23th June C.I.- López is a social leader who has been working with the Solidarity Committee for Political Prisoners -CSPP in spanish- from Antioquia for five years. She is currently enrolled in the Basque Program for the Protection of Defenders developed in Euskadi since 2011. Véronica is touring Europe in order to bring attention to the worrisome situation on the issue of Human Rights in which Colombia is immersed.
“There have been 705 social leaders assassinated in Colombia since 2016. This number keeps increasing every day, similarly to the number of former FARC members killed and its families, where we count 139 former combatants and more and 70 relatives assassinated”, we were told by Verónica López.
Colombia Informa: Which is the context of the assassination social leaders?
Verónica López: assassinations take place mainly in rural contexts, against communal defenders, communitary defenders, leaders of the land restitution process, and leaders of the illegal crops substitution. Those who carry out these assassionations are paramilitary or its successors, as the colombian government prefers to call them.
These paramilitaries are not the same than those of the 80s and 90s, where its counterinsurgency strategy was clearer, they are rather mercenaries at the service of drug trafficking and national or foreigner companies. The reason is clearly economic. After the agreements with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - FARC in spanish -, the territories not occupied by the State have been occupied by the paramilitaries. Thus, transnational corporations and mega projects have more facilities to seize zones. The only ones who keep resisting are the social leaders and then the violence is exerted against them at this moment. C.I.: Howis the “social leader” term defined in Colombia?
V.L.: The definition we use is the same that is used by the United Nations: a person who carries out an activity in defense of Human Rights or some kind of communitary leadership. It is clearly a very broad definition since it comprehends the student from the students movement or a rural teacher. This definition is not the one used by the colombian State, that wanted to circumscribe this category only to those who belong to organizations called human rights defenders.
However, many social leaders do not belong to this kind of organizations. We have had this problem with the assassination of Carlos Alberto Pedraza Salcedo, from the Political Movement of Social and Popular masses from the Center-East of Colombia, not recognized by the State as a social leader since he did not have an identification card that recognized him as such.
C.I.: Which are the consequences of a definition such as the one used by Colombia for social leaders?
V.L.: The direct consequence is that the number of assassinations changes according to the institutions. There are many persons whom are not members of a legally constituted organization but are a part of a civic committee or community action boards.
The second problem is the lack of recognition of the political and economic reasons behind the assassinations, which are undercovered as “insecurity situations”. This is done in order to ignore the systematicity of these assassinations and ignore the new dynamics of paramilitary.
C.I.: And which are the measure taken by the colombian government to tackle this situation?
V.L.: The situation is really complex. First, because for the colombian State there is no paramilitary in Colombia. This would have been over in 2005 with the Amnesty and Peace Law and the Disarmament Plan of the government of Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010). If they do not acknowledge the existence of the actor few can be done to counter it.
In this sense, it would be necessary to recognize that those disarmed paramilitaries just changed. The same rearmed under other names. Also, it would be necessary to recognize the collusion between the colombian State and the paramilitaries: there are generals of the Republic who have worked and keep working for them.
C.I.: How is then designed the paramilitary in Colombia?
The paramilitaries are called Organized Armed Groups -GAO in spanish-. The State recognizes that they have a certain hierarchical line and territorial control, but denies that they are the heirs of the far-right political positions of the United Self-Defences of Colombia -AUC in spanish- and denies that they keep operating with the colombian State.
C.I.: And, in regard of the government, what is the Timely National Plan of Action -PAO in spanish-?
V.L.: Duque convened a Timely National Plan of Action -PAO- in order to stop the amount of assassinated social leaders, but this plan will not solve structural problems, as occupying a space left by FARC or developing collective protection plans of communities. This governmental plan is focused in particular solutions such as bulletproof vests alloted to the population; vests that, in addition, do not pass the tests. The intent is to provide particular solutions of a structural problem.
C.I.: And there are more specific proposals coming from the territories?
V.L.: There are collective protection proposals from the territoires, for instance, the Indigenous protection guard for territorial control. We want the peasant, marrons and agro-mineral guards to be legally recognized as institutions authorized to exert territorial control, as the indigenous peoples do. We also ask for the reinstallation of Territorial Boards of Guarantees for Human Rights defenders so the importance of social leaders is recognized and a channel of communication can be established, which would allow not only to generate regional and local norms for the protection of leaders, but also the execution of appropriate action plans when someone is at death or displacement risk, in order to act quickly.
C.I.: And in regards to transnational corporations, what is known in Europe about Colombia?
V.L.: As in other countries, a human rights observatory for corporations should be created. Many corporations settled in Colombia create subsidiaries or screen entreprises to disappear their register and not tell what they do with foreign money in Colombia. A part of my tour here in Europe is to demant every State to verify what is occurring with the money of every country's company in Colombia
There is many lack of information: people in Europe believe that there have been a huge transformation after the Peace Agreement, they believe that Colombia is now pacific after the signature with FARC. When you say that the Agreements are not being implemented in any of its points, people is surprised, and it is important that the international community acknowledge what is going on.
European States that were very attentive during the signature of the agreements in La Havana, must put pressure on the colombian Government to fulfill it. As Fernando Londoño said, the agreements are being shredded and nobody cares