Serious threats against human rights defenders in Cesar mining region

Image: PAX / Daniel Maissan

February 8, 2018

Colombian human rights defenders that visited a recent meeting with the German and Dutch ambassadors have received death threats of a paramilitary group. The Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC) declared that they will ‘exterminate’ all those in the mining region of Cesar ‘who think they are human rights defenders’. PAX Program leader Joris van de Sandt: “PAX calls upon both Colombian authorities to protect human rights defenders and mining companies to distance themselves from the paramilitary group that issued the threat.”

In recent days, a pamphlet signed by the paramilitary AGC has circulated in Cesar, declaring  a wide range of human rights defenders as a ‘military target’. The pamphlet specifically mentions the names of various social leaders and human rights defenders in Cesar. They also threaten their families. The AGC claims to be providing security to ‘the good people’ (the ruling and business class) of the department adding that ‘we will protect their businesses.’ Van de Sandt: “Because they indicate to be working in the interest of businesses it is important that companies in the region, especially mining enterprises, distance themselves from the AGC.”

Mining companies
Both Drummond and Prodeco have issued public statements. The latter mining company states to emphatically reject all threats and acts of violence and reiterate their willingness to collaborate in the prevention of violence and the protection of life and human rights of the members of the communities.

Armed conflict
The threat occurs in a coal mining region that has been hard hit by large-scale violence by paramilitaries in the past as well as recent paramilitary threats and murders of social leaders and activists. From 1996 to 2006, residents of the coal-mining region have suffered greatly from the armed conflict. At least 3,100 people have been murdered, and approximately 55,000 farmers have been driven from their land.

Reconciliation process needed
Given this context, PAX is extremely worried about these targeted threats, including against those who for years have been searching for truth, justice and reparation of human rights violations in the past and helping to support regional peace-building. Van de Sandt: “We have immediately informed regional authorities and the Presidential Council for Human Rights. This death threat shows both the importance of protecting human rights defenders as well as the urgency of establishing a regional reconciliation process between mining companies and victims of human rights violations in the past.”

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