US NGO Says 20 Land Rights Leaders Killed Under Santos
News from Colombia |
on: Wednesday, 2 November 2011
New Report Shows Colombian Land Rights Leaders are in Peril
The US Office on Colombia (USOC) released a report today on the plight of land rights leaders in Colombia. “Against All Odds: The Deadly Struggle of Land Rights Leaders in Colombia” shows that twenty land rights leaders have been killed since President Juan Manuel Santos took office in August 2010.
Colombia’s new Victims Law will attempt to return the lands of some of the 5 million people displaced due to Colombia’s ongoing internal conflict. However, as the report highlights, for implementation of the law to be successful, a rigorous protection program needs to be put into place to ensure the safety of those returning to their lands. “The Colombian government must act decisively to dismantle paramilitary and paramilitary successor groups responsible for much of the violence so that it is safe for people to return to their lands,” says Dana Brown, Executive Director of USOC.
The report is released in conjunction with a letter directed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from U.S.-based human rights groups. The letter asks Secretary Clinton to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and aid vigorously promote protection of Colombia’s rural population and support safe, sustainable and voluntary returns. “The U.S. government must link support for land return to a workable, effective plan to protect land leaders and communities,” said Lisa Haugaard, Executive Director of the Latin America Working Group Education Fund, coauthor of the letter. “This must be developed in close consultation with affected communities. Without such a plan, people will be returning to their deaths, or to be displaced again.”
The letter also underlines the importance of free and prior consultation with Afro-descendant and indigenous communities affected by the returns, as mandated by Colombian law. "If Colombia does not previously consult the proposed decree law in a free, prior and informed manner with Afro-Colombian victims, it will lead to their re-victimization”, said Gimena Sánchez, Senior Associate Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
The letter and report also affirm that Colombia’s Attorney General's office should prioritize prompt and effective investigations and prosecutions in cases involving attacks and threats against land rights leaders. For Colombia’s landmark Victims’ Law to stand a chance at contributing to a lasting peace, adequate protection measures must be implemented to secure the return of the scores of displaced Colombians to their land.