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Colombia’s Peace Treaty Has Brought No Peace

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November 2016 should have marked a watershed moment in Colombia’s bloody history, as it is the date when the Colombian government signed a final peace accord with the FARC guerrilla group after more than half a century of war. And yet, since that date Colombia has become one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a human-rights worker. Between November 2016 and April 2019, 566 community leaders and human-rights defenders were murdered.

Unsurprisingly, the Colombian government insists that violence has abated by pointing to reductions in the homicide and kidnapping rates and by minimizing the magnitude and systematic nature of the assassinations. But many Afro-Colombian activists differ. For them, the targeted killings of men and women working to protect their communities from the entry and expansion of illicit activities, extractive industries, and new armed groups in their territories is unquestionably systematic. This is why Erlendey Cuero—vice president of the National Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES) and herself a target of multiple death threats—distributed a special leaflet to the attendees of Colombia’s 2018 UN Universal Periodic Review, a mechanism that was established to review human-rights performance of member states (UN-UPR). The leaflet, bearing the logo of several Afro-Colombian organizations, displayed the photos of 12 Afro-Colombian leaders assassinated since 2016 and read, “Peace has not yet arrived in our territories.”

Francia Márquez, the 37-year-old recipient of the 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize, which honors grassroots environmental activists worldwide, knows this systematic violence intimately. Faced with state abandonment and political marginalization, rural Afro-descendant communities in her region of northern Cauca have been practicing subsistence agriculture and artisanal gold mining for centuries. While economically precarious, this livelihood allowed local communities to maintain autonomous ways of life, with little protection from the state but also with minimal intervention from national development projects and a certain degree of insulation from Colombia’s armed conflict. For Francia, this changed abruptly in 2009, when the Colombian government granted outside individuals and multinational corporations titles to undertake large-scale gold mining on her community’s territories, thereby threatening the inhabitants with imminent eviction.

Over the next decade, Márquez’s steadfast struggle to defend the integrity of the rivers and soil as well as the dignity of her people launched her into the international limelight but also made her a target of concerted attacks. Along with the other members of the local Afro-Colombian Community Council, she began receiving death threats when they organized to expel dredgers who continued to illegally extract gold even after the mining title had been legally revoked in 2010.

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Thanks !

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