Victims to President Uribe: Stop Denying Ongoing Paramilitary Crimes

News from Colombia | on: Sunday, 20 January 2008

In a public letter to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe published in the newspaper 'El Espectador', the leader of the National Movement of Victims, Ivan Cepeda, has called on the Colombian regime to recognise the ongoing violations of human rights being carried out by the Colombian Army and Army-linked paramilitary death squads.

The letter asks why President Uribe refuses to recognise such violations and laments the fact that the regime continues to claim, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that the paramilitaries have demobilised and are no longer active.

Mr Cepeda, the son of murdered leftwing Senator Manuel Cepeda, lists a series of recent abuses in his letter and asks why the Government has remained silent.

Below is an unofficial translation of the letter:

Open Letter to President Uribe

Saturday, 19th January, 2008

Mr President, in under two weeks the paramilitaries now regrouped in the vaguely defined term, 'emerging gangs' have assassinated 12 people, forcibly disappeared 9 people, and displaced another 120 people.

On the 31st December 2007, in the area of El Palmar, Narino department, they murdered 4 adults and 1 child. The former Governor of that department, Eduardo Zuniga, attributed the massacre to the paramilitaries. That same day in Medellin, Victor Hugo Gallego, a lawyer from the Corporation for Peace and Social Development NGO (Corpades) was forcibly disappeared. Mr Gallego had repeatedly denounced paramilitary activity in Medellin.

On January 11th 2008, during a family party in the neighbourhood of 'Once de Noviembre', in Santa Marta, various armed men arrived and began firing at the party, killing 5 people and injuring 3 others. The victims were community leaders.

On January 14th, the Ombudsman stated that that a paramilitary group had entered the area of Santa Monica, Choco Department, killed 2 people, took away another 8 people, and displaced around 120 local residents.

Added to these serious events, recently in Bucaramanga (Santander Department), threatening messages from the paramilitary group 'Aguilas Negras', have been appearing in public places. The city's Mayor disregarded the threats saying that the paramilitaries have no presence in the area. Despite those claims, in a 2007 report, the Ombudsman warned that such groups were operating in Santander Department.

That means that in less than 2 weeks, in four departments of the country, the paramilitaries have committed 2 massacres, various forced disappearances, and have forced a mass displacement after an armed incursion.

It seems as though these victims are non-existent. No 'proof of life' of theirs will be received. Their remains will end up in the mass graves or in the rivers. Neither the business world, the church, the mayors, the governors nor the media will call for a demonstration for civilians to denounce these crimes. Nor will they call for those that have been disappeared to be returned alive.

What can we expect from these functionaries and institutions when the Government's attitude is marked by silence and denial? Instead of condemning these atrocities, you, Mr President, try to convince the country and the world that the paramilitary groups don't exist in Colombia anymore; a statement which denies absolutely the facts. When will you speak about the crimes against humanity that the paramilitaries continue to commit? When will you make a solemn speech to condemn the mass forced disappearances which have led thousands of compatriots to mass graves and clandestine graves? When will the Government officially pronounce itself against the forced displacement practiced by the paramilitaries which has stolen the lands of millions of compatriots?

It is true that kidnapping is a criminal practice which Colombian society should not tolerate under any circumstance. But in Colombia, there are not only hundreds of people kidnapped by the guerrillas. There are thousands of people disappeared, assassinated and displaced by state security forces and the paramilitary groups, which, as you will remember, were promoted more than a decade ago by the security group, Convivir*. That reality will not vanish with the stubborn insistence of the Government to have a one dimensional concept of terrorism.

* Justice for Colombia adds, Convivir were private security groups established and promoted by Mr Uribe when he was Governor of Antioquia department in the 1990s. Many of the Convivir groups subsequently transformed into paramilitary death squads.

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