Translated version of letter sendt to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs 08.05.2019

Saturday May 4th in Santander de Quilichao, North-Cauca, an armed group opened fire on environment- and human rights defender Francia Marquez, alongside other leaders and members of a meeting of the community board Ancoc (Asosiación de Consejos Comunitarios del Norte del Cauca) and PCN (Proceso de Comunidades Negras). After a 15-minute exchange of fire between the armed group and the social leaders’ bodyguards all the participants were evacuated, escaping with their lives. Three bodyguards were wounded in this assassination attempt, which is the last in a worrying trend of increased threats and attacks on grassroots organizations and social leaders in Colombia. The members of the Colombia Forum find that many of our partner organizations are affected by this trend.

Francia Marquez visited Norway in October 2018 as one of the main appellants at the Globalization Conference and introductory speaker at the “Together for Peace in Colombia” conference. Marquez also met the Norwegian Foreign Service during her visit, and emphasized the precarious situation of human rights defenders in rural Colombia who want to see a successful and comprehensive implementation of the peace agreement. Sofia Garcón from PCN, who was also fired upon, visited Norway in 2014. PCN is a partner of both Norwegian People’s Aid and SAIH.

The Ombudsman of Colombia (Defensoria del Pueblo) has registered 972 serious threats to social leaders between March 2018 and February 2019 – a 47% increase from the equivalent period of the the preceding year. Colombian authorities were given advance notice of serious death threats in 73% of the cases where threatened social leaders have lost their lives. So far this year 25 social leaders have been killed, according to the Ombudsman.

The most serious security threats are mainly experienced in areas that are most affected by the internal conflict. This is clear from the latest UN Human Rights Council report about the situation in Colombia. The report finds that lacking implementation of the peace agreement is one of the main reasons for the continued occurrence of death threats against social leaders in the country.

Francia Marquez received the 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize for her fight for the protection of the environment and the local communities’ right to self-determination over their ancestral lands. The government’s development policy leads to increased interest in extraction of the natural resources from both large corporations and criminal groups, which again leads to further conflict and tension with the affected local communities. The assassination attempt against Francia Marquez happened while she and other social leaders were preparing a meeting with the Colombian government scheduled for May 8th. At the meeting they will discuss sovereignty and extraction issues with central authorities.

The undersigned organizations ask the Norwegian government to:

  • Insist that the implementation of the peace agreement with the FARC is followed up and expedited, and that the peace talks with the ELN are resumed.
  • Endorse the recommendations from the last UN report on the human rights situation in Colombia and insist that Colombian authorities implement these recommendations.
  • Support local societies and grassroots organizations in their demands for protection strategies with a focus on preventive measures and working against impunity through independent investigations, to better cope with the structural causes that generate risk.