Colombia: Protect residents inside Humanitarian Zone
Credit: Photo circulated on social media by Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia to announce its “patrols”
A group of paramilitaries entered the Humanitarian Zone of Nueva Esperanza en Dios in the Cacarica river basin in north-west Colombia looking for several individuals who they claimed are on a death list. The increase in paramilitary activity in the area is placing residents of the Humanitarian Zone and those accompanying them at risk.
In the morning of 12 February, eight armed paramilitaries entered the Afro-descendant Humanitarian Zone of Nueva Esperanza en Dios in Riosucio Municipality, Chocó Department. They were dressed in black and some were hooded. Witnesses claim that an indeterminate number of paramilitaries are also present in the vicinity of the Humanitarian Zone.
According to local residents, the paramilitaries, who apparently belong to the Gaitanista Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia, AGC), searched every house in the community looking for a group of people who the paramilitaries said were on a death list. The search included a house used by the NGO Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz), which provides accompaniment for the community. They said that if they could not find them, they would return the following day. The paramilitaries left the Humanitarian Zone after a few hours. While in the Humanitarian Zone, the paramilitaries communicated with others via radio.
A troop of army soldiers arrived at the Humanitarian Zone around 5pm that same day. Members of the community have asked the soldiers to remain on the perimeter of the Humanitarian Zone. Although soldiers are currently present just outside the Humanitarian Zone, the community has said that the army will leave the Zone’s perimeter on 13 February. Community members claim this is the first time that army troops have been present in the area since reports first emerged almost two weeks ago about a paramilitary presence in the Cacarica region.
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Señor Luis Carlos Villegas
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Señor Juan Manuel Santos
His Excellency Nicolás Lloreda Ricaurte
The Honourable Chrystia Freeland
Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz
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In 1997 as part of “Operation Génesis”, a military operation coordinated by the XVII Brigade, paramilitaries forcibly displaced over 3,000 members of the Afro-descendant communities of the Cacarica river basin. The majority of the displaced communities began a process of return to the Cacarica river basin in the early 2000s.
To guarantee their safety, given on-going death threats and human rights violations community members were facing at the hands of the security forces and paramilitaries, community members created two Humanitarian Zones: Nueva Esperanza en Dios and Nueva Vida. They insisted on their rights as civilians not to be drawn into the conflict. Since their return, the Afro-descendant communities have continued to face constant threats and other human rights violations.
Since the start of the peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC), and especially since September 2015, there have been increasing reports of paramilitary activity in the Cacarica region. Increasing paramilitary activity has also been reported in other parts of the country, as various armed groups seek to gain control over some of the territories previously controlled by the FARC, which is currently in the process of demobilizing and disarming after it reached a peace agreement with the government at the end of 2016.
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