Monday, 14 April 2008

more death threats against human rights NGOs, social movements and priests in Colombian region

Here is a press release from the Red de Hermandad y Solidaridad - Colombia (Network of Friendship and Solidarity with Colombia) issued on April 11th regarding threats from paramilitaries active in the Sur de Bolivar region against Fedeagromisbol (a local federation of farmers and miners), the NGO Sembrar, El Programa de Desarrollo y Paz del Magdalena Medio (the program for peace and development in Magdalena Medio) and priests. As its name suggests this region lies in the south of Bolivar state around 500km north of Bogota.

1. Today, April 10th 2008, a threat signed by the self-styled paramilitary structure “Águilas Negras, Bloque Norte de Colombia” (Black Eagles, northern block of Colombia), was sent to various e-mail accounts declaring members of Fedeagromisbol, Sembrar, Programa de Desarrollo y Paz del Magdalena Medio and the priests of Regidor and Tiquisio to be military targets, in which it was added that 'your name (sic) has been added to the list of undesirables who should be eliminated, by the national government', indicating them to be supporters or members of guerilla groups.

2. In this threat it was stated that 'you and the organisations you represent are a problem for Colombia', passing sentence that 'for every criminal act against democratic security (sic) that you organise inside these villages, you will be exterminated one by one, in list order.

3. The threat made clear that those mentioned had been followed in the municipalities of Tiquisio, Arenal, Morales, Aguachica, La Gloria and Regidor, stating that 'expect that wherever you organise stupid meetings you queers will be screwed over.'

4. The threat concluded that 'we are constantly watching you sons of bitches as the time has come to put an end to your perverse activities in these villages. The plan to annihilate you could begin at any moment. We won't hesitate to assassinate you, so get your friends ready to bury you.'

5. On April 1st 2008, at a meeting in the town of Barrancabermeja attended by the Vice-President and Public Prosecutor, the Director of the Presidential Human Rights Commission, Dr Carlos Franco, referred to events in Puerto Rico and Tiquisio, saying that Fedeagromisbol caused a scandal at every opportunity.

6. At a Mesa de Interlocución del Sur de Bolívar (Committee for Dialogue in Sur de Bolivar) meeting on April 2nd 2008, delegates from the mining ministry, the institute of geology and mines, and the Bolivar state government agreed that:
'given the grave human rights situation in the Sur de Bolivar, the mining ministry and the Bolivar state government are committed to working towards a high-level meeting as soon as possible, with the participation of the Vice-President, the Attorney General and Public Prosecutor, to deal with the issues and adopt measures to solve the existing crisis'.

Although the above authorities are aware of the gravity of the situation, until now we are not aware of any measures having been taken to overcome the crisis nor of any meeting having been arranged. There is concern about the continuity of the Committee for Dialogue regarding mining issues, when the state persists in refusing to take serious and adequate measures to guarantee human rights in the region.

7. These threats have been directed against the human rights NGO Sembrar, which in recent years has accompanied residents and organisations in Sur de Bolivar in monitoring and denouncing abuses and giving human rights training.

El Programa Desarrollo y Paz del Magdalena Medio (the programme for development and peace in Magdalena Medio) is an organisation which with the support of the EU, international governmental and non-governmental entities, the national, state and local governments, has taken part in the Laboratorios de Paz (Peace Laboratories), accompanying and supporting organisations and communities in Sur de Bolivar in developing peace initiatives, programmes of economic, social, cultural and institutional development, and ensuring the human rights of the region's inhabitants.

The Farmers and Mining Federation of Southern Bolívar, Fedeagromisbol, which comprises farming and mining groups in the region, has been generating wealth for the region for decades by promoting farming and mining projects. The Federation is part of the Committee for Dialogue in Sur de Bolivar, which has been involved in dialogue with the Colombian government since 2005 working towards the respect of human rights and development under conditions of equity, dignity and sustainability.

These threats have also been made against the priests of Tiquisio and Regidor who have been committed to accompanying communities and organisations in Sur de Bolívar.

Thanks to the work of these entities, communities have started a process of reclaiming meeting spaces to discuss the productive, sustainable use of the land and how to continue living in the region with dignity. The forced displacement of many families has thus been prevented.


a. On March 31st 2008 various organisations, including Fedeagromisbol and Sembrar, publicly denounced that during the Sixth Assembly of the Agromining Federation of Sur de Bolívar between March 27-30 in the municipality of Tiquisio, members of the national police force and the Nariño Battalion of the Second Army Brigade repeatedly tried to enter the building where the assembly was taking place to identify the Federation's directors.

The presence of an informer, protected by the police, was confirmed, who days previously had threatened a Fedeagromisbol member. In addition the police persisently made inquiries about the Federation President, Teofilo Acuña. This aggresive and intimidating behaviour was carried out by a sublieutenant of the national police force Miller Rojas Rubio and first sergeant Rojas of the Nariño Batallion of the Second Army Brigade.

b. The presence of the self-styled 'Black Eagles' paramilitaries in the municipalities of Santa Rosa, San Pablo, Simití, Arenal, Morales and Tiquisio, amongst others, has been repeatedly denounced. They act in an open and public manner without the police in any way taking any action to restrict their activities.

c. On July 2 2007 Amnesty International published their report 'Colombia:the reality of trade-unionism. Dates and figures', in which were expressed their concerns about the situation of the Agromining Federation of Sur de Bolívar, highlighting the extrajudicial execution of the mining leader and Fedeagromisbol member Alejandro Uribe Chacón.

d. On April 26th 2007, while attending a Committee for Dialogue in Sur de Bolivar in the municipality of Santa Rosa, with delegates from various national ministries, Teofilo Acuña was arrested.

On January 5 2008 the daily 'El Espectador' announced that : 'An intelligence report shows Acuña to be a guerilla of the ELN with the alias of ‘Téofilo’, going on to say, 'in the village of Buena Seña he declared to the community that they couldn't allow the entrance of mining multinational Kedahda' (part of AngloGold Ashanti).

e. On March 5 2007 at 7am members of the Nueva Granada battalion arrived in the community of Mina Piojo, part of Santa Rosa municipality, and arrested 12 people including Omar Nunez, member of the Mina Mochila Junta de Acción Comunal (village council) and Agromining leader, Guillermo Mercado, member of the Mina Fácil Junta de Acción Comunal and Juan Toloza, resident of Mina Piojo village.

The 12 people were held in different places and then brought to one place. During the journey soldiers asked persistently about the Mina Piojo Junta de Acción Comunal president. Additionally members of the Nueva Granada battalion attacked the detained residents and defamed the region's social organisations, saying 'both the village councils and the mining organisations are part of the guerrilla forces'.

f. On March 19th 2007 , the Nueva Granada battalion turned up in Paraiso in the municipality of Montecristo, having captured Alfredo Atehortua, Wilson and Adeidi, local residents known to be civilians. The previous day, the army had been told - falsely - that these men were guerilla deserters.

This unit invaded the Porvenir ranch, belonging to Efrain Ramos and Yadis Salazar threatening to take away Efrain and his cattle, claiming he was part of the guerilla. Efrain showed the army documents proving his ownership of the cattle. One of the soldiers threatened: 'we're here today but tomorrow the aguilas negras are coming'.

g. September 19th 2006 in the municipality of Santa Rosa the community and mining leader Alejandro Uribe Chacon, also a member of Fedeagromisbol, was extrajudicially executed by soldiers of the Nueva Granada battalion. His body was presented in public as that of a guerilla killed in combat.

'El Espectador' had stated shortly beforehand that 'Alejandro Uribe is effectively an active member of that organisation' going on to add 'in March 2006 Alejandro Uribe (alias ‘Andrés’) addressed a meeting of the need to prevent the entry of multinational AngloGold Ashanti's Colombian subsidiary Kedahda''.

Alejandro Uribe's death caused a massive mobilisation in Sur de Bolivar, which led to the government promising to ensure respect for human rights in the region. Until now the government hasn't complied with the agreements made.


Giving the gravity of the threats, we demand the following of the Colombian authorities:

1. That the events denounced above be thoroughly investigated, leading to the culprits being brought to justice.

2. That the records of the Security Forces of the region be immediately revised and altered as they present a threat to residents of the region in their current form.

3. Guarantees of the right to life, liberty, personal integrity and freedom of association of members of the Agromining Federation of Sur de Bolívar - Fedeagromisbol, Sembrar, el Programa de Desarrollo y Paz del Magdalena Medio and members of the dioceses of Magangue and Barrancabermeja, especially those directly threatened.

4. That a meeting be called at the first instance as was agreed by delegates of the Mining Ministry, the Institute of Geology and Mines, and the Bolivar state government in Barrancabermeja on April 2 2008.

Signed by:

Federación Agrominera del Sur de Bolívar, Corporación Sembrar, Organización Femenina Popular, Comisión de Interlocución del Sur de Bolívar, Red Europea de Hermandad y Solidaridad con Colombia, Red de Hermandad Colombia, , Coordinador Nacional Agrario, DH Colombia, Corporación Utopía, Asociación Nomadesc, Campaña Prohibido Olvidar, Sintraunicol – Valle del Cauca

Organisations accompanying the Committee for Dialogue in Sur de Bolivar:
Programa Desarrollo y Paz del Magdalena Medio, Equipos Cristianos de Acción por la Paz, Diócesis de Magangue

Teofilo Acuña is in UK this week, giving talks about the situation in Sur de Bolivar.

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