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Colombia: Ongoing campaigns of intimidation, harassment and persecution against human rights defenders
Front Line is deeply concerned regarding reports that ongoing campaigns of intimidation, harassment and persecution perpetrated against human rights defenders by State and non-state actors, are not being adequately investigated by the Colombian authorities. Despite the campaign from the side of paramilitary groups intensifying in recent months, the authorities have failed to bring to account those responsible for orchestrating such acts. Most recently, Front Line has been informed of a planned assassination, as well as death threats which were issued against human rights defenders in the Valle del Cauca region of Colombia.
On 24 August 2011, it was revealed that two prison guards at the Tramacúa Prison in Valledupar, Cesar Department, had supplied a prisoner with a dagger in order to stab Mr Iván Cepeda Castro, member of Movimiento de Víctimas de Crímenes de Estado – MOVICE (Movement of Victims of State Crimes) and member of congress, while carrying out a prison visit on 22 May 2011. The prisoner however refused to carry out the attack. The prisoner then detailed the aforementioned planned assassination in a letter which he presented to Iván Cepeda Castro when he carried out another prison visit on 13 June 2011.
The letter was also sent to the Director of the prison, as well as the Minister of the Interior and the Prosecutor General. The letter is believed to have contained the names of the prison guards involved in the incident. There are CCTV cameras installed in the prison, however the contents of the recording from that time have since been deleted. The prisoner was subsequently transferred to another prison.
According to the information received, in recent months there have been numerous calls to have the Tramacúa Prison shut down following reports that inmates are subjected to abuse and humiliation by staff of the Instituto Nacional Penitenciario y Carcelario - INPEC (National Penitentiary and Prison Institution). Iván Cepeda Castro has been instrumental in advocating for the closure of the Tramacúa Prison because of such reports, as well as allegations that the conditions in the prison are particularly poor.
On 23 August 2011, at approximately 9.30pm, human rights defenders Mr Walter Agredo Muñoz, member of the Comité de Solidaridad con los Presos Políticos – CSPP (Colombian Political Prisoners Solidarity Committee), and Ms Martha Giraldo, Secretary of MOVICE – Valle del Cauca branch, both received a text message which stated that “morirán los comunistas disimulados de FARC Nomadesc, CUT, Ecate, Sintraunicol, PCN, Indios perros, MOVICE, presos politicos. Águilas negras nueva generación tres días en alianza para exterminarlos” (The communists disguised as FARC, Nomadesc, CUT, Ecate, Sintraunicol, PCN, Indian dogs, MOVICE, political prisoners will die. Águilas negras, new generation, a three-day alliance to wipe them out). The number from which the texts were sent is known to Front Line.
It is believed that these threats form part of an ongoing campaign against human rights defenders orchestrated by paramilitary groups, and specifically the Águilas Negras, in the Valle del Cauca region. The national police, Seccional de Policía Judicial e Investigación - SIJIN (Criminal Investigation Unit), Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad – DAS (Administrative Department for Security), as well as the Prosecutor General, and other security bodies are aware of this campaign, however to date, no one has been held to account for violations committed against human rights defenders.
On 22 August 2011 former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez accused Ms Claudia Julieta Duque, Colombian journalist, and Mr Juan Forero, Andean region correspondent for the Washington Post, of being sympathizers of terrorism and accomplices of leftist guerrillas. The baseless accusation followed the publication on 21 August 2011 of an article in the Washington Post that alleged that President Uribe may have been involved in illegal actions using the DAS with the help of the United States.
In this connection, since 2010, Front Line has issued numerous urgent appeals regarding violations perpetrated against human rights defenders, however to date, those responsible for such crimes have not been brought to justice. The following is a summary of such appeals:
29 August 2011: Mr Principe Gabriel González Arango, a student activist and Regional Coordinator of the CSPP, was arrested on 18 August 2011 in the city of Pamplona and is currently being held in the city's prison to serve seven years imprisonment on trumped-up charges of rebellion and association with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia).
23 August 2011: Inadequate protection measures afforded to Mr Jose Alexander Fandiño, Director General of the human rights section of the Fundación Misionera Corazones de Jesús, María y José - FMCJMJ (Missionary Foundation of the Hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph).
18 July 2011: In recent months, a number of human rights defenders working in the department of Arauca, as well as members of the U'wa indigenous peoples organisation Asociación de Cabildos y Autoridades Tradicionales de Arauca – ASCATIDAR (Association of the Council of Traditional Authorities of Arauca) have become the subject of a criminal investigation launched by Interpol for their alleged membership of the Colombian armed opposition group, Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN (National Liberation Army).
6 July 2011: Human rights defender and journalist Mr Gonzalo Guillén has been falsely accused by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos of having links with the FARC. Gonzalo Guillén is an independent journalist, former correspondent with El Nuevo Herald of Miami, and is currently an adviser for El Universo newspaper of Guayaquil (Ecuador) and President of the Instituto Prensa y Sociedad – Colombia (Colombia section of the Press and Society Institute). He has been long-involved in investigating and documenting crimes allegedly carried out by members of the Colombian armed forces, and has had to leave Colombia on a number of occasions for extended periods as a result of threats he has received.
9 June 2011: Ms Jenny Torres, Ms Martha Giraldo and Mr Julio Cesar Rosero, received death threats on 2 and 7 June 2011. Jenny Torres and Martha Giraldo are members of the MOVICE - Valle del Cauca branch, and lawyer Julio Cesar Rosero is providing legal representation to Jenny Torres in the trial against military officers for the 2007 killing of her husband Edinson Yimel Villanueva.
30 May 2011: Mr Nelson Orrego, journalist with Periferia Prensa Alternativa (Periferia Alternative Press) since 2009, who has investigated and published various articles relating to victims of crimes carried out by paramilitary and drug-trafficking groups, received a death threat via email to his workplace.
24 May 2011: Ms Candelaria Barrios Acosta, member of MOVICE – Sucre branch and sister of Carmelo de Jesus Barrios Acosta, who was murdered by paramilitaries on 15 November 2006, along with Ms Ingrid Vergara Chavéz, spokesperson for the Sucre branch of MOVICE, Mr Pedro Geney, a member of MOVICE, and Mr Franklin Torres, a member of both MOVICE and the board of directors of the Asociación de Trabajadores Agropecuarios y Campesinos del Departamento de Sucre - ASOTRACDES (Association of Peasants and Agricultural Workers of the department of Sucre) received death threats.
20 May 2011: On 13 May 2011 the home of human rights defender Mr Danilo Rueda in Bogotá was broken into and computer memory sticks containing confidential and sensitive information regarding human rights abuses and his work in the protection of human rights were stolen. Danilo Rueda is the National Coordinator of the NGO Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz – CIJP (Inter-Church Commission of Justice and Peace), a church-based human rights organisation working to expose human rights violations committed in the conflict regions of Colombia by state security forces and paramilitary groups. Members of the group including Danilo Rueda have been subjected to death threats and other acts of intimidation in the past as a result of their work in the defence of human rights.
20 April 2011: Home of human rights lawyer and land rights activist, Ms Zoraida Hernández Pedraza, was subjected to an attempted break-in by two unidentified men while her and her family were present. Zoraida Hernández Pedraza is the President of Corporación Sembrar, an organisation that is dedicated to working for the defence and re-institution of lands in Colombia, and the spokesperson for various land rights organisations. She is also the spokesperson of MOVICE.
21 February 2011: An email containing death threats was received by a number of human rights defenders and journalists including Messrs Eduardo Márquez, Hollman Morris, Daniel Coronell, Marcos Perales Mendoza and Ms Claudia Duque, and human rights organisations including the MOVICE and the Corporación Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo - CCAJAR (José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers' Collective).
17 December 2010: Ms Martha Lucia Giraldo (Secretary - MOVICE), Ms Cristina Castro (CSPP- Valle de Cauca), Ms Berenice Celeyta (Director of the Asociación Para la Investigación y Acción Social - Asociación NOMADESC / Association for Investigation and Social Action) and Ms Aída Quilcué (former Chief Counsel of the Consejo Regional Indígena de Colombia – CRIC / The Indigenous Regional Council of Cauca), received numerous death threats following a public event held in Valle del Cauca to mark the 61st anniversary of International Human Rights Day on 10 December 2010.
17 November 2010: Ms Carolina Rubio Esguerra, head of the Santander branch of the CSPP and member of MOVICE, was detained by members of the SIJIN in Bucaramanga City.
21 September 2010: Planned assassination of human rights lawyer working with the Colectivo de Abogados “José Alvear Restrepo” - CCAJAR.
17 September 2010: Detention of human rights defender Mr David Rabelo Crespo, Secretary of the Board of Directors of the Corporación Regional para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos – CREDHOS (Regional Corporation for the Defence of Human Rights) and member of MOVICE.
10 August 2010: Ms Judith Maldonado Mojica, Director of the Corporación Colectivo de Abogados Luis Carlos Perez – CCALCP (Luis Carlos Perez Lawyers Collective) was threatened during a violent attack in which her bag and materials related to her work were stolen.
30 July 2010: Ms Marta Díaz, president and a founding member of La Asociación de Familiares Unidos por un Solo Dolor - AFUSODO (Association of Relatives United by a Single Sorrow), and member of MOVICE, was subjected to death threats and intimidation through a threatening letter and email received on 24 July 2010.
1 June 2010: A death threat was issued against Ms Berenice Celeyta, Ms Luz Marina Palacios, Mr John Freddy Poso and the CSPP.
26 May 2010: Killing of human rights defender Mr Rogelio Martínez, member of the Sucre branch of MOVICE on 18 May 2010 in San Onofre, Sucre.
22 April 2010: Over 60 Colombian human rights organisations and individual human rights defenders, among them MOVICE, Fundación Desarollo y Paz (Development and Peace Foundation, FUNDEPAZ) and Consultoria para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento (Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement, CODHES), operating across a number of regions in the country, received death threats allegedly from the right-wing paramilitary group Los Rastrojos.
30 March 2010: Mr Clodomiro Castilla Ospina, editor and publisher of the local magazine El Pulso del Tiempo and reporter with the Bloque Informativo at the Voz de Montería radio station, was shot dead in Montería in Northern Colombia, on 19 March 2010.
17 February 2010: Mr Bayron Ricardo Góngora Arango and his fellow colleagues working with Corporación Jurídica Libertad (Legal Freedom Corporation) were subjected to increasing levels of threats, intimidation and judicial persecution.
9 February 2010: Ms Ingrid Vergara and Mr Juan David Díaz Chamorro, spokesperson and member of MOVICE respectively, received repeated threats against them, and Ingrid Vergara was the subject of an assassination attempt on 5 February 2010.
8 February 2010: Members of the human rights organisation Corporación Sisma Mujer (Sisma Women's Corporation) received death threats from a Colombian paramilitary group.
Front Line believes that the aforementioned human rights defenders have been targeted solely as a result of their legitimate work in the defence of human rights. Public statements continue to be made by high-ranking public officials, including the President, aimed at suggesting links between human rights defenders and guerrilla groups in an attempt to discredit the role of human rights defenders and their legitimate and peaceful work in the promotion and protection of human rights. These statements put those human rights defenders at greater risk.
At the same time human rights defenders continue to receive threats from those guerrilla groups and paramilitary structures. Front Line is deeply concerned at the level of impunity that exists in Colombia, particularly in relation to crimes perpetrated against human rights defenders, who are often doubly targeted, by State and non-state actors, and as such are operating under severe risk.