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Amazon Watch expresses our solidarity with Colombian civil society and popular movements facing violent repression by state security forces, riot police (ESMAD), and the national army, since the national strike began on May 28. We are deeply concerned by reports of over 1,000 cases of violence, over 700 arbitrary arrests, at least 37 deaths, dozens of disappearances, and sexual assaults in the last week. While the tax reform which sparked the protests was revoked, Colombians continue to protest at great risk to their lives from violent state repression, “non-governmental” armed actors, and the third wave of COVID-19.
Even in the post-peace accord era, assassins operating on behalf of entrenched political and economic actors are killing Colombian human rights defenders and social leaders on a near-daily basis. Of 331 human rights defender killings in 2020 as documented by Frontline Defenders, 177 (over 50%) were carried out in Colombia. Globally, almost 7 out of 10 killings were of land, environmental, and Indigenous rights defenders.
We understand that widespread frustration and fear have been building up for years. Indigenous peoples have protested locally and nationally time and time again given hundreds of broken commitments from the Colombian authorities. At the outset of the current mobilization, Indigenous peoples organizations in Colombia, including the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) and the National Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon (OPIAC), mobilized and denounced violations of human rights by the government.
The U’wa People, who are long-standing partners of Amazon Watch, issued this public denunciation:
“Today we march demanding the respect of our Indigenous customs, demanding that neoliberal policies for resource extraction don’t continue erupting in our territories. We reject economic policies like this tax reform that are noxious, damaging, and don’t help the most vulnerable Colombians, among them our ancestral Indigenous communities.”
In the Colombian Amazon, Indigenous territories are under increasing pressure from extractive industries, legal and illegal. The oil company GeoPark is working to expand its presence in Putumayo, against the wishes of several Indigenous and Campesino communities. The situation of desperation intensifies, with local leaders courageously standing up for their collective rights, knowing they could be gunned down at any minute.
Amazon Watch Executive Director Leila Salazar-López made the following statement in response to the violence:
“Amazon Watch has stood in solidarity with Colombian Indigenous peoples for 25 years in defense of rights, lives, and territories. In 1996, we joined the call of the U’wa to protect the blood of Mother Earth and keep oil in the ground. Today, we join the call of the people of Colombia to stop the bloodshed. We extend our solidarity to all social movements that are fearlessly exercising their rights to protest against social, economic, and police violence. The people of Colombia should not have to risk their lives to stand up for their rights! We join them in saying, Ya Basta! No More!
“We also join the calls of international human rights organizations and the United Nations in condemning the violent repression of civil society and the widespread violation of human rights by the Colombian government and call on the United States policymakers to take action immediately to denounce and investigate this brutal state violence. It’s time for the United States to end financial support for the Colombian armed forces while they continue to engage in violence against civilians.”