Witness for Peace was greatly saddened this morning to hear of the recent assassination of our Colombian partner Emilsen Manyoma Mosquera and her partner Joe Javier Rodallega. Emilsen was an Afro-Colombian community leader with CONPAZ (a network of community and victim organizations) living in the port city of Buenaventura. She worked to support local peacebuilding initiatives in the Bajo Calima region, the Puente Nayero Humanitarian Space, and neighboring Punta Icaco Humanitarian Space. Although all the details of the assassination are still unclear, Colombian human rights organization la Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz reports that last Saturday night, Emilsen and Joe were obligated to get into a taxi in Barrio Villa Linda, Comuna 12 of Buenaventura. Their bodies, inflicted with both knife and gun wounds, were found this morning (January 17) in Barrio El Progreso, Comuna 10 of Buenaventura.
The news of this assassination hits us hard at Witness for Peace as we have been accompanying community processes in Buenaventura for years and have had a special focus on the waterfront region of Buenaventura where Emilsen worked to build peace. At various times, Emilsen warmly invited us to stay in the Punta Icaco Humanitarian Space.
The assassination of her and her partner occurs in a context of increasing threats in this waterfront region, with 5 families being recently displaced from the nearby street of Piedras Cantan after an armed neo-paramilitary confrontation on January 2. There were also 14 families displaced last December due to neo-paramilitary threats. Despite the high presence of state security forces (military and police) in the area, threats and human rights violations continue to occur at an alarming rate against the Afro-Colombian population of Buenaventura.
Despite the advances made by the Colombian government and the historic peace accords with the FARC that are currently being implemented, threats and assassinations of human rights defenders (HRDs) in Colombia continue to increase, with a total of 85 assassinations in 2016. In fact, according to the organization Somos Defensores, 78% of total aggressions against HRDs in Colombia in the first half of 2016 were committed by paramilitaries and Colombian state security forces.
Witness for Peace has been accompanying human rights defenders and communities in various regions of Colombia since the year 2000, and we are privileged and proud to have two Afro-Colombians on our National Board. Our hearts were broken once again recently when we heard of three assassinations of family members of WFP board member Marino Córdoba. Marino’s 21-year old son, Wilmar Córdoba Forero was brutally murdered by machete by four paramilitaries inBelén de Bajirá in northwestern Colombia on October 19. Other extended family members of Marino, 30-year old Moisés Mosquera and 52-year old Juan de la Cruz Mosquera were assassinated this last January 7 and January 9 in the municipality of Rio Sucio (see statement from AFRODES here). Marino Córdoba, a close partner of Witness for Peace for years, and his family have suffered violence for over two decades as they were originally displaced from their homes in Urabá during the 1996 paramilitary massacre known as Operation Genesis.
In this context of continued violence, we at Witness for Peace support our partner organizations’ demands for justice for the victims, including that the United States government and United States embassy in Colombia contact the Colombian government and demand that:
- The Colombia Attorney General’s office (la Fiscalia) quickly and efficiently investigates, identifies, and charges those responsible for these assassinations.
- Neo-paramilitary groups are completely dismantled throughout Colombia.
- Military forces throughout Colombia cut any ties with criminal or paramilitary organizations to guarantee peace and security in the country.
- Responsible authorities guarantee the security of family members of those who have been assassinated as well as other community members and residents of the area.
We also support the United Nations and diplomatic corps in Colombia as well as human rights organizations as they accompany and condemn these systematic violations.
We are in solidarity with our Colombian partners as they grieve these unjust deaths and strive for justice and peace in remembrance of the victims.