Projet Accompagnement Solidarité Colombie

The New Colombian Genocide and What To Do About It

7 November 2017

We cannot ethically accept that certain people in Colombia are continuing to kill and attack leaders of community and social movements, trade unionists, and human rights defenders. If this does not cease, there cannot be any authentic, stable, durable peace. On the contrary, we will certainly enter another period of terror all too painfully reminiscent of what the Unión Patriótica suffered.
Mauricio Torres-Tovar
Professor, Universidad Nacional de Colombia

“Every violent death diminishes us as people…
Hate does not have the last word; love is stronger than death and violence.”
Pope Francis

Every new report of the killing of a social movement leader in some part of Colombia — and such reports now reach us with the speed made possible by the social networks — causes me unease, disquiet, deep sadness, rage, and impotence. And each one also brings up a question many of us are now asking: What can we do to stop the new genocide being committed in our country?
I use that word, genocide, not as a form of rhetoric, or a mere dismissal, but because what is happening at this moment in Colombia corresponds to the definition: the systematic and deliberate annihilation or extermination of a social group possessing shared characteristics. What Colombia is witnessing is the systematic elimination of social movement leaders and human rights defenders because of their activities in the social and political spheres.

The national government insists that there is no systematic pattern of conduct explaining this series of assassinations in Colombia, while the social movement, human rights, and trade union organizations maintain that there is such an explanation, and that we are moving into a new genocide in Colombia: a genocide against community and social movement leaders, trade unionists, and human rights defenders.
This week alone witnessed a attack in Huila department on Jhon Ninco, a union leader advocating for people who have become sick while working in the oil and gas industry; the assassination, in the municipality of Tumaco, Nariño departament, of community leader José Jair Cortés; the assassination, in the municipality of Coyaima, Tolima department, of Liliana Astrid Ramírez, a teacher and leader of the Tolima Teachers’ Union (Simatol); and the assassination of 6 former combatants who returned to civilian life further to the agreement between the government and the FARC, in Isupí, locality of San José de Tapaje, municipality of El Charco, Nariño department.

These deaths increase the toll of assassinations that have been committed in the country within the framework of the peace accords. According to the report “Panorama de violaciones al derecho a la vida, libertad e integridad de líderes sociales y defensores de derechos humanos en 2016 y primer semestre del 2017”, produced by several human rights organizations and published this October, the year 2016 saw the assassination and/or forced disappearance of 101 leaders, 65 of them in key peacebuilding zones.

In the first half of 2017, according to the Defensoría del Pueblo (People’s Ombudsman), 52 social movement leaders and human rights defenders have been assassinated, bringing the death toll to 186 assassinations between 1 January 2016 and 5 July 2017 — a dramatic and sustained rise in assassinations of this profile of persons.

The report also indicates that peasant and ethnic leaders and organizations working to defend their territorial rights are the ones with the largest number of casualties: 36% correspond to peasants, 23% to indigenous people, and 7% to Afro-descendents. Among the peasants, the report notes, the majority have been leaders of the legislatively mandated Communal Action Committees; and among the indigenous people, cases involving attacks on land defenders predominate.

The report further states that among the most affected social movement organizations are the Movimiento Político y Social Marcha Patriótica, the Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca (CRIC), and the Asociación de Cabildos Indígenas Embera, Wounaan, Katío, Chamí y Tule en el Chocó (Orewa), as well as their base community organizations.

Concerning the perpetrators of these attacks, the report states that the perpetrator is unknown in 57% of the 2016 cases; in 25%, the perpetrators were narco-paramilitaries, and in 5.94%, they were unidentified armed groups. The report indicates that the Mobile Riot Squad (Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios—ESMAD) of the National Police and the National Army are the presumed perpetrators in 4.95% of the cases, while the FARC or ELN guerrillas account for another 4.95%. In other words, as has typically been the case, a pattern of impunity is being established, in which the intellectual authors and the physical perpetrators are not identified, so that justice is never done in these cases.

This tragic panorama corroborates the fact that this group of killings is related to social and political aspects that are closely tied to land tenure and territorial defence, going hand in hand with a rejection of mining and energy megaprojects, an emphasis on designing and implementing collective community projects, and the assertion and protection of human and labour rights, among others. That is, there is a clear pattern of systematic extermination of those who fight for their territory and their rights, lending weight to the idea that a genocide is in progress.

We cannot ethically accept that certain people in Colombia are continuing to kill and attack leaders of community and social movements, trade unionists, and human rights defenders. If this does not cease, there cannot be any authentic, stable, durable peace. On the contrary, we will certainly enter another period of terror all too painfully reminiscent of what the Unión Patriótica suffered.

As to the question of what to do, all I have done so far is write these lines, reply on social media that this situation is unacceptable, and come out in support of the various societal manifestations of rejection of these facts. But maybe that isn’t enough; in fact, maybe it doesn’t do any good at all. Maybe I need to get involved otherwise, express myself in different ways, just as many other people in and outside of Colombia must do so. If every assassination provokes a forceful expression of indignation both here and on the international scene, this would channel the demand for an end to such killings, and maybe help bring it about.

We cannot, as a society, continue to take assassination for granted as if it were a natural fact, as if it were the divinely ordained fate of our society.

Colombia cannot afford to miss this new opportunity to build a different society. We must close this historical chapter in order to build a country that is decent and just, one that respects that all our fellow citizens’ right to life and bodily integrity.

We must establish the following ethical imperative in our society: we deserve peace with social justice, and should not have to pay for it with our lives.

Edition 564 – Week of 20–26 October 2017

Author: 
PASC