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Colombian human rights defenders accused of terrorism and arbitrarily imprisoned - CCIC calls on Minister Graham to speak out

(disponible en anglais seulement)

News Release

For Immediate Release: October, 2003

Colombian human rights defenders accused of terrorism and arbitrarily imprisoned
CCIC calls on Minister Graham to speak out

Human rights defenders in Colombia are the victims of an escalating campaign of intimidation by the Government of Colombia. The Government of Canada must join the growing number of countries that have spoken out against the threats and accusations directed at human rights defenders. Church organisations, women's groups, even the United Nations system, have all been targeted. President Alvaro Uribe Velez has called human rights defenders "politickers at the service of terrorism", church groups have been accused of representing the political wing of the Colombian guerrilla group, the FARC, and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and international humanitarian organisations have been accused of complicity with guerrilla activity.

"Accusations such as these are tantamount to death threats in Colombia. By explicitly linking human rights organisations with guerrillas, President Uribe has made them targets for paramilitary violence." says Gerry Barr, President of the CCIC. In a country in which 1 teacher is assassinated every week and scores of trade unionists and social activists are assassinated every year, these statements put at serious risk all those who defend human rights and democracy in Colombia.

From October 29 to November 7, DANILO RUEDA, the Co-ordinator of a prominent church-based human rights organisation in Colombia, the Inter-Ecclesiastic Commission for Justice and Peace, will be in Canada. Justice and Peace has recently been involved in two court cases seeking to bring to justice human rights violators: one case involves a General accused of crimes against humanity, and the second involves illegal logging operations in Afro-Colombian communities. Following important advances in both of these cases, Colombian government authorities have accused Justice and Peace - along with respected international organisations such as Peace Brigades International and the UNHCR-of complicity with guerrilla activity.

A number of the organisations under threat in Colombia receive funding and support from Canadian NGOs, the Canadian International Development Agency and/or the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT).

The Canadian government also provides foreign aid to the Government of Colombia. In July 2003, at an international donor's meeting, Canada was a co-signatory to a declaration which "underlined the importance of the UN" and "urged the Colombian Government to implement [the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights] recommendations promptly". Canada has also been designated to monitor Colombia's progress towards its Declaration commitments. The Government of Colombia has clearly contravened UN recommendations by threatening the lives, and discrediting the work, of human rights defenders. "The campaign to intimidate and silence human rights defenders in Colombia has escalated progressively since President Uribe's came to power in 2002" says Gerry Barr, President of the CCIC. "If we don't defend human rights workers, who will defend human rights?"

Massive arrests are taking place as a result of manufactured "evidence" provided by secret informants in President Uribe's informant's network. Hernando Hernandez, former President of the Petroleum Workers of Colombia is under house arrest, accused of "rebellion" for meeting with guerrillas on March 1, 1996 to organise a terrorist attack. On that date, however, Hernandez was in Canada at a symposium sponsored by the Canadian Inter-Church Committee on Human Rights in Latin America. In July 2003, DFAIT issued a letter to the Attorney General of Colombia to provide evidence that Hernandez was in fact in Canada during the supposed guerrilla meeting.

On October 16, Esperanza Amaris Miranda, member of the Organizacion Feminina Popular (OFP) or Popular Women's Organisation was kidnapped and killed. Just two weeks before Esperanza's assassination, the OFP was among a list of organisations identified by the paramilitaries in their statement of support for President Uribe's declaration against human rights defenders.

The Americas Policy Group of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation has written a letter urging Minister Graham to

  • speak out publicly against the accusations against human rights defenders
  • " insist on progress towards the London Declaration prior to accepting a new donor conference.

In the past month, both the European Union and the United Kingdom have made public statements expressing their concern about this matter.

Danilo Rueda will be in Toronto from October 28 until November 2, in Ottawa from November 3-4, and in Montreal from November 5-6, and will be available for interviews. He does not speak English but is accompanied by a Canadian translator.

For more information, please contact,

Katia Gianneschi,
Media Relations,
Canadian Council for International Co-operation at 613-241-7007.

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