Continued Impunity: Enforced Disappearances in Colombia

August 12, 2011

In the last two weeks, Francisco Pineda and Everto González, two members of the community council of Caracolí in north-west Colombia, were subjected to enforced disappearance by paramilitaries. They were both picked up by a group of paramilitaries, who took them away to “resolve some land issues.”

Pineda and González have not been heard from since, and their whereabouts remain unknown. Amnesty International fears their lives and the lives of other members of the Afro-descendant community may be at risk, and has issued an Urgent Action on their behalf.

Enforced disappearances persist in many countries all over the world, and violate a wide range of human rights. In Colombia, especially, there is tremendous impunity for enforced disappearances, and violators continue to evade justice.

Many members of the Afro-descendent communities in the country have been threatened repeatedly in the past couple of decades, and some even killed. Enrique Petro, leader of the community council of Andalucía, is among those who have recently received death threats for his resistance to palm oil companies who seek to seize his land and plant African palm.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights of the Organization of American States has repeatedly called on the Colombian authorities to take appropriate measures to guarantee the safety of Enrique Petro, and other members of the Afro-descendant communities in the region. However, the Colombian authorities have failed to take effective action to implement the Court’s requests.

Last year, Amnesty International issued an Urgent Action for Jhon Jairo Palacios, another member of an Afro-descendant community in the Cacarica River Basin, a region in north-east Colombia, who was abducted and possibly killed by the paramilitaries. In addition, residents of the Curvaradó and neighboring Jiguamiandó River Basins were driven off their land in 1997 by paramilitary groups that acted either alone or in collusion with the government armed forces. Since then, more than 100 members of these communities have been killed, leaving the land free for illegal plantations of African palm.

The NGO Inter-Church Commission of Justice and Peace (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz), works with the communities in the Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó River Basins. They have documented two enforced disappearances, eight displacements and threats to 32 people, including members of community councils, since Juan Manuel Santos took over the Presidency of Colombia in 2010. Despite the new government’s policy of land restitution, it has still not been able to provide answers to the endemic violence that has plagued the country for decades now, and the most vulnerable members of society continue to be targeted.

Amnesty International will commemorat the International Day of the Disappeared on August 30th. Enforced disappearances are a crime under international law, and the prolonged impunity and violence needs to stop now in Colombia. Join us in pressing for justice for the countless disappeared and their families all over the world.

Vasundhara Prasad, Campaign for Individuals at Risk, contributed to this post.