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Colombia: New Front Line report documents ongoing killing of human rights defenders
In the week in which a cashiered army lieutenant colonel and 14 soldiers were convicted of murdering 10 elite counter narcotics police agents in an ambush, a new Front Line report documenting attacks on human rights defenders, trade unionists journalists and judges further illustrates the extent of links between the security services, paramilitary groups and drug traffickers. “Although they are supposed to have demobilised, paramilitary groups continue to engage in killings and disappearances of human rights defenders” said Mary Lawlor Director of Front Line, who led the mission. “Many paramilitary groups with links to the security forces remain in operation” said Lawlor
Further InformationPosted 19/02/2008 The over-all picture is that the legitimate and peaceful defence of human rights is severely curtailed by killings, attacks, threats, legal harassment and smear campaigns. Protective measures put in place by the Colombian authorities can only partly address this situation, which to a large measure arises from policies of the government itself. The situation continues to require the highest priority in international relations with Colombia.
Tens of thousands of people have been arbitrarily killed in Colombia for political reasons over the past decades. Fear of attack, threats and coercion has resulted in several million people being displaced.
Despite data which shows a decrease in the number of killings of human rights defenders in recent years, in parallel with the process of demobilisation of paramilitary groups paramilitary activity has not disappeared and neither have killings and threats against human rights defenders. Paramilitary groups pursue the same methods of persecution they had previously adopted, often using names such as Black Eagles and New Generation. In the popular neighbourhoods of Medellín, the continued intimidating and crime-linked presence of paramilitary, is reportedly accepted by the police. Community leader Judith Vergara was killed 23 April 2007; lawyer Víctor Hugo Gallego disappeared on 31 of December 2007. They both worked for the neighbourhood development NGO Corpades, that had been reporting threats.
In Barrancabermeja, Yolanda Becerra, President of the Popular Women’s Organisation, was referred to as an “enemy of the peace process” by a former paramilitary commander. Her organisation personally received a number of written threats. On 4 November, Becerra’s apartment was broken into by two armed men who vandalised her home, tried to steal her computer and threatened to “terminate her family” if she did not leave.
The demobilisation process has also created opportunities for the persecution of human rights defenders. The special hearings, which started in 2006, have led not only to confessions, but also to new threats against victims and their lawyers, as shown by a number of cases which were followed by assassinations. NGOs counted 19 such assassinations between January and September 2007.
Investigative journalist Gonzalo Guillén has been receiving death threats since he documented the alleged links between the president’s family and drug traffickers. Guillén decided to leave the country for a couple of weeks after the President himself mentioned him in October 2007, but has since been receiving new threats both over the phone and by e-mail, which make it clear that he is being followed
Meanwhile, the internal armed conflict is continuing, providing a backdrop to major human rights abuse. In recent years, the remotest regions of the country have been affected by the conflict. This has left the many indigenous and communities of afro-descent who live in these areas vulnerable to attack. Often entire communities have had to leave their area. Pressure for displacement is reported to be strongest in zones in which plans exist for large-scale agriculture, or concessions for the extraction of minerals are in the process of being granted. After displacement, it becomes easier for large landowners or companies to implement these projects.
“These abuses are committed by all parties to the conflict, the armed opposition as well as the armed forces and paramilitary groups” said Ms Lawlor. President Alvaro Uribe and other senior government officials have repeatedly made statements equating the work of the human rights defenders with support for armed opposition groups. For example when speaking to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights during its visit to Bogotá on October 17th 2007, the President stated: "Here, every time the guerrillas and members of their court feel they can be defeated, they take recourse in an appeal of violation of human rights ENDS FOR FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT :
NAME Jim Loughran title Head of Communications telephone number: 00 353 1 212 37 50 mobile: 087 93 77 586 e-mail email@example.com
|Colombia Living in Fear report by Front Line.pdf||117.57 KB|