Defending the rights of communities to recover the land that belongs to them

“I grew up in the middle of violence and forced displacement in the Curbaradó river basin. The memories of violence that I carry with me, have led me to stand up and become a human rights defender, to defend communities so that they can recover what is theirs. By this, I mean land. Everything that we have lived through inspires me and encourages me to defend the rights of communities and historical memory. To me, human rights represent life, dignity, freedom and peace; but for me, first and foremost is the right to land, the right to a dignified life and the fundamental rights to education and health.

We human rights defenders are threatened and attacked because we are not working just anywhere, we are in strategic areas: where businessmen and other third parties have interests. In some lands they implement megaprojects, or they want to develop intensive cattle farming and lots of other projects like the exploitation of minerals, gold and oil. These are the very places where we carry out our struggle for the lands and lives of the communities to be respected, above these interests. We human rights defenders do not stop when we are threatened, when they try and take our belongings and properties, leaving them free for others to take, we human rights defenders maintain our dignity to the end and if we have to give our lives up, we do so, but we always tell the truth.

We should all support human rights defenders, because we all have rights. If you don’t have land you have a home, if you don’t have a home you have a child, and that child has a right to education. So supporting defenders means you are supporting yourself as well.”

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José Francisco Álvarez is a young leader from the Las Camelias Humanitarian Zone in the Collective Territory of Curbaradó (Chocó department). From a very young age he took on the leadership in his Territory for the defence of communities and the right to land. He is working on the right to an education for rural communities who cannot access schools for different reasons and is also promoting an initiative for the creation of a Peace University in the Bajo Atrato region. He also created a rap collective called Los Resistentes with other young people in the Humanitarian Zone, to tell the story of the forced displacement caused by Operation Black September (Operación Septiembre Negro) in 1996[1]. In 2016, the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz) produced an album of various songs from the different communities, including a song by Los Resistentes[2]. The song can be heard here, with the agreement of the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission.


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In July 2016 in Urabá, a delegation of leaders from Curbaradó and the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission, met with Eamon Gilmore, EU special envoy for the peace process, the EU Ambassador in Colombia and representatives from the Embassies of France, Sweden and Spain, and the Spanish state cooperation agency, to talk about the risks for human rights defenders and land claimants in Curbaradó and the Urabá region.

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[1] Contagio Radio: Una luz de memoria en el Bajo Atrato, 19 December 2017

[2] Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz –CIJP): Voces de paz, música desde el alma de las comunidades, 28 April 2017; CIJP: Lanzamiento del disco Voces de Paz, 28 April 2017

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