Exiled Colombians call on Britain to consider indigenous communities

07 November 2014

JO ROGERS/CHRISTIAN AID

Exile: Enrique Cabezas (second from left) and Yomaira Mendoza (far right) speaking at a Christian Aid event last month 

Exile: Enrique Cabezas (second from left) and Yomaira Mendoza (far right) speaking at a Christian Aid event last month 

TWO Colombians forced into exile by death threats have called on British companies to consider the plight of the indigenous communities living in the areas in which they seek to invest.

The British Government was warned in July that its bilateral investment treaty with Colombia could undermine efforts to safeguard the human rights of Colombians (News, 15 August).

Speaking last week at the offices of AB Colombia, an alliance that includes CAFOD and Christian Aid, one of the two exiled Columbians, Enrique Cabezas, said: "When I was growing up, I could never imagine that all these authorities, the Attorney General, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, would all know about the disappearances, the assassinations, and yet they are still taking place."

Mr Cabezas has taken refuge in Europe after speaking out against businessmen who illegally displaced him from his land. There have been repeated threats against his life.

He left Colombia earlier this year with Yomaira Mendoza, whose family was among the 3000 people displaced from the Curvaradó river basin by paramilitary groups in the mid-1990s (Feature, 9 May).

Both have spoken out against the occupation of their land, and have called for the swift implementation of a court order demanding restitution.

Mrs Mendoza, whose husband was assassinated in 2007, said on Monday that there had been seven attempts on her life. Her passage out of the country had been facilitated by the the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission, a Christian Aid partner in Colombia.

Her pursuers had even entered the humanitarian zone where she had taken refuge, established as a place of safety for displaced people.

With Mr Cabezas, she described a campaign of threats, break-ins, and harrassment by people determined to prevent the implementation of land restitution. She eventually developed paralysis in half of her body, attributed to stress.

"You either leave, or you are killed," Mr Cabezas said. Last year, the Office of the Attorney General reported that it was investigating the murder of 56 leaders, claimants, or participants in the land-restitution process.

Despite this bleak state of affairs, both remain committed to their campaign to seek justice.

"The work is part of my life," Mr Cabezas said.

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