Press Release

IACHR Condemns the Killing of Bernardo Cuero in Colombia

June 16, 2017

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Washington, D.C. - - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) strongly condemns the killing of Bernardo Cuero, a well-known human rights defender and afro-descendant leader in Colombia. Bernardo Cuero participated in the 149th Period of Sessions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2013, when he denounced the situation of great risk and harassment that Afro-Colombian human rights defenders were submitted to by paramilitary groups. He also presented information about the failure of the State of Colombia to offer them protection.

According to the information received by the IACHR, on June 7, 2017, two persons arrived to the house of Bernardo Cuero in Malambo, Colombia, killed him in the presence of his partner and other relatives, and fled the place. Bernardo Cuero held the roles of attorney of the National Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES) and representative of the Association of Displaced Persons Living in Malambo (ADEVIM). Bernardo Cuero was displaced in 2000 from Tumaco, in the Nariño Colombian province, after being persecuted by paramilitary groups in the region. Ever since, Bernardo Cuero suffered systematic threats and was victim of different murder attempts.  Despite the Commission`s concerns on the situation of Afro-descendent human rights defenders in Colombia, expressed on the Press Release No 83/2013 on November 8, 2013, the information received by the IACHR indicates that in 2016, the National Unity for Protection (UNP), the government body in charge of providing protection to persons at risk, made an evaluation and found no justification for offering measures of protection towards Bernardo Cuero, suspending emergency measures that were granted in 2013 since his risk was considered “ordinary”. This situation was reported during the 161th Period of Sessions, representatives of civil society noted that Afro-Colombian leaders were facing serious difficulties to access the protection programs of the UNP.

The IACHR has repeatedly stressed the harsher effects of armed conflicts over Afro-decedent populations. In November 2016, the IACHR condemned on the Press Release No. 160/16 the increase in killings of human rights defenders in Colombia and noted with concern the greater vulnerability to this type of violence for Afro-Colombian leaders. Furthermore, the Commission recalls in this regard existing structural problems that lead to or exacerbate human rights violations suffered by Afro-Colombians, such as mass displacement, forced confinements, and disappearances. The Commission reiterates that acts of violence and other attacks against human rights defenders not only affect the basic guarantees owed to every human being, but also undermine the fundamental role that human rights defenders play in society.

The Commission urges the Colombian State to investigate the killing of Bernardo Cuero with due diligence, and to prosecute and punish the perpetrators. Furthermore, the State must adopt urgent measures of protection for all members of AFRODES and Bernardo Cuero’s relatives that are at risk, immediately and effectively implementing the precautionary measures issued by the Inter-American Commission, and reinforce protection for all human rights defenders in Colombia.

The IACHR reiterates that States have the obligation to prevent any attempt on the life and physical integrity of human rights defenders, and to guarantee in all circumstances that rights defenders can carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of any restrictions. The Commission underscores the dire need for risk analysis and protection measures to be adequate and effective and, as such, to be suitable to protect the particular defender from the specific situation of risk faced by her or him and achieve the anticipated outcome in order to put an end to the risk to that person. States must take into account the specific risk factors to which the Afro-Colombian leaders are exposed at the time when specific measures are adopted so that protection measures can be tailored to their particular needs, such as implementing specialized protocols.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 077/17