Activists in Colombia exceedingly endangered 30 years after leaders of ‘Alternative Nobel’ Laureate organisation were killed
Press releases 25.02.2020
Wednesday, 26 February marks 30 years since three prominent leaders of the Association of Peasant Workers of Carare (ATCC) and a BBC journalist were shot dead by paramilitaries in Colombia. Evidence indicates involvement by the Colombian police and army in the killings, yet relatives and colleagues of the victims are still waiting for justice. The Right Livelihood Foundation, which bestowed ATCC with the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’ in 1990, is calling for an end to impunity in Colombia. So far in 2020, on average, one activist has been killed every day in the country.
“By killing the ATCC founders, the murderers wanted to stop one of the most successful peace initiatives in Colombia: an unarmed peasants association showing that dialogue and community organisation were unique tools to break the spiral of violence. 30 years have passed without justice. With murders of social activists averaging one per day in Colombia, we urge the Colombian government to take urgent action to end impunity and create a safe space for civil society in the country”, said Ole von Uexkull, Executive Director at the Right Livelihood Foundation.
The Association of Peasant Workers of Carare was created in 1987, as a peaceful response to the violence in the Magdalena area. “Daily life was strictly controlled by the legal and illegal armed actors, who faced the population with four options: you either arm yourselves as guerrillas, arm yourselves as paramilitaries, you leave the region, or you die. People, already tired of the situation and without fear of death, took a fifth option: to organise themselves”, said Donaldo Quiroga, leader of ATCC.
Between 1987 and 1990, the organisation’s successful strategy was dialogue and local peace agreements with armed groups, and mediation within the community. But in 1990, the president, vice president and secretary of the ATCC were killed in the restaurant ‘La Tata’, in Cimitarra, where they used to meet. Josué Vargas, Miguel Ángel Barajas and Saúl Castañeda were shot dead together with Colombian journalist Silvia Duzan, who was reporting for BBC´s Channel 4.
“The execution was carried out by members of paramilitary groups in association with members of the national army and the national police, as the Regional Prosecutor’s Office and the Technical Investigation Corps could verify”, states a report presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights by the Colombian Commission of Jurists, which represents the families of the four victims.
“For the families, it has been extremely painful to wait for justice. Thirty years is a long time. Six presidents and thirteen prosecutors have passed without doing enough to thoroughly investigate the massacre and punish the guilty”, said Héctor Barajas, son of Miguel Ángel Barajas.
This morning, the Right Livelihood Foundation sent a letter to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, calling for a swift decision on the case. ‘’We have been sitting with ATCC members at the same restaurant in Cimitarra where their founders were killed, and we have received relatives of the victims at our Head office in Stockholm, who themselves were forced into exile to save their own lives. We stand by them and call on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to finally reach a decision on the case so that justice for the victims and their families can be delivered, said Ole von Uexkull.
106 human rights defenders were murdered in Colombia during 2019, according to the organisation Front Line Defenders. From January 1st to February 19th, 51 social leaders and human rights defenders have been killed according to the Colombian institute Indepaz. The UN Security Council recently called on the Colombian government to take urgent action on the issue.
Unique footage of the film The Law of Silence about the four killings in Cimitarra, by film producer Paola Desiderio and high resolution pictures of ATCC can be provided upon request.
For interview requests with members of ATCC and/or relatives of the founders, please contact our communications team as listed below.
About the Right Livelihood Foundation
Established in 1980, the Right Livelihood Award honours and supports courageous people solving global problems. To date, there are 178 Laureates from 70 countries. The Swedish Right Livelihood Foundation presenting the Award sees its role as being a megaphone and shield for the Laureates and provides them with long-term support. It also helps protect Award recipients whose lives and liberty are in danger. The Foundation has Special Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council.