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Colombian human rights activist Hector Hernan Mondragon Baez has been named the 2000 human rights fellow by the Oak Institute for the Study of International Human Rights at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. Mondragon arrived at Colby on Monday, August 21, and will remain in residence through the fall semester.
For more than 30 years Mondragon has worked to secure the environmental, economic and cultural survival of Colombians. A trained economist and former college teacher, Mondragon has been at the forefront of recent struggles to preserve indigenous territories and peasant lands and to defend the economic and cultural resources of communities at risk. His extensive human rights work involves indigenous and rural peasant communities and the urban poor. In the late 1980s Mondragon helped the Nukak, a newly contacted indigenous group, secure one of the largest areas of protected reserve lands in Colombia. Most recently he worked with the Embera Katio tribe, which is resisting a hydroelectric development project that threatens its ancestral lands. Mondragon also has been a strong supporter of the U’Wa people in northeast Colombia, whose ancestral lands are threatened by oil development by multinational corporations.
Mondragon has served as an advisor to the Indian National Organization of Colombia and the Peasant National Council. Both are independent organizations that work with communities to defend the basic rights and promote the economic, environmental and cultural survival of poor and marginalized groups in Colombia. Mondragon has received numerous death threats for his human rights work. Despite the threats to his life he has remained a steadfast promoter of the human rights claims of his country’s most vulnerable members.
The one-semester Oak Human Rights fellowship was established to allow a front-line human-rights worker to take a sabbatical for research, writing and teaching as a scholar-in-residence at Colby. Previous fellows were anti-child-labor crusader Zafaryab Ahmed of Pakistan and Didier Kamundu Batundi, a refuge from the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In addition to the fellowship, the institute supports human rights programs on campus and scholarships for international students at Colby. Colby’s freshman class will include two new Oak Scholars—a student from Burma and one from Zimbabwe.
Note: Media interviews with Hector Mondragon may be arranged by contacting Mary Beth Mills, associate professor of anthropology and director of the Oak Institute, or Eliza Denoeux, associate director of the Oak Institute, at 207.872.3813.