Colombia: New tragedy looming in Bojayá and Bajo Atrato

The territorial control strategy advanced by the Gaitanistas Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia, AGC) and the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, ELN) in territories previously controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Revolucionarias Armadas de Colombia, FARC) in Chocó puts these communities at imminent risk of human rights violations once again. State action must be emphatic to ensure that the human rights of people in Chocó be respected, said Amnesty International.
The last early warning issued on 24 January by the Ombudsman’s Office cautioned that, in the municipalities of Bojayá, Medio Atrato (Chocó) and Vigía del Fuerte (Antioquia), the risk of human rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law persists and has gotten worse due to the “strong likelihood of armed clashes taking place in Afro-Colombian communities belonging to the Greater Community Council of the Comprehensive Farmers’ Association of Atrato (Consejo Comunitario Mayor de la Asociación Campesina Integral del Atrato, COCOMACIA) and on Indigenous reservations in these municipalities.”[1]
The Bojayá massacre 16 years ago marked the beginning of a violent history in Colombia. Thousands of people were victims of clashes between the FARC and paramilitary groups, while the state took no measures to avoid this. Bojayá is an emblematic case of the state’s inability to protect communities living in armed conflict zones. At that time, the Ombudsman’s Office also issued various alerts demonstrating the lack of protection for Afro-descendent and Indigenous communities in the municipality, and the inadequate state response, leaving communities in a vulnerable position.
Currently, despite a Peace Agreement signing with the FARC, the armed conflict has intensified in this area. Statistics on murders and forced displacement, among other forms of violence that have arisen after the Peace Agreement was signed, are evidence of the re-victimization occurring in this area. With today’s announcement that negotiations between the ELN and the government have been suspended, communities fear that the conflict is intensifying in the department, putting their lives and integrity at serious risk.
In a recent report, “The Years of Solitude Continue: The Peace Agreement and Guarantees of Non-Repetition in Chocó,” Amnesty International warned that the environment of exclusion, neglect and invisibility of this territory, created by the Colombian state, reinforces these communities’ vulnerable state without there having been a comprehensive institutional response beyond a merely military response.
Communities living in these areas have reported to Amnesty International that paramilitary structures are colluding with the state, and this has allowed them to realign within the context of implementing a Peace Agreement in the territories.
“The state must take urgent measures so that a massacre similar to what took place in Bojayá in 2002 does not occur again in Colombia. Clashes between the ELN, paramilitary groups and state security forces continue to directly threaten Indigenous and Afro-descendent communities in the country. The organization makes an urgent appeal for immediate protection measures to be taken. The people living in the midst of the armed conflict demand a comprehensive state response. This serious situation cannot be made invisible under the mantle of implementing a Peace Agreement with the FARC,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
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[1]Ombudsman’s Office of Colombia, EARLY WARNING N° 011-18,…