Human Rights Defender Arrested

News from Colombia | on: Sunday, 30 December 2007

On December 26th members of the SIJIN special police unit arrested human rights defender Hector Hugo Torres in the neighbourhood of Bosa in the Colombian capital Bogotá. He has been accused of the crime of 'rebellion'.

Shortly after his detention Mr Torres was transferred to the city of Villavicencio, a province south of Bogotá. The following morning he was released after a Judge ruled that his detention was unlawful. The arrest was the result of statements made by anonymous 'paid' informants accusing Mr. Torres of 'rebellion'. These supposed witnesses are regularly used by the state to accuse human rights activists, trade unionists and community leaders of crimes – a clear attempt to silence critics.

The day after his release, on December 28th, Mr. Torres was followed by plain clothes SIJIN officers from his house in Bosa to a meeting with human rights organizations in central Bogotá.

Mr. Torres is a well known human rights defender and an active member of the political opposition. He is the President of the Meta Human Rights Commission and is also known for his work as a community activist.

The detention is likely linked to his human rights work in the department of Meta where the civilian population is suffering gross human rights violations at the hands of the Colombian Army. Mr Torres and other human rights defenders have attempted to draw attention to the situation in Meta – particularly that in the Bajo Ariari region where soldiers are regularly carrying our extra-judicial executions. Mr Torres and his organisation alone have documented and denounced over 50 such killings by the army in the area as well as countless arbitrary detentions, forced disappearances, cases of mass forced displacement and other abuses against the predmoninatly peasant farmer population.

As a direct result of this work Mr Torres, before his arrest, had been regularly harassed and received numerous death threats over a period of many years. A summary of this harassment follows:

  • In October 2007, paramilitaries under the command of paramilitary leader 'Casanare' threatened Mr. Torres' bodyguards.
  • On July 31st, 2007, whilst Mr. Torres was staying at a friend's house in the city if Villavicencio, heavily armed paramilitaries from the 'Black Eagles' paramilitary group forced their way into the house and attempted to find Mr. Torres in an effort to kill or disappear him.
  • In September 2005, soldiers and paramilitaries threatened to kill Mr Torres if he did not leave the region of Meta. He was forcibly displaced to the city of Bogotá for the second time (see below).
  • In 1996, following the assassination of several of his friends and colleagues, Mr. Torres was detained. After his release threats forced him to flee to another municipality. Soldiers and paramilitaries located him there, the harassment resumed and he was forced to flee yet again.
  • In 1993, after a friend and colleague was forcibly disappeared, Mr. Torres began being threatened and harassed by soldiers of the 4th Division and 7th Brigade of the Colombian Army.
  • In September 1991, Mr. Torres and his family were temporarily forced to flee their homes to the city of Bogotá after continued attacks and harassment by state security forces.
  • In June 1991, soldiers from the 21st 'Vargas' Battalion of the Colombian Army detained Mr. Torres and took him to the 'Granada' prison in Meta where he was tortured. After 20 days, a Judge ordered his release.
  • In March 1991, Mr Torres was seriously injured in an assassination attempt in Meta department. The attempt, by paramilitary assassin Hector Fernando Sanchez Trujillo, occurred 50 metres from the military base of the 21st 'Vargas' Battalion of the Colombian Army.

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