Colombian Afro-descendant activist Clemencia Carabalí Rodellaga has worked tirelessly towards ensuring the rights of her people are respected, and especially the rights of women and girls. And this valuable community work –which spans several municipalities in Northern Cauca—has sparked recent grave threats against her life, and the lives of her children.
As a long-time supporter of the Palenke Alto Cauca and the people in the municipalities where Clemencia works, Forest Peoples Programme has written a letter urging Colombia’s National Protection Unit to offer Clemencia the highest levels of protection possible, so she can continue undertaking her important work. She does not want to leave her ancestral territory, which is the ultimate goal of the threats she and other members of her organisation, the Municipal Association of Women (ASOM), have received.
Indeed, despite the signing of Peace Accords in 2016, the number of murders and threats against social leaders is on the upswing in recent months, with indigenous and Afro-descendant leaders living in remote and rural areas the most affected populations. A 2017 annual report by the programme "Sommes Defensores" calculates that one social leader has been assassinated for every three days since the signing of the Santos Government-FARC-EP Peace Accords. Last Thursday July 5, Colombia's Ombudsperson issued an early warning report showing that since January 2016, 282 human rights defenders and social leaders have been killed in Colombia. And Colombia’s National Organisation of Indigenous Peoples, ONIC, has calculated that since the Peace Accords, indigenous people have been victims of 59 assassinations, 153 threats, 5,112 mass and forced displacements, 8,238 cases of confinement, nine cases of torture, 25 forced recruitments, and 19 attacks, for a total of 13,615 violations of human rights.
This alarming situation has led to public declarations and condemnations by the United Nations Office for Human Rights in Colombia, as well as the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples Rights, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, who declared that:
“Since the signing of the peace accords in Colombia, the country has witnessed a shocking uptick in violence toward and killing of indigenous, human rights, and social leaders. Over 100 people were killed so far in 2018, with 19 killed in the last month [June] alone. We must not remain silent in the face of this worsening human rights situation. I join my voice with those calling on the Colombian government to take urgent action to stop the killing of Indigenous and human rights leaders.”
On July 6 candlelit vigils were held across Colombia to honour the victims of the ongoing internal armed conflict, and to condemn the lack of state accountability with regards to these atrocities after a particularly violent week of assassinations. Social leaders are bracing themselves for more violence as incumbent conservative president Iván Duque begins his term this August.
Clemencia is one of many human rights defenders who are facing risk in the campaign for their ancestral lands. Affected communities and social organisations in Colombia along with allies like FPP have repeatedly challenged the impunity of persons and interests linked to the assassination of Fernando Salazar Calvo, an indigenous Embera Chami leader and member of the Resguardo Indígena Cañamomo Lonaprieta, assassinated April 7, 2015 for upholding indigenous law around gold mining in ancestral territory.