Urgent Action - Land claimants attacked by armed men

Thursday 26 March 2015, by Amnistía Internacional

Scores of armed men attacked land claimants in the Afro-descendant and Afro-mestizo community of Pedeguita Mansilla, northern Colombia, days after the community was denied protection measures. They are claiming restitution of their collective lands.

At dusk on 18 March, scores of armed men, most of them hooded, arrived at the home of Marlene Benítez, a member of the Pedeguita Mansilla Community Council in Ríosucio Municipality, Chocó Department. Some of the men began to fire their weapons indiscriminately. The armed men destroyed some of the community members’ houses and stole their cattle and other goods, such as food and tools. Marlene Benítez’s son, her neighbour Felipe Triana and two other men were beaten and injured. The armed men, who had passed the police post in San Andrés on their way to Pedeguita Mansilla, forced Marlene Benítez, her four-year-old granddaughter, her son, Felipe Triana and two other men onto a truck and took them to Belén de Bajirá. The truck stopped at the police post in Belén de Bajirá. Marlene Benítez cried for help, but the police refused to intervene or to detain the men. The community members were nevertheless released and remained behind in Belén de Bajirá to seek medical attention for those injured.

In October 2013 Marlene Benítez and other members of the community returned to Pedeguita Mansilla, which they had been forced to abandon 16 years ago after they were forcibly displaced by paramilitaries. The community found that their lands had been occupied by powerful economic interests. The Pedeguita Mansilla Community Council has been claiming their collective territories back for many years. In 2014 the Ministry of Defence blocked a request for precautionary measures for the Pedeguita Mansilla community requested by the state’s Land Restitution Unit. On 6 March 2015, days before the attack, a request for precautionary measures supported by the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, was rejected by a land restitution judge in Quibdó, Chocó Department, arguing that there was no apparent threat.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

In the late1990s, paramilitaries, either acting alone or in collusion with the armed forces, were responsible for killings, death threats and the forced displacement of numerous Afro-descendant, Afro-mestizo and Indigenous People in Chocó Department, including in the Jiguamiandó and Curvaradó River Basins, the neighbouring community of Pedeguita Mansilla and the Indigenous reservation (resguardo) of Urada-Jiguamiandó.

Since then, the Afro-descendant and Afro-mestizo people in these areas have faced repeated threats and killings at the hands of paramilitary groups operating in close collusion with the armed forces and economic interests as they attempt to reclaim their lands. The lands are located within the collective land titles granted to Afro-descendant communities in the region. These interests have sought to develop large-scale agricultural projects, including African palm and cattle ranching, within the lands recognized as part of the collective land titles of the Afro-descendant communities. Similarly, when members of the neighbouring Pedeguita Mansilla community began to return to their lands in October 2013 they began receiving paramilitary death threats.

In June 2011 a Victims and Land Restitution Law with Decree Laws for the restitution of collective territories of Afro-Descendant and Indigenous communities was approved and came into force at the beginning of 2012. The Pedeguita Mansilla Community Council is seeking to get their land back under this new legal framework. So far only one Indigenous collective territory and no Afro-descendant territory has been returned.

Paramilitaries have previously threatened Marlene Benítez stating that they had received the land the community is claiming from a woman closely linked to paramilitary structures operating in the north-west of Colombia.

Afiliaciones

Afiliado a la Federación Internacional de Derechos Humanos
y la Organización Mundial contra la Tortura
Estatus Consultivo en la OEA

José Alvear Restrepo

Nace en Medellín el 1 de julio de 1913 en el seno de una familia de profundas convicciones religiosas y bajo los parámetros de la ideología del partido conservador. Realiza sus estudios en la Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad de Antioquia, donde se gradúa de Abogado con una brillante tesis titulada: "Conflictos del trabajo: la huelga"

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