On Friday, December 8th, community leader Hernán Bedoya from the collective territory of Pedeguita and Mancilla was assassinated. The Comisión Interclesial de Justicia y Paz reports that he was shot several times while he was on his way home. Paramilitary forces from the group Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia are suspected in his death. Hernán had been receiving death threats since 2015.
Hernán’s assassination is the second of two community leaders killed in ten days in the Urabá region. He was a member of the local community council, worked with CONPAZ, and worked against the agro-industrial projects trying to claim area shared community lands. CONPAZ is an organization with presence in the whole of Colombia and is very close with the Presbyterian Church of Colombia.
Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and the Presbyterian Church (USA) are very alarmed at the enormous risk and danger that community leaders in Colombia are facing when working for justice and peace implementation in their communities. Between January and August 2017, over 101 social leaders were killed in Colombia. Death threats and assassinations are often a tool to target and deter activists working towards community change, protecting territory and livelihoods, and the implementation of peace with justice.
Our colleague and friend from the Presbyterian Church of Colombia, Germán Zarate, wrote these words earlier this week:
“Those who do not want peace are now wanting to make cowards of those of us who’ve dedicated our lives to peace in their desperation. For this reason as I have said on different occasions: NOW, while they are trying to implement the accords and establish dialogues with insurgent groups, is sadly when more death threats including full assassinations of human rights defenders will emerge. Our will is unchanged and we firmly believe in the promise of the Gospel. For this reason your accompaniment and presence is very important. And I reiterate that the accompaniers and all other brothers and sisters that come to be with us will be cared for and protected by their brothers and sisters in Christ. To date we have watched five personal friends killed in this way with whom we shared the dream of a just country in which there is peace for all.”
PPF and PCUSA condemn Hernán’s assassination. They call on citizens and the U.S. State Department and U.S. Embassy official in Colombia contact the Colombian government and demand:
- Immediate, effective protection of the families of Hernán Bedoya and Mario Manuel Castaño, communities in the Urabá region, and all social leaders and human rights defenders throughout Colombia.
- A strong condemnation by the US State Department of the ongoing threats and assassinations of social leaders and increased pressure to fulfill the ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
- Prompt and complete implementation of the peace accord with the FARC (and the forthcoming accord with the National Liberation Army (ELN), when completed), including meaningful inclusion of Afro-descendant and Indigenous peoples throughout the implementation process.
- Protection of Indigenous and Afro-Colombian peoples’ territorial and other collective rights, provided through meaningful inclusion and consultation with Afro-descendant and Indigenous peoples.