Colombian land defenders: ‘They’re killing us one by one’

CARMEN DEL DARIEN, Colombia – Community leaders in Colombia’s western Chocó are calling on the government to provide security after receiving ongoing threats from individuals they accuse of working for local and national industrial agricultural business owners. They say those business interests are occupying and invading their land, and they refuse to say silent despite recent violence in the area. In November and December 2017, two land defenders in nearby communities were allegedly killed by paramilitary hitmen within about ten days of each other: Mario Castaño and Hernan Bedoya. Following deaths of Castaño and Bedoya, representatives from the region traveled to the capital city of Bogotá this past December with the Colombian human rights group Intercelestial Commission for Justice and Peace in Colombia (CIJP). Their aim was to denounce widely-circulated threats against other leading land defenders, much like a recent report co-published by The Guardian and Global Witness, part of an effort to document every single such murder around the world. The report noted that 32 environmental and land defenders were murdered in 2017 alone in Colombia, second only to Brazil. Particularly in western Chocó’s municipalities of Carmen del Darién and Riosucio, violent pressure of all kinds continue to increase. On January 28, the Colombian Ombudsman issued an early warning for the “imminent risk” posed to 32,000 people due to armed confrontation between ELN guerrilla and Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces (AGC), a neo-paramilitary group. The report said both illegal armed groups have taken advantage of the demobilization of the FARC guerrillas to consolidate…

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