Take Action for Rios Vivos and other Colombian Defenders as Killings Increase

Since March 14, some 9,000 activists and supporters of Amnesty Canada sent email messages to Export Development Canada’s CEO and Canada’s International Trade Minister demanding remedy for the harm caused by a disastrous big dam project that Canada helped finance in Colombia. This action was developed in coordination with Rios Vivos (Spanish for Living Rivers), a coalition whose members have been threatened and attacked – with six leaders killed – as they continue to speak out against the impacts of the dam on the environment vital to their health and livelihoods.

“How heartening it is to learn that there has been so much action in Canada,” said Rios Vivos spokesperson Isabel Zuleta, pictured above giving a presentation during last November’s visit to Canada. “I will share your activism with our members so they can take strength from it in these hard times.”

We will be following up with Canadian authorities regarding their response and will report back as soon as possible.

New Campaign Priority

Right now, we are seeking to increase pressure on the Colombian government because of concerns that measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are being used as a pretext to weaken or withdraw protection for threatened human rights defenders like Isabel Zuleta and the communities she works with.

“Things are very bad around here,” Isabel Zuleta told us. “With this pandemic, the risk increases. Today we face the terrifying situation in which the virus is being used to justify attacks on defenders. I am very concerned because there are so many armed groups and paramilitaries in our territories.”

Before the pandemic, Colombia was already one of the world’s most deadly countries to speak up for rights and challenge the powerful. Now the situation is even more dangerous. Since authorities ordered people to stay at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19, threatened defenders have been unable to move from one location to another in search of safety. Attackers know where to find their targets. As well, some protective measures previously offered by the National Protection Unit have been reduced.

At least 14 human rights defenders have been killed during the COVID-19 quarantine. They include women’s rights and community activist Carlota Isabel Salinas Péres (above left) of the Organización Femenina Popular, a grassroots organization that Amnesty Canada activists have worked with for years, and Marco Rivadeneira (above right), a defender of Putumayo’s campesino farmer communities.

On April 6, El Espectador reported that a judge had recognized the dangers faced by ten threatened human rights defenders pictured below – Isabel Zuleta is second from the left in the top row – as well as their communities, and ordered the government to ensure the protection of their lives.  It is vital that this order is implemented and that other defenders at risk are also protected from harm.


1. E-Action

Sign the online urgent action ‘Colombia: Protect Human Rights Defenders’ here. Then share and encourage others to sign the action too.

2. Social Media Action

Colombian authorities use Twitter and are mindful of their international reputation. Tweet a message of concern, tagging the Minister of the Interior and the National Protection Unit as in the sample message below.

3. Action for Rios Vivos Defenders

If you have not yet done so, visit this Action Blog for the river defenders of Rios Vivos and take the actions listed there.

4. Learn More

Thank you for speaking out for land and water defenders in Colombia!