A message of thanks from Colombia
By Kathy Price, Colombia campaigner with Amnesty International Canada
It was great news, the kind of news that underscores how incredibly important our activism is.
I opened my computer to find an upbeat message from Colombian Indigenous leader Flaminio Onogama, a human rights defender I had accompanied on a visit to Canada in 2010. He wrote to say hello and to share that he was back in public life, continuing his work for the protection of Indigenous peoples and their human rights. He also wrote to thank all the Amnesty supporters in Canada who had helped make this possible.
Last year, Amnesty International issued an urgent action for Flaminio after he was forced to go into hiding. Paramilitaries had threatened him with death. They were no idle threats. Two close relatives had been tortured and murdered after they warned Flaminio that gunmen were waiting for him.
Thousands of Amnesty supporters wrote messages of concern to the Colombian government. Thousands more signed our petition to Canada’s Foreign Minister, asking for Canada to use its close relationship with Colombia to press for measures to protect Flaminio from harm.
Canada’s Embassy in Colombia responded to your appeals, expressing Canada’s concern on repeated occasions to Colombian authorities.
The grassroots action that helped this to happen is not only about protecting one man’s life, as vitally important as that is. Without protection, Flaminio was unable to carry on his important work to defend the lives and rights of others, amidst an acute human rights emergency for Indigenous peoples in Colombia.
So it was incredibly heartening to read Flaminio’s news:
“I’m working for Indigenous communities again,” he wrote. "I am running in upcoming elections, representing Indigenous peoples in Valle del Cauca. There have been multiple threats but I now have protection, including a bullet-proof vehicle and body guards.”
The government program responsible for protecting threatened human rights defenders in Colombia has failed in its mandate on countless tragic occasions. On this occasion, under pressure created in large part by the activism of Amnesty supporters, the protection measures were granted and Flaminio felt emboldened to resume his activism for human rights.