FENSUAGRO and Human Rights Defenders Reject Santos’ Order to Attack Civilian Buildings

News from Colombia | on: Wednesday, 13 July 2011

In a statement released yesterday, human rights organisations and the Colombian agricultural workers union, FENSUAGRO, severely criticise the government’s decision to order the military to attack civilian buildings from which attacks are deemed to occur.

According to these organisations the order is “legal and political nonsense” that violates the rights of the civilian population and international humanitarian law. Furthermore, they argue that the order undermines Articles 29 and 83 of the Colombian Constitution.

The order to destroy civilian houses tramples over the rights of owners and inhabitants, destroys the presumption of their innocence and denies victims the right to a legal defence - de facto assuming that they are acting against State forces. Most worryingly, the order puts civilian lives at risk.

The new order also violates a series of international treaties that have been enshrined in Colombian law by Congress. These oblige the Colombian state to “distinguish at all times between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian property and goods and military objectives.” Moreover, it states that if there is any doubt as to a person’s involvement in the conflict, then there must be a presumption of innocence.

The organisations also criticise the government’s decision to establish a new mountain battalion in northern Cauca. They argue that it shows a continuation of the militarisation of the conflict and civilian life. The human rights organisations point out that in Cauca increased militarisation has led to increased violation of human rights and not to social and economic development and peace.

The statement also points out that President Santos’ order responds to one illegal action with another, using a perverse logic that if the tables were turned, could also be used by the guerrillas to justify attacks on the government’s military forces that are commonly deployed in schools and other civilian buildings in the conflict zones. Colombian human rights organisations have been protesting for many years over the armed forces’ use of civilian property for military purposes.

The new order is a sign of desperation by the state, which whilst it has clearly failed to resolve the conflict with military means, insists on intensifying the conflict.

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