High ranking police official threatens human rights defenders with legal prosecution

Justice For Colombia News | on: Monday, 6 May 2013

In a clear display of how the Colombian legal system is used to intimidate social activists, two leading Colombian human rights defenders have been threatened with legal prosecution by a high ranking police officer.

Diego Martinez and Alfonso Castillo, both of whom are forced to travel with armed bodyguards as a result of numerous death threats from right wing paramilitaries, were accompanying a group of displaced communities as they sought to pacifically occupy a piece of unused public land in the Colombian capital, Bogotá.

The peaceful action saw 200 families from various regions of the country set up camp on a piece of land called ‘The Leaf’. All of the families belong to Colombia’s internally displaced population which a recent international report once again confirmed is the largest in the world. There are over five million Colombians who have been forced from their homes, predominantly a result of the violence and continued presence of state sponsored paramilitary forces. Since being forced to flee from their towns and villages, the 200 families had been living in conditions of extreme poverty in Colombia’s capital city. Despite government promises to provide them with homes, nothing had been provided to them and as a result they decided that their only option was this peaceful demonstration. The communities were supported by many human rights organisations, including CPDH and ANDAS of which Diego and Alfonso are members.

During the accompaniment the Police officer, Colonel Meléndez, directed himself to the leaders and threatened them with legal prosecution. This latest threat comes after attempts were made to link Diego Martinez to terrorism charges in 2011 using falsified police reports – something which is a common practice used to intimidate or imprison human rights activists. There are currently thousands of social activists, including human rights defenders, trade unionists, and community organisers, imprisoned for opposing government policy and defending the interests of their communities.

The National Movement for the Victims of State Crimes, to which both CPDH and ANDAS belong, is calling on state authorities to stop making threats and to start offering guarantees for the protection of human rights defenders and Colombia’s displaced population.

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