arrests of social leaders continue in the region1.

Upon their arrival in Bogota, the marchers didn’t meet with the Duke government or his cabinet. As usual, the dialogue sought with the government wasn’t answered. However, they did meet with leaders of opposition parties in Congress and signed a joint statement requesting the visit of United Nations rapporteurs. They also met with several embassies present in Colombia, who will transmit their requests to the international organization. However, under the Duque government, eight such requests to visit the country have already been presented, but the government has rejected all of them.

The March for dignity isn’t the only struggle and resistance initiative promoted by the communities. Social organizations and human rights defenders have organized verification missions on the human rights situation in different regions of the country, to highlight the humanitarian crisis that the government has persisted in ignoring. Thus, the “Edwin Acosta Ochoa Humanitarian Mission Caravan” was organized in the south of Bolivar Department and the “Humanitarian Mission Caravan for Life and Peace” in the Guayabero River region, Meta Department.

As it passed through the eastern plains and Orinoquía, the “Humanitarian Mission for Life and Peace” confirmed that the military who carried out forced eradication operations destroyed and uprooted food crops such as cassava, bananas, corn, sugarcane and fruit trees. They left houses burned and desolate, water tanks destroyed, cut up hoses, produce strewn on the ground, broken cooking utensils mattresses. The missionaries listened to the testimonies of women who were sexually abused or threatened to be so, and victims of military monitoring and intelligence who one day described what underwear they were wearing.

The uncertainty and anger at the State’s actions against small-scale coca producers (whose plantations have been forcibly eradicated), small-scale land owners and small plots for family subsistence, while allowing the clearcutting of thousands of hectares and extensive livestock farming, which has led to the disruption of ecosystems, causing the loss of forest functionality and connectivity. The local population is concerned about the threat from the military who, during the various operations, would shout, “don’t worry about us; worry about those who are coming after us. Long live the AUC,” reminding them of threats that were carried out in the past.

There were also cases of forced displacement, such as in the village of Caño San José, where 24 families were displaced. The missionaries share several concerns. It isn’t easy to see the faces of people forcibly displaced by the government.

1 Kaos en la red (July 16, 2020) Colombia ¿Por qué se realiza la Marcha por la Dignidad? [Why are there Dignity Marches in Colombia?]