Three community leaders in Colombia’s Cesar mining region have been threatened with physical harm. All three recently made public statements aired in Europe and on the internet calling on mining companies to start a dialogue with victims of paramilitary violence in Cesar. PAX is concerned about their safety, and calls on the Colombian government and relevant companies to take action.
The threats were made against Miguel Ricardo, Evelio Aguirre, and Sifredy Culma. Mr Ricardo, spokesperson of the Peasant Assembly of Cesar, received notice from an ex member of the paramilitary AUC that illegal armed groups in the region were plotting against his life. Mr Aguirre, leader of the victims’ association of Hato La Guajira, was called in for questioning by the police, accused by someone associated with the paramilitary group AUC of preparing to invade his property. Mr Culma, a leader from the community of Santa Fe on the border of the PRODECO concession of La Jagua, is regularly followed by cars with tinted windows.
These threats are not new. All three community leaders have been the object of repeated threats and attempts on their lives. But the timing of the recent threats, targeted at these three leaders in the wake of their public statements, has PAX worried for their safety and for the potential crippling effect such threats have on victims´ organizations.
Two of the leaders provided video testimony during a recent conference in the Netherlands on peace and reconciliation in the mining region of Cesar. It was the first time government representatives, mining companies, energy utilities, port authorities, civil society organizations and trade unions came together to discuss both the human rights impacts in the mining areas and the need to remediate these impacts as part of regional peace-building efforts. (See here for more about the conference.)
Follow Vattenfall’s lead
In order to be able to establish a regional reconciliation process between mining companies and victim communities, it is key that human rights defenders are safe and can speak freely. Swedish energy company Vattenfall recently published a report “Human Rights Assessment in Colombia”, which includes strong recommendations to mining companies. Among other things, Vattenfall requires that companies involved in mining in Colombia should have a zero-tolerance policy regarding “threats, intimidation, and physical or legal attacks against human rights defenders.”
PAX urges mining companies to follow Vattenfall’s requirement, and urges Colombian authorities to take specific measures to protect representatives of victim communities and crack down on and prosecute any members of any illegal armed group operating in the mining zone in Cesar.