Human Rights Groups Accuse Colombian Regime of Endangering Activists

News from Colombia | on: Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Below is the text of a letter that 24 human rights organisations yesterday sent to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. The letter expresses alarm about the recent wave of threats and attacks against Colombian human rights and trade union activists, and accuses the Colombian regime of making dangerous statements that have endangered the lives of several people by suggesting that they are linked to the FARC guerrilla group.

March 25, 2008

Alvaro Uribe Velez, Presidente de la República

Cra. 8 #7-26, Palacio de Narino, Bogota, Colombia

Dear President Uribe:

We write to express our deep concern about the recent wave of threats, attacks and killings of human rights defenders and trade unionists in connection with the March 6 demonstrations against state and paramilitary human rights violations. We urge you to publicly and immediately adopt effective measures to stop this violence.

Over the course of one week, between March 4 and March 11, four trade unionists, some of whom were reportedly associated with the March 6 demonstration, were killed. Members of human rights organizations have also been subject to a large number of physical attacks and harassment. Their offices have also been broken into and equipment and files have been stolen.

In recent weeks a large number of human rights organizations, including la Asociación MINGA, the Colombian Commission of Jurists, Reiniciar, CODHES, the Movement of Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE), and Ruta Pacífica de Mujeres have received threats purportedly coming from the Black Eagles. One threat sent by email on March 11 specifically named twenty-eight human rights defenders. The threat, which was signed by the paramilitary group "Metropolitan Front of the Black Eagles in Bogotá," accused the individuals of being guerrillas, referred explicitly to the March 6 demonstrations and stated that they would be killed promptly. The next day, another paramilitary email threat to various other groups announced a "total rearmament of paramilitary forces." In addition to national human rights groups, the threats have targeted the international organization Peace Brigades International Colombia Project (PBI), the news magazine Semana, the Workers Central Union (CUT), indigenous organizations, and opposition politicians. A large number of additional recent instances of harassment, attacks and threats are currently being documented by national human rights groups.

This string of threats and attacks calls directly into question the effectiveness of the paramilitary demobilization process. Indeed, the Organization of American States has reported that twenty-two armed groups linked to the paramilitaries remain active around the country and has expressed "serious doubts about the effectiveness of demobilization and disarmament."

We are especially concerned by the fact that the threats and attacks came shortly after a series of public accusations made by your presidential advisor, Jose Obdulio Gaviria, against the organizers of the March 6 protest. On February 10 and 11, on national radio, Mr Gaviria suggested that the march's organizers, including specifically Iván Cepeda (spokesman of MOVICE), were affiliated with the abusive guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Your government issued statements on February 15 and March 14 promising to guarantee the rights of those participating in the March 6 protest. However neither statement deterred Mr Gaviria from continuing his stream of accusations on February 17 and March 20. His latest statement, suggesting that Mr Cepeda is essentially a member of the FARC, is particularly outrageous coming after the recent wave of attacks and threats.

Baseless comments such as these are profoundly damaging to Colombian democracy and human rights, and place those against whom they are made in direct danger of violence. These statements stigmatize the legitimate work of thousands of human rights defenders, trade unionists, and victims, and can have a chilling effect on the exercise of rights to freedom of expression and free association. And in a country like Colombia, with its record of political violence, statements like these only contribute to a climate of political intolerance that fosters violence. Indeed, on February 11, the day after Mr Gaviria first made the comments, the supposedly demobilized AUC paramilitary group released a statement on its website echoing Mr Gaviria's attacks on Mr Cepeda and the victims' movement.

It is precisely because prior administrations recognized the importance of respecting the work of human rights defenders and others, that Presidential Directive 7 of 1999 and Presidential Directive 7 of 2001 are now in place. Both directives order public servants "to abstain from questioning the legitimacy of… NGOs and their members… and to abstain from making false imputations or accusations that compromise the[ir] security, honor and good name…" Directive 7 of 1999 further clarifies that public servants must not "make affirmations that disqualify, harass or incite harassment of said organizations… [nor] emit … declarations that stigmatize the work of these organizations."

We urge you to combat this wave of violence by:

Disavowing, in public and before national media, the statements made by Mr. Gaviria and others linking the March 6 protest organizers to guerrillas; rejecting the recent wave of threats and attacks; reaffirming your government's support for, and protection of, the legitimate work of human rights defenders and trade unionists; and ensuring that no further inflammatory remarks are made by members of your government;

Ensuring a prompt, impartial and comprehensive investigation into each of the recent killings, attacks and death threats. It is vital that those responsible for these attacks are held responsible. Any supposedly demobilized persons who participated in or ordered these crimes should be stripped of their paramilitary demobilization benefits, and you should take decisive action to dismantle paramilitary groups and break their links to state officials in accordance with United Nations recommendations;

Providing protective measures to those individuals named in the March 11 death threats, as well as to other persons who have been subject to attacks or threats, and personally holding meetings with victims, trade unionists, and human rights defenders who have been affected by the recent attacks to listen to their concerns.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.


Andrew Hudson, Human Rights Defenders Program, Human Rights First

José Miguel Vivanco, Americas Director, Human Rights Watch

Renata Rendón, Advocacy Director for the Americas, Amnesty International USA

Kenneth H. Bacon, President, Refugees International

John Arthur Nunes, President and CEO, Lutheran World Relief

Joy Olson, Executive Director & Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, Senior Associate for Colombia and Haiti, Washington Office on Latin America

James R. Stormes, S.J., Secretary, Social and International Ministries, Jesuit Conference

Lisa Haugaard, Executive Director, Latin America Working Group

Adam Isacson

Director of Programs

Center for International Policy

Stephen Coats, Executive Director, U.S. Labor Education in the Americas Project (USLEAP)

Robert Guitteau Jr., Interim Director, US Office on Colombia

Heather Hanson, Director of Public Affairs, Mercy Corps

Mark Johnson, Executive Director, Fellowship of Reconciliation

Mark Harrison, Director, Peace with Justice, United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society

Monika Kalra Varma, Director, Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights

Viviana Krsticevic, Executive Director, Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)

Joe Volk, Executive Secretary, Friends Committee on National Legislation

Melinda St. Louis, Executive Director, Witness for Peace

Bert Lobe, Executive Director, Mennonite Central Committee

Rick Ufford-Chase, Executive Director, Presbyterian Peace Fellowship

Charo Mina-Rojas, AFRODES USA

T. Michael McNulty, SJ, Justice and Peace Director, Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Cristina Espinel, Director, Colombia Human Rights Committee, Washington DC

Phil Jones, Director, Church of the Brethren Witness/Washington Office

To read the original letter visit:

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