Peaceful activists and campesinos of the “Movimiento Rios Vivos” were unlawfully obstructed by police in Ituango, Colombia on 8 September 2018 as they participated in the global “Rise for Climate” mobilisation. The action in Ituango was part of a global mobilisation organised by the environmental rights group 350.org, which brought together tens of thousands of people who took part in 900 actions in 95 countries around the world. The blocking of the protesters is an example of the ongoing pattern of violations against environmental defenders.
The Rise for Climate mobilisations called for the protection of the environment and urged governments to commit to clean energies. Rios Vivos is a human rights movement composed of communities affected by the impacts of “Hidroituango”, one of the largest hydroelectric projects in Latin America, currently under construction on the Cauca River.
COLOMBIA - Momentos difíciles en el #riseforclimate. El ejército y la policía en Antioquia - Colombia pasa a efectuar un registro forzoso de ciudadanos libres que están en una manifestación pacífica sobre el... https://t.co/hsWJWaaj5h— 350 en Español (@350_Espanol) September 8, 2018
On 8 September 2018 more than 400 people travelled from different towns in the region of Antioquia to Ituango where they had planned an action to demand the protection of global climate. On the way to Ituango, they were temporarily blocked by the National Police who started making a list of people participating in the mobilisation. This action was denounced by the regional office of 350.org for Latin America. The members of the police that held the marchers also refused to show their identity and covered their badges on their uniforms.
On arrival of the Rios Vivos caravan in the town of Ituango, the police did not allow the marchers to do a planned performance calling for the protection of the Cauca river and global climate. According to Isabel Zuleta, one of the spokespersons of Rios Vivos, the police obstructed the marchers by order of the Mayor of Ituango.
On Sunday September 9, when the caravan of buses and cars with the marchers were returning to their places of origin, they were again held by a group of employees of the Empresas Publicas de Medellin - the company building the Hidroituango project. The caravan was eventually allowed to continue its journey at around 6pm after being held up since 6 am.
“There is no justification for the actions of the police and the public company the Empresas Publicas de Medellin over a group of peaceful community groups defending the environment. These restrictions are at variance with the responsibilities and duties of the State to guarantee the protection of citizens" said Xiomy Acevedo, from 350.org Colombia.
The restrictions placed on the procession of the climate activists violate their right to peaceful assembly and this is reflective of the hostile environment for environmental defenders in Colombia. As reported by the CIVICUS Monitor the environment for human rights and environmental defenders in Colombia has worsen in the past months.
“It is extremely worrying that peaceful marchers in Colombia, participating in a global campaign, are blatantly stigmatised and harassed by the authorities as happened in Colombia” said CIVICUS’ advocacy and engagement officer Natalia Gomez.
For many years members of the Movimiento Ríos Vivos have been subjected to threats, intimidation and have been stigmatised for opposing megaprojects that threaten rivers. They have especially been targeted for their opposition to the construction of the Hidroituango project, a project that has been engulfed in a crisis for months and has left hundreds of people affected.
CIVICUS calls on the Colombian authorities to ensure a safe environment for environmental activists and respect their right to raise concerns and assemble peacefully.
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