Afro-Descendent Communities

Afro-Descendent Communities


Sign Declaring land as Part of the Afro-Descendant's
Collective Land Title of Jiguamiandó

Legislation was passed in the 1990s that allowed Afro-descendant communities to have their ownership of their land formally recognized. Many of the communities, including those of the Naya river basin, have sought to use this legislation to secure ownership of land on which their communities have lived for many years. They have faced repeated death threats from paramilitaries and the security forces. Paramilitaries have forced them to grow coca to produce cocaine and have reportedly occupied some of their land. There have been similar reports of guerrilla groups targeting Afro-descendant communities living on the Pacific coast. The communities, together with Justicia y Paz and other human rights organizations working in the area, have attempted to assert their right as civilians not to be drawn into the security forces and paramilitary groups' conflict with guerrilla forces. The government claims that paramilitary groups have all demobilized, but they are still operating.

 

Over recent years, Afro-descendant communities living in departments bordering the Pacific coast of Colombia have faced repeated death threats, killings and forced displacement at the hands of paramilitaries, either acting alone or with the collusion of the security forces, who accuse them of being guerrilla collaborators. These human rights violations are often motivated by efforts to secure control over lands rich in mineral resources or with other economic potential. Many of these lands are legally owned by Afro-descendant communities who hold collective land titles. Repeatedly, paramilitaries have threatened and killed members of these communities just in advance of or after they have been granted these land rights. Guerrilla forces have also killed and threatened members of these communities accusing them of siding with the security forces or with paramilitary groups.

For example, paramilitaries have maintained a strong presence in the region, located in the Pacific Coast department of Chocó, despite the large presence of the armed forces. Paramilitary presence in the region has continued although army-backed paramilitaries were supposedly demobilized under a government-backed process during the previous government of President Alvaro Uribe. Over recent years Amnesty International has received reports of a regular paramilitary presence in La Honda and Tumarado where paramilitaries stop and search people travelling into the Cacarica River Basin. In recent days paramilitaries were reported once again to be in the Tumarado and La Honda areas.

Over 3,000 members of the Afro-descendant communities of the Cacarica River Basin were forcibly displaced in the course of a large-scale joint army and paramilitary operation in February 1997. In the face of repeated paramilitary death threats and killings many of these people returned to their lands in 2000 and 2001. The Cacarica communities' insistence on their right as civilians not to be drawn into the conflict and that combatants, whether members of the armed forces, their paramilitary allies or guerrilla forces, remain outside their "humanitarian zones" have resulted in repeated threats and human rights abuses. The vast majority of these abuses have been committed by paramilitaries. Guerrilla forces operating in the department of Chocó have also killed or threatened civilians they accuse of collaborating with their

Justicia y Paz is an organization that helps many of these Afro-descendant communities to pursue justice for human rights abuses. In efforts to protect the collective land titles granted to these communities, it has exposed the link between human rights abuses and the pursuit of economic interests. In the course of this work Justicia y Paz workers have faced repeated death threats and campaigns to link them to guerrilla forces. On September 8, 2010, Justicia y Paz worker, Danilo Rueda, was approached by two men on a motorbike while waiting for a taxi on a street in the capital Bogotá. The driver grazed Danilo Rueda with the side mirror of the motorbike and the passenger said: ?This is a warning, for getting mixed up in things you shouldn't. In recent years, Justicia y Paz has received repeated death threats by paramilitaries as a result of its work accompanying Afro-descendant communities. Members of these communities have in turn received similar death threats and several members of the communities have been killed by paramilitaries.

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