MADRE calls for urgent and sustained solidarity with Afro-Colombian human rights defenders and peace advocates who were attacked on Saturday, May 4 by armed men during a community meeting in the region of Norte del Cauca.
The attackers fired shots and launched a grenade but were repelled by bodyguards from the National Protection Unit, who are assigned to escort many of the participants due to ongoing death threats they receive for their activism. Two bodyguards were injured, but no one was killed.
Survivors included human rights defender and Goldman environmental prize winner, Francía Marquez, who has mobilized Afro-descendant women to halt harmful mining practices in the region. Also surviving the attack were other members of Black Communities Process (Proceso de Comunidades Negras - PCN), the Afro-descendant Women’s Association of Norte de Cauca (ASOM), and the Association of Community Councils of Norte de Cauca (ACONC); including Clemencia Carabalí, Sofía Garzón, Victor Moreno, and Carlos Rosero. Twenty-five people were attending the meeting, including two children.
The activists were gathered to prepare for a dialogue scheduled for May 8 with the Colombian government. They were set to discuss implementation of measures the government had agreed to during a long-running community uprising called a minga. Participants in the “Minga for defense of life, peace and democracy,” led by and involving Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities in Norte de Cauca, are calling for respect for their collective territories, meaningful implementation of Colombia’s peace accord, and investment in basic services in the region.
This latest attack comes as human rights defenders, including women struggling for Afro-descendant and Indigenous Peoples’ collective territorial rights, are facing waves of threats and violence throughout Colombia, with over 550 defenders and social leaders murdered since the beginning of 2016. The head of Colombia’s National Protection Unit has publicly stated that it lacks adequate resources to meet the protection needs of Colombia’s threatened social leaders and human rights defenders.
MADRE denounces these attacks and stands firm in our partnership with PCN and with Afro-Colombian rights activists. We call for policymakers to commit to and provide resources to safeguard human rights defenders, and to adhere to protections for Indigenous and Afro-descendant territorial rights.