Friday, August 27, 2010

Protect at-risk Afro-Colombian community threatened by paras

In my capacity as Colombia Country Specialist for Amnesty International, I created the following action alert. Please take action! This community has attempted to retake its land from paramilitaries and live peacefully and neutrally in the midst of Colombia's conflict, much like the Peace community of San Jose de Apartado.
Jhon Jairo Palacios, a member of an Afro-descendant community in the Cacarica River Basin in the north-east of the country, was abducted after he left his home to take a boat to the municipal capital. On July 30th he telephoned his family to inform them that he would be returning the following morning. His family called his mobile phone the next day. A man answered who said he was a member of a paramilitary group operating in the region, and to "tell his family that he is already dead." The family asked where his body was, and the man told them only that he had been abducted in Riosucio and taken far away. On August 9th, sources close to the paramilitaries claimed that paramilitaries had killed Jhon Jairo. 

The enforced disappearance and possible killing of Jhon Jairo Palacios came days before a contract was awarded for the construction of a major road in the region. The Cacarica communities have opposed this project, and there is concern that the enforced disappearance may be an attempt to silence them.

More information:
The Cacarica River Basin is in a region earmarked for a major road-building project. Jhon Jairo Palacios was subjected to enforced disappearance shortly before the contract for the construction of a road was awarded to a consortium. There is a danger that more people will be killed to silence any local opposition to the project.

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 enemies.

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