Francia Marquez in Colombia. Photo credit: Goldman Enviromental Prize,

The organizations of the Norwegian “Colombia Forum,” including Karibu, have sent a letter to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs where they express great concern for the serious human rights situation in Colombia, especially for the country’s social leaders. The letter was sent after new attacks on activists and leaders in social movements.

Translated from the original Norwegian text.

The undersigned organizations in the Colombia Forum wish to again express our concern for the serious human rights situation in Colombia, especially for the country’s social leaders.

Saturday May 4 in Santander de Quilichao, North Cauca, an armed group opened fire on the environment and human rights activist Francia Marquez and other leaders and members of the meeting community council Aconc (Asociación de Consejos Comunitarios del Norte del Cauca) and PCN (Proceso de Comunidades Negras). After a 15 minute shot exchange between the armed the group and the bodyguards of the social leaders, all the participants were evacuated with their lives intact. Three bodyguards were injured during this murder trial, which is the latest in a worrying trend of growing threats and attacks on grassroots organizations and social leaders in Colombia.

The Colombia Forums members find that many of our partner organizations are affected by this trend.

Francia Marquez visited Norway in October 2018 as one of the main appellants at 2018 Globalization Conference (Norwegian Social Forum) and as contributor to the “Together for Peace in the Colombia” Conference. Marquez also met the Norwegian foreign service during their visit and emphasized the precarious situation human rights defenders in the rural Colombia who want to see a successful holistic implementation of the peace agreement. Sofía Garzón from PCN, who was also shot at, visited Norway in 2014.

PCN is a partner both with Norwegian People’s Aid and SAIH.

Colombia’s Ombudsman (Defensoría del Pueblo) has registered 972 serious threats to social leaders between March 2018 and February 2019 – an increase of 47% from the same period the year before. Colombian authorities were notified in advance of serious killings in 73% of cases where endangered social leaders have lost their life. So far this year, 25 social leaders have been killed according to the Ombudsman.

The most serious security threats are mainly experienced in the areas most affected by the internal conflict. This is evident in the latest report from the UN Human Rights Council on the situation in Colombia. The report states that failure to implement the peace agreement is one of the main reasons for this that killings and threats to social leaders still take place in the country.

Francia Marquez received the Goldman environmental award in 2018 for her struggle for the environment, and for the struggle related to local people’s right of access over their own territories. The Government’s extraction/mining policy makes both large companies and criminal groups have increased interest in extracting natural resources, which leads to further conflict and excitement with affected communities. The assault on Francia Marquez happened while she and other social leaders were preparing for a meeting with the Colombian government on May 8. At the meeting they will discuss the right of recourse and the extraction issues with central authorities.

The undersigned organizations ask the Norwegian government:

  1. Insist on real follow-up and progress in the implementation of the peace agreement with FARC, and restoration of peace negotiations with ELN.
  2. Endorse  recommendations of the UN’s latest report on the human rights situation in Colombia, and insist that Colombia’s authorities adopt these recommendations.
  3. Support local communities and grassroots organizations in their call for protection strategies with focus on preventive measures and counter impunity through independent investigations, in order to better tackle the structural causes that generate risk.


Colombia Forum

Signatories of the May 8th, 2019 letter to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The original letter in Norwegian can be found here.