Tag Archives: Colombia

Women defending water in Magdalena Medio under threat

The Escazú Agreement was recently ratified in Colombia, following three years where the legislation was blocked by the government of Iván Duque. This is an important milestone in the protection of the rights of women environmental defenders in what remains by far the most dangerous country in the world for the defense of the environment.

Members of Fedepesan document environmental damage in San Silvestre wetlands. Photo: Edu Leon

The Escazú Agreement contains specific sections focused on environmentalists, promotes the protection of environmental leaders, provides increased access to environmental-related information, and increased mechanisms to ensure the effective participation of civil society. These mechanisms are crucial in a country where, in the last decade alone, 322 environmental defenders have been assassinated. 2021 was the most lethal year for those defending the land and the environment, during which 33 people were killed.

Of particular concern is the intensification of attacks against environmentalists in the region of Magdalena Medio, particularly the attacks against women environmental defenders who are defending water and life. It is increasingly the case that attacks against women environmental leaders in the region occur while they are carrying out their work denouncing the oil industry and its links with armed structures, in addition to corruption involving local public officials.[1]

Yuli Velásquez fishing in the San Silvestre wetlands. Photo: Edu Leon

One of the most serious cases involves the sustained attacks on environmental leader Yuli Andrea Velásquez Briceño, president of the Federation of Artisanal, Environmental and Tourist Fishermen of Santander (Fedepesán) and executive director of the National Network of Artisanal Fisherwomen, a network which will be officially inaugurated on November 26, 2022. Yuli introduces herself as an “amphibious being, daughter of a murdered fisherman, born and raised on the banks of the Magdalena River”, Colombia’s main artery. The leader is clear about where her risks come from: “we defend our territory, we bring attention to the pollution being caused by industry, and we oppose the armed groups that have ties to the companies [operating in the area]. When a defender denounces the entities that should guarantee environmental conservation, they begin to receive threats because of the relationships that those entities have with armed actors. In an attempt to silence us, we become victims of systematic attacks.”

Enviromentalist Yuli Velásquez. Photo: Edu Leon

Continue reading Women defending water in Magdalena Medio under threat

Beyond the Peace Agreement: A Global Humanitarian Agreement

Two years ago, amid the upsurge of the pandemic caused by Covid-19, several Colombian ethnic and peasant communities, accompanied by the Commission for Justice and Peace (JyP), sent an open letter to President Iván Duque, requesting a Global Humanitarian Agreement [1].  The call included a cessation of hostilities and new peace talks that would include the multiple armed actors still present in the regions. Since then, over 160 communities, with support from the Catholic Church, [2] international entities [3] and civil society organizations, [4] have sent 57 open letters [5] with the same aim. There has been no response from the outgoing government.

The calls for a ceasefire come from communities who have yet to see any real improvements in their territories since the 2016 signature of the Peace Agreement between the Juan Manuel Santos administration and the FARC-EP. Valle del Cauca, Cauca, Chocó, and Putumayo, among others, are regions where PBI accompanies JyP and ethnic-territorial and peasant communities who are victims of the armed conflict. The state presence is mainly military in these communities and they continue to register intense waves of violence, including the murder of defenders, massacres [6], sexual violence, and forced displacement [7], among other serious human rights violations.

Amid socio-political violence, these community initiatives are still convinced that only through “respectful and honest dialogue and recognition from decisive actors will the territorial context of injustice and structural and historical exclusion be transformed into a new social-environmental pact for peace”. [8] To achieve this, over 160 community initiatives are calling for and implementing a Global Humanitarian Agreement throughout the country.

Danilo Rueda, a JyP coordinator that PBI has walked with for almost three decades, has dedicated his life to peacebuilding from the territories, supporting victims of the armed conflict, and making denouncements whenever their rights are brutally violated, while he himself has been a victim of serious attacks.[9] According to the human rights defender, recently chosen to be High Commissioner for Peace,[10] the Global Humanitarian Agreement seeks to end the armed violence in the territories and safeguard life and integrity in the communities, as well as of those party to the armed confrontations as military enemies.

With determination, Danilo has promoted the Global Humanitarian Agreement proposal to generate conditions for a Global Territorial Peace or Full Peace. This Full Peace signifies “the creation and disposition of a state and government that is open to talking, based on the nature and identity of each armed group, to reach a laying down of arms and the generation of agreements”. According to JyP, and the communities they accompany, to end the attacks and violence against women and to end the recruitment of youth, the call for a Global Humanitarian Agreement must be answered.

In the last 15 years, there have been two processes to lay down arms: one between the Álvaro Uribe Vélez administration and the United Self-defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitary in 2005 and another with the FARC-EP and Juan Manuel Santos administration in 2016. According to Danilo Rueda, lessons were learned from both processes on a diversity of issues, including what is known as transitional justice and the importance of truth. However, even more so, these experiences have shown the fragility of the signed agreements, characterized by a lack of guarantees for ex-combatants and the absence of an effective governmental response to the range of commitments it has taken on. This lack of response and fulfillment of commitments has Colombia “ad portas of initiating new cycles of violence, which already have very concrete manifestations in different territories”, reflects Danilo Rueda with concern. For the human rights defender, the only way to have responsible investment and confront the country’s nearly endemic corruption “is to achieve peace with the range of armed expressions that exist in Colombia today, on both urban and rural levels”. From the territory, the communities have already managed to generate spaces for the distension and differentiation between armed and civilian groups, which, to date, “have been relatively respected by diverse armed groups”.

Nevertheless, five years into the Peace Agreement and with continues efforts to promote the Global Humanitarian Agreement, life in the territories continues to be marked by violence. From Cacarica, in the north of Chocó, the Afro-Colombian leaders Ana de Carmen Martín and John Jairo Mena, both members of the Association of Communities of Self-determination, Life, and Dignity (CAVIDA), speak with conviction, their search is for a dignified life.

For Ana de Carmen Martín it is clear that if the Global Humanitarian Agreement is not implemented “the war will continue”. John Jairo Mena hopes that the new government signifies a possibility for change and a promotion of the proposal for a Global Humanitarian Agreement so that peasants, mestizos, Indigenous, and Black peoples can enjoy their territories.

This is no different from the experience in the Perla Amazónica Peasant Reserve Area, in the south of the country, in Putumayo. From this beautiful Amazonian territory, the emblematic leader Jani Silva, president of the Association for Holistic Sustainable Development – Perla Amazónica (ADISPA), defends peace, life, the territory, and its biodiversity. This has cost her numerous forced displacements and serious threats. Jani is also concerned about the Peace Agreement’s lack of implementation and, therefore, a reconfiguration of the armed conflict. “As a woman and victim of the conflict, I am worried about the conflict’s intensification, and that our work on environmental issues, with a gender perspective, is impacted by the clashes between groups”.

A high-level militarization of the regions—as the state’s sole response to date—in addition to major offensive strikes such as the aerial bombings and flashy attention-grabbing arrests, are far from fulfilling the communities’ repeated calls for peace. To respect the lives of the civilian population and communities in the regions, for full peace with a territorial perspective, the proposal from the regions must be heard, a cry for this war to end. Beyond the Peace Agreement, a Global Humanitarian Agreement is needed.

PBI Colombia.


[1] Comisión de Justicia y Paz: CartaAbierta 2 Salud, alimentación, agua URGENTE y respuesta a ACUERDO HUMANITARIO GLOBALCOVID19, 9 April 2020.

[2] El Tiempo: Iglesia pide al Estado actuar ante crisis humanitaria en Chocó y Antioquia, 19 November 2021.

[3] UN News: El llamado al alto el fuego mundial para ayudar a contener el coronavirus empieza a tener repercusión,  23 March 2020.

[4] Protection International: Organizaciones Internacionales de Sociedad Civil respaldan el llamamiento al Acuerdo Humanitario Global de las Naciones Unidas y el llamado de Misión ONU Colombia por un cese al fuego y piden que se proteja la vida de todas las personas en condición de vulnerabilidad en medio de la pandemia, 3 April 2020.

[5] Somos Génesis: Carta Abierta 57, 26 July 2022.

[6] Indepaz: Informe de Masacres en Colombia durante el 2020 y 2021, 29 November 2021.

[7] El Espectador: En Colombia ha aumentado un 213% el desplazamiento forzado, 27 October 2021.

[8] Somos Génesis: Carta Abierta 55, 15 July 2022.

[9] Frontline Defenders: Case History: Danilo Rueda.

[10] El País: Danilo Rueda: Un defensor de derechos humanos será el comisionado para la Paz de Colombia, 26 July 2022.