Colombia: Decision to forcibly eradicate illicit crops could result in human rights violations

The decision of Colombia’s Ministry of Defense to begin ground-spraying operations in coca plantations in some areas of the country could result in human rights violations in the campesino farming communities that depend on coca for their livelihoods, Amnesty International said today. Moreover, beginning a process of forced eradication of crops could exacerbate the situations of conflict in the country, leaving rural communities in an even more dangerous situation, particularly for social leaders in the country.

“Operations to forcibly eradicate coca crops in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic are a death sentence for rural communities,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International. “Spraying illicit crops does not only mean robbing rural communities of their only livelihood amid the pandemic, but it could also destroy legal crops, an importance source of food. In addition, these operations expose a population with limited access to health services to contagion.”

Operations to forcibly eradicate coca crops in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic are a death sentence for rural communities
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International

The COVID-19 pandemic requires a response from the Colombian government that is coordinated, coherent, comprehensive and respects human rights. Entering rural community areas in order to carry out operations to forcibly eradicate crops without their due consent, exposing them to possible infection with COVID-19 and affecting their way of life could result in human rights violations in addition to exacerbating the humanitarian crisis faced by many rural communities.

The Committee for Social Integration in Catatumbo (CISCA) has reported to Amnesty International the difficulties posed by the measures taken by the government to mitigate the pandemic. The members of this organization believe that the government must guarantee the rights of rural communities in the context of social isolation and immediately stop the deployment of operations for the forced eradication of coca crops that infringe upon the food sovereignty of the population.

“Waking up every day in this country, particularly in areas like Catatumbo, requires creativity and bravery; creativity to guess where the fight will be that day and bravery to survive physically, morally and culturally,” said CISCA.

Amnesty International calls on the Colombian authorities to urgently take adequate measures to guarantee the rights of rural communities, including their rights to health, water and food. Furthermore, they must implement a state presence other than the military, stopping coca eradication operations and respecting the provisions of the Peace Agreement. 

Additional information:

Despite the health emergency declared due to COVID-19 and the state of economic, social and ecological emergency throughout the country, and requests from several social organizations to suspend the operations for the forced eradication of coca during the emergency, operations have continued to be carried out in at least seven departments in the country since the government ordered mandatory preventative isolation due to the pandemic on 25 March.

Waking up every day in this country, particularly in areas like Catatumbo, requires creativity and bravery; creativity to guess where the fight will be that day and bravery to survive physically, morally and culturally
The Committee for Social Integration in Catatumbo

Local organizations have reported excessive use of force by military personnel, and the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission has reported that the police and the army have carried out these operations without taking into account health and hygiene protocols to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

On 11 July, the Colombian Ministry of Defense informed municipal governments in the Catatumbo region, including Convención, Teorama, Acarí and Sardinata, that the National Police's Anti-Narcotics Directorate would begin ground-spraying operations in coca plantations on 20 July in areas authorised by the national environmental licensing authority.

For more information or to arrange an interview, contact Duncan Tucker: duncan.tucker@amnesty.org