Human Rights Crisis in El Chocó

(Translated by Buddy Bell, a CSN Volunteer Translator)

Source: Chocó Solidarity Interethnic Forum and the Quibdó diocese, Apartadó and Istmina – Tadó


The indigenous and community organizations of Chocó department, represented by the Chocó Solidarity Interethnic Forum and the Quibdó diocese, Apartadó and Istmina – Tadó, in the name of civil society, denounce before public and international opinion and before the Colombian state, the grave humanitarian crisis under which residents of the department are living.

General Context
The Chocó lives today in a crucial and worrying situation because of frequent violations of human rights and infractions of international humanitarian laws. These include the right to life, free movement, the right to territory, to health, to housing, and to education.

The principal scenarios which evidence the situation where human rights are violated are as follows:
1. Lack of food security: Although people count on some food subsidies from the state, these prove insufficient for assisting the whole population due to the difficulty in gaining access and due to the lack of total coverage throughout the territory. In addition, there is not a governmental policy to favor high agricultural production, nor a remedy to the fumigations of illicit crops, something which affects the whole soil system. High levels of malnutrition persist. Many children and elderly people suffer daily from hunger.

2. Inefficient health system: There does not exist a healthcare model adapted for indigenous people. There are no consistent promotions or prevention strategies. The Health Development Agency avoids its responsibilities, prolonging and raising the suffering of the population. The quality of hospital infrastructure is very low. There is a high child mortality rate because of preventable illness. There is a worrying lack of general medical staff and of specialists. The majority of people have to go to Medellín and other cities for care. They can’t count on potable water.

3. Low quality in education: The Chocoan education model lacks a localized focus and is not pertinent. This impedes the promotion of a creative and hardworking attitude in youth. The infrastructure is depreciating and of low quality.

4. Intensification of the armed conflict: The presence of armed actors in the department is notorious. They continue with their actions and go everywhere from the mountains to the rivers collecting military intelligence, forcefully enlisting civilians directly or indirectly. There is massive forced displacement, an extortionist economic market, occupation of schools and community housing, intimidation, usurpation of land, sexual assault, siege of communities, selective assassinations of community leaders, threats, and a rise in the use of child soldiers. Many children are sent to urban centers so as not to be recruited by armed groups. The illegal armed groups put rules on communities and limit their autonomy. Murder is a risk for the civil population. The official military uses public spaces to shield itself, putting the population in danger. There is a worrying rise in the use of landmines. In explicit violation of local and international human rights law, armed actors claim land for the purpose of geostrategic positioning.

5. Urban violence: Quibdó and other urban centers grow ever larger because of the presence of displaced persons. The police do not have control of the entire urban perimeter; there exist various criminal bands, and there are a high number of murders. At the same time, small scale drug trafficking and drug addiction in children and youth are growing. Sexual violence is rising. In Quibdó there have been two terrorists attempts this year. Many business owners in Chocó are extorted. Another reflection of the difficult situation is the trend of overcrowding in city jails.

6. Effects due to mining industry expoitation: Uncontrolled mechanized mining has caused grave damage to the natural environment: contamination of rivers and streams, felling of trees, destruction of the vegetation layer, contamination of the air, and sedimentation of the rivers. Moreover, the industry has favored escalation of the armed conflict in populated areas with mine permits, leading to destruction of the family unit, illness caused by improper management of toxic chemicals, damage to agricultural sector, and the loss of the region’s potential abundance in fishing. The community organizations and the Church decry the danger represented by mining concessions authorized to multinationals in Chocó.

Bogotá, July 8, 2014

Mons. Juan Carlos Barreto B.
Diócesis de Quibdó
Mons. Luis Adriano Piedrahita S.
Diócesis de Apartadó
Mons. Julio Hernando García P.
Diócesis de Istmina – Tadó
Diana Leivi Rojas
Foro Interétnico Solidaridad Chocó -FISCH

(This translation may be reprinted as long as its content remains unaltered and the source, author and translator are cited.)

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