Amnesty Norge reports on visit with Colombian human rights defender Jani Silva

Published by Brent Patterson on

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This past November, the Peace Brigades International-Colombia Project accompanied a visit by Norwegian politicians and Amnesty International Norway to meet human rights defender Jani Silva in Putumayo. The trip was arranged by Amnesty’s partner, the Commission for Justice and Peace, which is also accompanied by PBI-Colombia.

We reported on that in this article: PBI-Colombia accompanies Justice and Peace Commission as Norwegian MPs visit the Amazon Pearl Campesina Reserve Zone.

Frank Conde Tangberg, a policy advisor with Amnesty Norway, now tweets:

“I think the reason they want to kill me is that I fight for the environment.” Jani Silva, environmental- & human rights defender from the Putumayo in the south of #Colombia. Silva’s story is that of the campesinos who’ve risked it all in the fight for peace.

In Nov, @Amnesty_Norge/@AmnistiaOnline brought two Norwegian politicians to Putumayo to meet Silva: @GrundeA @Venstre (Liberals) @ingridlil, @Partiet (Greens). The trip was arranged by Amnesty’s partner @Justiciaypazcol, guided by @PBIColombia. @FondoNoruego_es also joined.

In 96, in order to promote/stabilize the campesino economy, overcome the causes of social conflicts affecting them and create the conditions for achieving peace and social justice in the area, the government created the Campesino Reserves Zone (ZRC).

This area was previously controlled by the FARC, and is rich in oil and other natural resources. The presence of armed groups, state abandonment and lack of access to land have laid the grounds for illicit crops and armed conflict to flourish in the area.

“They have something against us social leaders. They don’t want people to organise” Silva. In short, one of the ideas behind ZRC’s is that collective land ownership makes it more difficult for other actors to deprive campesinos of their land. Silva leads the organization ADISPA.

Being a champion for the environment, for campesino’s land rights, for peace and for voluntary crop substitution has made Silva, and her community, targets for the FARC, paramilitaries and maybe even State actors.

“The threats against me started because of the establishment of the ZRC [by paramilitaries] … the second time it was because we wouldn’t take directives from the FARC … Then, we denounced the oil company because of the oil spills and pollution they caused …”

62% of all coca cultivation, is acc. to @UNODC, based in 3 departments of which Putumayo is one Silva told us how campesinos in the area were provided with coca seeds. She said farmers grew coca due to lack of alternatives, or because they were forced to.

“They want the campesinos there, as labourers, in an almost slave-like condition to produce coca” Silva. Refusing to cultivate coca can be very dangerous in Colombia. Without alternatives, it is a difficult to say no to an armed customer knocking on your door to buy your product.

The 2016 Peace Agreement between the government and FARC established a voluntary crop substitution program (PNIS). Its implementation has been far from successful, but ADISPA were successful in their eradication, despite lack of gov. support and risks.

In 2020, @AmnistiaOnline published a report that proved that the failure to implement key aspects of the peace agreement, such as: land reform, crop substitution & dismantling other armed groups, made defending human rights in Colombia more dangerous.

The FARC vacated the areas under their control, but the State didn’t replace them. Hence, either new groups simply took over or they engaged in armed dispute leaving civilians in the crossfire.

Putumayo is primarily being disputed now between Carolina Ramírez (FARC dissidents) and Comandos de la Frontera, who want to control drug trafficking. The latter are believed to being behind several death threats against Jani Silva.

As if threats from armed groups weren’t enough, a report by Ricardo Calderón in 2020 proved that 130 human rights defenders, journalists, politicians, etc. had been placed under surveillance and were being profiled by the army. Jani Silva was on that list.

Due to the many threats against her life, Silva has not only displaced. She lives with 2 body guards who drive her around in armed vehicle from the @UNPColombia. The community also received 2 boats for mobility in case of threats. Important measures, but not sustainable solutions.

“Yes, I know several [who’ve been killed]. Friends of mine who were killed for defending their communities. There’s Marco Rivadeneira. 8 days ago they killed a friend called Faustino Carabali.” Silva.

So, what are the solutions to the threats against social leaders and human rights defenders? After all, 20 social leaders were killed between January and the end of November of 2022 according to @DefensoriaCol.

Government needs to succeed w/landreform to solve land issues, and crop substitution. Congress needs to exercise its control function when the executive fails. @FiscaliaCol needs to conduct more effective investigations.

It’s also worth listening to @JuanPappierHRW on #AFondo, discussing how the government needs to make strategies that aren’t just focused armed conflict, but more so on organized crime where a king-pin strategy is futile.

Organized crime strategies needs to consider: Economic drivers. Money laundering. Corruption. Illicit economies that helps organized crime prosper. Lack of alternatives for local communities.

“I really love to dance – I mean, I really love it! But, since the situation became so serious, I’ve practically had to forget about dancing”. Stand up for Jani Silva and the other human rights defenders.

The full thread can be read here.

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