Leaders from the Bajo Atrato express their concerns to the international community

“Our lives are confined, we cannot leave, the illegal armed actors are disputing our lands, and those who speak out or try to speak out become military objectives.” These are the words of a leader from the Curbaradó river basin during a meeting held on Friday 29 March between community leaders from the Bajo Atrato and representatives of the international community. The situation in the Bajo Atrato continues to be tense and the humanitarian crisis has yet to be resolved. Since 16 February, when the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission (CIJP) first reported an AGC neo-paramilitary incursion in the Curbaradó and Jiguamiandó river basins,[1] the situation has only gotten worse. The indigenous and Afro-descendant communities in this part of Chocó are facing confinement, which has generated a humanitarian crisis due to a lack of access to medicine and food. This situation has already caused the death of four minors.[2]


The movement of different illegal armed actors throughout the region, confrontations between the Gaitanista Self-defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN),[3] and reports that anti-personnel landmines were planted in the area are factors that generate fear and result in the civilian population’s confinement.[4] It is must be noted that the Bajo Atrato’s inhabitants have historically been hard hit by the presence of legal and illegal armed actors in their territory, the fight to control the land, and illegal economies, among other factors. Since 14 February, the Nueva Esperanza Humanitarian Zone, in Jiguamiandó, has seen two violations of its protected space, when ELN[5] and AGC[6] members entered the Humanitarian Zone.


Since the alarm was first sounded, CIJP has continuously reported on the situation faced by the civilian population. According to the communities, there has not been a comprehensive State response to guarantee the population’s security and basic health conditions. Since 2016, CIJP has made known the expansion of AGC territorial and social control, in addition to an expansion of the ELN presence in the region since the end of 2017. Today, the communities face a situation that could have been avoided.

Within this context, leaders from Curbaradó, Jiguamiandó, Cacarica, and Pedeguita and Mancilla (river basins in the Bajo Atrato) traveled to Bogotá to make known the insecurity and humanitarian crisis that they are facing. Along with other activities, the communities met with representatives of the embassies of the Netherlands, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Norway, Ireland, Germany, representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner (OHCHR), Christian Aid, and Diakonia, to request support and that these entities visit the region.


During the meetings, individuals from each territory shared their experiences regarding the current situation and also the historic context of land dispossession and the lack of effective restitution in Urabá. Carolina Casama, a leader from Alto Guayabal, explained that due to the insecurity and confinement they cannot go out to work in the fields and collect their food. In addition, people have malaria and cannot access medicine. Since there isn’t a nearby health post and due to the lack of a timely state response they would have to travel to the nearest municipalities, which are over two hours away.

Benjamin, a leader from Curbaradó talked about the need to pressure the government to implement the Peace Agreements. The agreements contain a protection component for human rights defenders and leaders, in addition to mechanisms to dismantle the structures that have been inherited from paramilitaries.

Urabá: a contemporary History of violence and territory

Urabá is a region that historically has been hard hit by the armed conflict, due to its numerous economic interests and its geostrategic location. Danilo Rueba, Secretary General of CIJP, explained how the control of these ancestral territories is taking place in a context of corruption and non-compliance of Constitutional Court rulings that order land restitution for small-scale farmers who have been pushed off their lands. He also talked about how this is closely tied to the control exercised by illegal armed groups of a neo-paramilitary nature, under the logic of monopolizing the land: “we believe that actions connected to economic investments must respect human rights, that the criminal structures must be fought, and a dialogue must be established with the communities so that they can continue using and enjoying their territories: if there is an interest to develop or invest in the territory, there needs to be prior consultation with the communities protected by international law and a democratic dialogue needs to be established to reach social agreements with environmental and social mitigation strategies.”

Lucía González, a Truth Commission member, was also at the meeting and commented that she recently traveled to the Nueva Esperanza Humanitarian Zone in the Cacarica river basin during a joint visit carried out last 4 March by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) and the Truth Commission. They traveled to Cacarica to collect testimonies from victims of the conflict. During the meeting, Lucía shared her experience from the trip to the Bajo Atrato and acknowledged the communities courage and resistance, highlighting their will and efforts for reconciliation and forgiveness. She also emphasized the importance of turning the Bajo Atrato case into an emblematic case on Non-Repetition, with the aim of carrying out an in-depth analysis of the conflict’s structural causes in this territory, because after the demobilization of the different armed groups the conflict continues and new actors have also appeared in the region.


Luis Novoa, representing OHCHR, thanked the communities for the space and emphasized that his office is closely monitoring this case and carrying out concrete monitoring actions, affirming that “hope is not lost.” The meeting concluded with representatives from the embassies insisting on the importance of monitoring this case, and organizing, in brief, a visit to the region to demonstrate the international community’s support for the communities of the Bajo Atrato.

Luis Novoa (OHCHR)

PBI Colombia


[1] CIJP: Operaciones neoparamilitares en Territorio Colectivo de Curvaradó, 16 February 2019

[2] El Espectador: La ayuda humanitaria en Chocó no llega por el incremento de combates en la zona, 13 March 2019

[3] CIJP: Reactivación de enfrentamientos entre el ELN y paramilitares de las AGC, 22 February 2019

[4] CIJP: Sitiada la población en Zona Humanitaria, 20 February 2018

[5] CIJP: ELN deja en libertad a los jóvenes que se llevó sobre la 1:50 p.m., 19 February 2019

[6] CIJP: Sitiamiento por AGC en Zonas Humanitarias, 24 February 2019

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