By Dr Shahid Qureshi : –
(London Post Report): The All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group (PHRG), Colombia Caravana of Lawyers, Peace Brigades International and ABColombia arranged a program at the House of Commons about the land grabbing and violation of human rights in Columbia. Jeremy Corbyn MP chaired the meeting, which was attended by people from all walks of life including representatives from the Foreign and Commonwealth office and Columbian embassy in London. Mr Daniel Ricardo Silva, Human Rights and Environment Attaché at The Embassy of Colombia in London assured his assistance to on behalf of the Columbia Government. Two Columbian victims of human rights violation also did presentations and shared their experiences, which was followed by question and answers. British Foreign and Commonwealth office is taking this matter seriously and closely monitoring situation via British Embassy in Columbia. Dr Shahid Qureshi senior journalist and writer also attended the meeting.He campared the columbia land grabbing with land mafia and land grabbing with the help of political elite in Pakistan. It is rported that some multinational companies are behind this land grabbings and also profiting from this.
Speakers of the event were Yomaira Mendoza and Enrique Cabezas Colombian land restitution leaders from Curvaradó, Professor Sara Chandler, Chair, Colombia Caravana of Lawyers, and Chair, Law Society’s Human Rights Committee, Louise Winstanley Programme and Advocacy Manager, ABColombia and Chair: Jeremy Corbyn MP.
The following questions were raised in the event::
How can the risks faced by land restitution leaders and human rights defenders be addressed?
What impacts do economic interests in this region have on human rights?
How can the UK Government adhere to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and encourage ‘due diligence’ by UK companies, promote genuine free, prior and informed consent processes in conformity with Colombian law and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 169, and hold companies to account?
At the event speakers examined the continuing pressures facing human rights defenders in Colombia.Land restitution leaders Enrique Cabezas and Yomaira Mendoza from the Curvaradó River Basin in Chocó, both been forced to leave the country due to threats. They will first discuss the situation they face in trying to reclaim land from which their community was forcibly displaced and which is being illegally used by powerful economic interests for African palm oil cultivation, coca leaf cultivation, cattle ranching, mining and logging. The case of Curvaradó is emblematic, and its outcome will serve as an indicator of how successful Colombia is likely to be in terms of its ability to return land to displaced communities. The Colombian Caravana of Lawyers will then present its interim report following the visit of over 60 lawyers to Colombia in August to meet with, and record the testimonies of, human rights defenders in 7 regions.
Following is the back ground:
The situation remains extremely dangerous for community leaders involved in land restitution processes in Colombia. Following relentless persecution and threats, some of them have had to leave the region and the country. Two leaders who are currently living in exile – Yomaira Mendoza and Enrique Cabezas – are visiting the UK to share their experiences.
Curvaradó is an afro-Colombian community in the Department of Chocó, North West Colombia. In 1996 members of the community were forcibly displaced when paramilitary groups started entering the region and occupying the Bajo Atrato river basin. From 1996 to 2001, massacres in the region led to the forced displacement of approximately 1,500 and the killing of approximately 120 people.
With support from NGOs like the Inter-Church Commission on Justice and Peace (CIJP), some families started to return after 2001. However, when they returned to their land they came across the presence of palm companies cultivating (illegally) African palm oil on land grabbed violently from the communities, and operating in complicity with paramilitary groups and in some cases allegedly with the aid of Colombian State forces and institutions. Coca leaf cultivation, cattle ranching, mining and logging were also all illegally taking place on their land.
In 2011 the government of Juan Manuel Santos passed the Victims and Land Restitution Law. This Law created a framework to grant reparations to victims of the armed conflict and restore some of the land from which the population had been forcibly displaced, but in September of the same year the community leaders and the populations of Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó reported a deterioration in their security: assassinations, forced disappearances and death threats of communal and land restitution leaders became common practice in the region. The threats and violence have continued. Since January of this year Yomaira Mendoza and Enrique Cabezas received over 80 threats via their mobile phones, the majority of which were made from the same number, however, there has been no attempt made by the authorities to effectively investigate these threats.
YOMAIRA MENDOZA has denounced those who initially displaced her family in 1997, and those who carried out her husband’s murder in 2007, including the alleged links between the military, paramilitaries and businesses in the area. Yomaira was first displaced with her parents in 1997 and went to live in Medellin. When they decided to return to Curvaradó in 2001 the threats began to arrive. In 2007 her husband was shot dead in front of her for the ‘crime’ of refusing to pay a fine for chopping down trees on land that had belonged to Yomaira’s parents.
She said the person responsible worked for the occupants of her parents’ land and filed a report; the Attorney General said they would follow it up but no action was taken, forcing Yomaira to go back to Medellin. Since she returned in 2011 and lodged a formal claim for her ancestral land, Yomaira has received threatening texts and phone calls, sometimes up to five a day. CIJP have tried moving her around various humanitarian zones to keep her safe, and by highlighting her case to the authorities the National Protection Unit gave her a car and two bodyguards. However, the threats have intensified since January, when Yomaira requested information from the Prosecutor’s Office on investigations into her husband’s killing.
ENRIQUE CABEZAS is a legal representative and community leader in Curvaradó who has been forced to leave the country because of his efforts to reclaim land and for denouncing links between the post-demobilised paramilitary groups and the security forces in the region. On 20 May 2014 a group of armed men entered the house where Enrique Cabezas was staying in Llano Rico in the Chocó Department. He managed to escape and made his way to the location where his bodyguards, assigned by the National Protection Unit, were staying. Just before the armed group entered the house Enrique received a text message which warned him that he would be killed that night.
(Dr Shahid Qureshi is senior journalist and writer on human rights & foreign policy in London)