“As a woman you are always more questioned as a defender.”

ARTICLE | 4 March 2020

Swedwatch works with women human rights defenders challenging irresponsible business operations and rights abuses around the world and is highlighting their work ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March 2020.

Since the 2016 peace agreement between the guerrilla Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government defenders have experienced a rise in threats and attacks. Among those most at risk are defenders of indigenous and farmers rights, defenders of sexual orientation and gender identity rights and Afro-Colombian defenders. The largest increase in killings of defenders in 2018 took place in the agribusiness and renewable energy sectors.

The Movimiento Ríos Vivos Colombia movement opposes Colombia’s largest
hydropower project currently under construction in Antioquia. Movimiento Ríos Vivos Colombia organises people who are adversely affected by the project and has, since construction began in 2009, reported
on related environmental impacts and human rights abuses. These include forced evictions and a lack of compensation to artisanal miners who for generations have lived and worked on the shores of the Cauca River where the project is located.

Milena Florez is an environmental defender from the Movimiento Ríos Vivos movement currently living in exile.

How has the situation for you as defenders changed after the peace process?

We were always targeted, but after the peace agreement the situation got much worse: many of my colleagues have been killed. The paramilitary groups who have taken over the area after FARC left have pointed out several of us as military targets. In 2016 we received increased threats and recently one of the armed groups started asking for me. They were not very friendly.

I had to leave and now I am in exile with my children; it is very hard.

How have these threats and attacks affected you?

For us it is very sad because we are defending the environment that belongs to
everyone. It is very hard when they threaten us only because we tell the truth. I feel sad. We are not doing anything wrong. My children are very afraid. They know other defenders are being killed and they tell me to stop and ask if I want to be killed. As a woman you are always more questioned as a defender. We are judged more harshly, especially when our work puts
our families in danger. But I say, if we don’t defend our rights then who will? I have always thought that if we do not do it, others will not either because many are afraid and have been silenced already – so we have to be stronger.

This interview is from the Swedwatch report Defenders at Risk: Attacks on Human Rights and Environmental Defenders and the Responsibility of Business