Francisco Palmieri, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires on Human Rights Day
Colombia ranks as one of the most dangerous countries in Latin America for human rights defenders with more than 1,000 defenders murdered since 2016. Tragically, these courageous leaders and their families face intimidation, threats, kidnappings, disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture, and gender-based violence. Their deaths cannot be in vain. I know that our Embassy will not forget their sacrifices and will continue our efforts to advance their goals.
Despite the dangers they face, leaders like Josefina Zuniga, winner of the 2022 International Women of Courage award, persist to bring change for their communities. At great personal risk, Josefina founded Mano Cambiada (“Changed Hand”) in 2006 to promote sustainable eco-tourism in Chocó and empower the local community in a historically conflict-affected region. Her story demonstrates how everyday citizens become changemakers and help democratic societies fulfill their promises.
Today, on Human Rights Day, we honor courageous human rights defenders like Josefina, as well as journalists, labor leaders, peace activists, LGBTQI+ leaders, and others seeking to build a freer and more just world for future generations. As we honor them, I and the U.S. Embassy will do everything possible to guarantee their protection. We must stand with them, by them, and for them when they are threatened or their voices silenced.
President Biden has made the fight for equity and racial justice a priority, both at home as well as around the world. In October, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Vice President Francia Marquez announced the United States as the first accompanier of the Ethnic Chapter of Colombia’s Peace Agreement. In taking this step, the United States will expand support for Afro-Colombians, Indigenous communities, and other social leaders.
This is just one way the United States is committed to working with the Colombian government, civil society, and people of Colombia to advance human rights. Through the U.S. Agency for International Development, we also launched a five-year, $60-million program to support economic, political, and social inclusion in Colombia. Partnering with nine Afro-Colombian and Indigenous organizations to create and implement peacebuilding and sustainable development initiatives, with a special focus on empowering women, young people, LGBTQI+ people, people with disabilities, and people affected by violence demonstrates our commitment. I am proud our Embassy is creating these opportunities to put resources into the hands of human rights activists at all levels.
Today, as we recommit ourselves to promoting respect for human rights and protecting human rights defenders, let us take inspiration from of Josefina, whose commitment and bravery endured, despite persistent danger, to give hope to her community. As we stand side-by-side with Colombia in our common effort to advance human rights, we will not forget that these universal rights are advanced by courageous individuals who do not yield in their advocacy or activism. On this day, I remember their leadership and sacrifice, knowing that they are the ones who help us build a more just, more free, and more equitable world.