Distressed over reports of violence against people of African descent in Colombia, a United Nations expert panel has called on the authorities to take concrete and urgent measures to protect the country’s Afro-Colombian communities.
“We are concerned that many Afro-Colombians community leaders have faced repeated death threats following their call for their ancestral land rights and to prevent the exploitation of their territories by outside mining interests, including multinational mining companies,” said human rights expert Ricardo A. Sunga III, who currently heads the Working Group of Experts of People of African Descent.
The call came at a time when several Afro-descendant leaders are being subjected to intimidation, including death threats, as they campaign for territorial rights.
“We ask for protection of Afro-Colombians, especially those engaged in active campaign for land restitution including in the Cauca Department. The communities’ territorial rights must also be respected,” Mr. Sunga stressed earlier in the week. “We urge the Colombian authorities to put an end to criminalisation and threats against human rights defenders and members of their families,” he added.
While acknowledging ongoing efforts by the Government, the human rights expert emphasized that much more work is required to address the situation. “The Colombian Government must take effective action to guarantee the safety of their communities, undertake full and impartial investigations into the threats and bring all those responsible to justice,” Mr. Sunga underlined.
Recalling the Working Group’s request for an official invitation in December 2014, the expert reiterated their willingness to visit the country to investigate the Afro-Colombian community’s human rights situation.
The Working Group’s appeal to the Colombian Government has also been endorsed by the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák-Ndiaye; the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst; the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns; and the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Mutuma Ruteere.