On the 16th of March 2018 members of the EU Parliament sent a letter to the Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to express serious concern in regard to the recent increase in assassinations and threats against human rights defenders and community leaders in Colombia.
According to the letter, a human rights defender has been murdered every 48 hours in Colombia, on average, since the start of 2018. With 50% of all global murders of defenders taking place in Colombia, it is now the most dangerous country in the world to defend human rights. The predominant source of attacks are neo-paramilitary groups and ELN guerrillas who are vying for control over territories vacated by the FARC.
The letter highlights the situation of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, who are feeling the effects of this deterioating human rights situation. The Peace Community, a collective of over 500 small-scale farmers in the Urabá region, was set up in 1997 by farmers displaced by the Colombian civil war in order to resist further displacement and protect their community's culture and way of life through non-violent resistance. Since the Community was formed, 261 of its members have been murdered by paramilitary and guerrilla forces.
In December 2017, the Peace Community's legal representative, German Graciano Posso narrowly escaped an attack on his life. Posso was not provided with sufficient protection from the Colombian authorities despite the Peace Community publicly warning of the existence of a plan to assassinate him in the weeks leading up to the attack, as well as multiple reports published by Posso and other leaders that detailed the escalating threats they faced from neo-paramilitary groups. Many of the assassinations carried out against human rights defenders are preceded by threats similar to the one received by Graciano Posso before the attack.
The letter stresses the importance of investigating the threats and attacks to ensure they do not continue with impunity and urges the Colombian President to push for improved investigations into crimes against defenders that result in trials and convictions, not only to bring the perpetrators to justice, but also it argues, because such actions are key to tackling the political, economic and military structures that are fueling the conflict and allowing grave human rights abuses to continue unpunished. The letter concludes by imploring the President to identify and sanction the individuals benefiting from such deplorable violence as they represent a significant threat to progress towards a sustainable and long-lasting peace for the region, and the country as a whole.
Due to the increase in threats, three members of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó recently visited the UK on an advocacy tour to call on the international community to support them. They met with representatives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights, the Law Society, the Bar Human Rights Council and the Economist magazine. During these meetings, the Peace Community members explained that they have been subject to continuous and severe attacks and reprisals for their efforts to resist displacement and for speaking out against rights abuses.
The speaking tour was funded by organic cosmetic company LUSH, who invited the Peace Community members to their annual LUSH summit in London in February 2018. LUSH have a Fairtrade agreement with the Peace Community to purchase the cacao farmed by Peace Community members.
After meeting with Peace Community members during the speaker tour, the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre published a key article on how direct trade supports protection of defenders.
Gwen Burnyeat, an anthropologist and former international volunteer observer with PBI in northern Colombia has recently published a book 'Chocolate, Politics and Peace" - An Ethnography of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, Colombia.
Land: Culture and Conflict - a magazine style report by PBI Colombia