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Colombian-Canadians and allies rally in opposition to the killing of human rights defenders

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Photo: Brent Patterson

On July 26, Peace Brigades International-Canada was present for the rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa organized in solidarity with the "march for life and the defence of social leaders" in Colombia global day of action.

In Canada, rallies also took place in Toronto, Winnipeg, Montreal and Quebec City.

Prior to the day of action, the Toronto Star reported that "almost three years after the peace deal was signed, Colombian-Canadians will take to the streets on Friday as part of a global effort to draw attention to the situation in their homeland.”

Alfonso Ibarra, an organizer of the Ottawa-Gatineau rally, said in this media release, "The free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia signed in 2011 was supposed to improve respect for human rights in Colombia."

He then highlighted, "The Canadian government remains silent in the face of this latest wave of systematic killings. Canada must do more than support its extractive (oil and mining) companies, and instead prioritize the life of land defenders in Colombia."

A significant number of human rights defenders have been killed in Colombia despite the peace agreement reached between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on August 24, 2016 and ratified on November 29-30, 2016.

La Jornada reports that the estimated number of social activists killed varies from 292 to 734 people over the past three years.

"According to statistics from the Ombudsman’s Office, between January 2016 and June 2019, at least 486 social leaders and defenders were killed in Colombia. But the Attorney General’s Office maintains that the deaths only total 292, while organizations such as the Institute for Peace and Development Studies document 734 homicides in the same period."

In this eight-page report (June 2018), Front Line Defenders highlighted, "Most killings of HRDs [human rights defenders] are related to disputes over land and territory, the emergence of new political groupings, mining interests or the exploitation of other natural resources and drug trafficking."

It adds, "In most cases, the reason for these killings has been the fact that the HRD was working on issues such as denouncing or opposing illegal economic activity and criminality; claiming their own or collective rights; and supporting policies derived from the implementation of the agreements such as the programme to replace the cultivation of coca with other crops."

For example, Amazon Watch reported in March 2018, "According to [the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission, which has been accompanied by PBI-Colombia since 1994], cattle ranchers and palm oil and banana growers have counted on the support of the AGC [the paramilitary Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces] to intimidate, threaten and kill the community leaders who are defending their land from the expansion of agribusiness and commercial logging interests in the region."

Given that ongoing violence, the Toronto Star reports, "According to Canada’s refugee board, the number of Colombian refugee claimants tripled to 2,582 last year from 820 in 2016, with another 671 seeking asylum in the first three months of 2019 alone."

As noted in this PBI-Canada article, the Peace Brigades International-Colombia Project was present at the "march for life" rallies in Bogota, Barrancabermeja and Apartado, the three cities where PBI-Colombia volunteers are based.

Brent Patterson is a writer, political activist and the executive director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. This article originally appeared on the Peace Brigades International-Canada website.

Photo: Brent Patterson

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