Article by PBI-Canada
Peace Brigades International-Canada is working with the Peace Brigades International-Colombia Project to host a series of virtual bilateral meetings with Members of Parliament, government and agency officials, civil society allies, two Colombian human rights defenders and a community leader from San Luis de Palenque.
These meetings are being scheduled over a proposed ten-day period next month. We are also discussing a webinar that would occur after these meetings.
The meetings will feature Alexandra González Zapata from the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (CSPP) and Fabian Laverde from the Social Corporation for Community Advisory and Training Services (COSPACC).
While the meetings will discuss the escalating violence against human rights defenders in Colombia during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and other key issues, a primary focus will be the criminalization of eight community leaders in relation to the Toronto-based crude oil and natural gas company Frontera Energy.
The United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, raised this matter in this recent report to the Human Rights Council.
Forst’s report noted (on page 9, points 29 and 30), “Social protests [took place] between 2016 and 2018 in response to the failure of Canadian public company Frontera Energy to fulfill its obligation to compensate communities affected by environmental damage and to repair damaged roads.”
It then highlights, “In November 2018, Frontera Energy signed two agreements with the Ministry of Defence for a total of US$1,343,106 to secure army protection for its activities.”
El Espectador has reported, “On November 27, 2018, at 2:45 in the morning, an operation of 200 men, between members of the Police and the National Army, who landed in two helicopters, captured them in San Luis de Palenque.”
Forst notes that on December 4, 2018, the army and the police accused the aforementioned leaders of being members of an illegal armed group.
With respect to the agreements with the Ministry of Defence, Frontera Energy has commented in this media report, “These agreements are recognized by the Constitutional Court to provide support in the security and protection of private activities, as they are activities of general interest and of public utility.”
The company has also noted in this report (on page 41), “Despite the fact that the Company is committed to operating in a socially responsible manner, the Company may face opposition from local communities with respect to its current and future projects, which could adversely affect the Company’s business, results of operations and financial condition.”
That section continues, “In Colombia, the Company currently carries out and plans to carry out activities in areas classified by the government as indigenous reserves (resguardos) and Afro-Colombian lands (territorios colectivos).”
PBI-Colombia has accompanied the Committee of Solidarity with Political Prisoners since 1998 and the Social Corporation for Community Counseling and Training since 2009.
Photos: 1) A November 12, 2018 protest in San Luis de Palenque against Frontera Energy, about two weeks prior to the arrest of community leaders, published by the newspaper Las Chivas. 2) A December 14, 2018 protest in San Luis de Palenque demanding the release of the eight social leaders arrested on November 27, 2018.