A long-time peace activist, Father
Javier Giraldo helped found Justicia y Paz in 1988 and has
long been a tireless worker for human rights in Colombia. He
is the author of 'Colombia: the Genocidal Democracy', one of
the most useful primers on Colombia's human rights situation
available in the 1990s. He was interviewed in Bogota on
February 22, 2004.
Read his article about Alvaro
Uribe Velez and 'Democratic Security' in
Colombian President Uribe was dealt a
diplomatic rebuff from the European Parliament when he
arrived on February 10 after a controversial invite from
Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) belonging to the
Socialist Group. Campaigners had expressed deep concern at
his imminent arrival in the wake of the Colombian
government’s branding of human rights defenders as
“terrorists.” Last September, Uribe told human rights
groups to “take off their masks and stop hiding their
ideas behind human rights.” Comments by Colombia’s
Vice-President Francisco Santos just two weeks before the
visit, in which he accused human rights groups of
“undermining democracy” did little to appease his
Under the guise of “democratic
security,” Uribe has conducted mass arrests and is
attempting to legitimize security measures previously thrown
out by the Constitutional Court who said he had exceeded his
power. He is in the process of establishing a
“million-man” informer network as the eyes and ears of
the state; giving the army powers to tap telephones, make
arrests and raid homes; and creating a “peasant army.”
Uribe has stated that he would not
support a negotiated solution with any armed group unless it
first declared a unilateral ceasefire. But he has started
talks with paramilitaries responsible for the vast majority
of Colombia’s human rights abuses despite the fact that
his own government admits that they have killed at least 750
people since their so-called ceasefire was announced. When
asked about the apparent double standards, Uribe dodged the
The July 2003 London Declaration, a
donor agreement under which Colombia gained $450 million in
EU aid, was premised on Uribe’s commitment to fulfilling
24 recommendations of the United Nations High Commission for
Human Rights. Yet a meeting on November 30 concluded none of
the recommendations had been fully met, and deliberate
action directly contrary to seven had been taken, including
implementation of Uribe’s anti-terrorism laws.
Some present in Strasbourg felt that
Uribe’s visit might have actually benefited those fighting
for social justice in Colombia. According to MEP Jillian
Evans, “Ironically, I think that Uribe’s visit did end
up benefiting Colombia. Not, as he had hoped, in gaining
support for his unjust, authoritarian government, but in
bringing the plight of the ordinary citizens of Colombia to
the attention of the people of Europe.” : MEPs
Upstage Uribe Colombia
This week, Attorney General Luis Camilo
Osorio announced that he would not file charges against
General Rito Alejo del Río. A cashiered army officer, Del Río
had been under investigation for alleged links to
paramilitaries while he commanded the 17th Brigade, located in
northern Colombia, between 1995 and 1997.
“The first thing that Attorney General Luis Camilo Osorio
did upon assuming office in 2001 was fire the prosecutors who
had gathered enough evidence to arrest Del Río for these
serious crimes,” said José Miguel Vivanco, executive
director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch.
“That purge of prosecutors was only the beginning of a
marked trend in the Attorney General’s office of hampering
or derailing cases that implicate top military and
Within seventy-two hours of taking office, Osorio had demanded
the resignations of two high-ranking, veteran officials who
had handled some of the institution’s most important and
complex human rights cases, including this one. A third
official felt compelled to resign in response to the attorney
general’s actions. Subsequently, the prosecutor who had
ordered General Del Río’s July 2001 arrest was forced to
flee Colombia because of threats on her life.
Prosecutors had gathered evidence linking Del Río to support
for paramilitaries who had attacked villages, executed local
civic leaders, and provoked mass displacement and severe
hardship for thousands of residents in the Urabá region.
According to one soldier interviewed by government
prosecutors, General Del Río had ordered his troops to patrol
with paramilitaries and take measures to disguise paramilitary
killings as casualties of combat between the army and
The evidence was compelling enough to prompt then-President
Andrés Pastrana to cashier Del Río in 1998. The U.S.
government also canceled his visa to the United States in July
1999, on the grounds that there was credible evidence that
implicated him in “international terrorism,” drug
trafficking, and arms trafficking.
“The Del Río case is one of the most important in Colombia,
since it alleges widespread collusion between the Colombian
army and paramilitary groups,” said Vivanco :
Prosecution Problems Persist Human
Right-wing paramilitary groups have emerged as menacing
powerbrokers in their own right after beating back Marxist
guerrillas in some parts of the country. Like mobsters, the
paramilitaries shake down business owners. They traffic
cocaine. And they ply the dark art of electoral manipulation
to put their allies in office.
Their expanding criminal empire bedevils the Colombian
government as it attempts to demobilize the nation's 15,000
paramilitaries as a first step toward ending a 40-year-old
The two sides have held eight months of talks, and 800
paramilitary troops have turned in their weapons. But
negotiations have stalled over demands by paramilitary
leaders that they get off scot-free despite widespread
atrocities in Colombia and drug-running charges in the
In fact, paramilitary chieftains have amassed so much
wealth and political power that many experts predict they
will balk at signing a peace treaty unless they get nearly
everything they ask for in the negotiations.
"If you are doing so well," says Mauricio
Romero, a political analyst in Bogota, the Colombian
capital, "what's the point of disarming?"
Financed by landowners and drug traffickers who were
infuriated by guerrilla attacks and kidnappings, some of the
first paramilitary groups sprang up in the 1980s in northern
Magdalena state, which is now the heart of paramilitary
Often collaborating with the Colombian army, the
vigilantes wiped out most guerrilla units along with
hundreds of innocent civilians in Magdalena by the late
1990s. As the paramilitaries solidified their grip on the
region, they adopted the same nefarious methods pioneered by
the rebels : Paramilitary
groups sowing fear in Colombia Houston
In an interview with Liberation Mr
Santos stated the following " Each time the struggle of
Ms Ingrid Betancourt is recognised by a council her value in
the eyes of FARC increases". To date over 1056 councils
have done this, 6 of them in Ireland.
He then stated "As the
campaign continues FARC will be less and less inclined to
This is an extraordinary statement
given that Santos himself was a hostage for 8 months. During
his captivity, when asked to send a message to the President
of Colombia, his message was no different to that sent by
Ingrid Betancourt. His message was that the constitution and
the law were more important than the lives of the hostages.
In her message broadcast last August,
Ingrid asked that an exchange of military POW's be
negotiated first. She pointed out the first duty of the
Colombian government was to look after its soldiers and
policemen who have been held by FARC and other rebels for up
to six years. Yet this government refuses to negotiate an
exchange of its military who are effectively prisoners of
war. Ingrid Betancourt suggested that only when such an
agreement was reached would the other civilian hostages be
then released as a humanitarian gesture. Her respect for the
Constitution is beyond question.
As usual the Colombian government uses
excuses not to act.
The exchange of POW's for prisoners in
jail is covered by the Geneva Convention. France has offered
with other European government to welcome some of the FARC
rebels at present in prison in Colombia in exchange for the
liberation of the hostages. In an article in a Colombian
newspaper, a senior army general stated that FARC was on the
decline. Yet the Colombian government according to Santos
would have "difficulty explaining to the Colombian
people the freeing of a senior FARC rebel, a Commandant Hugo
who is responsible for over 400 kidnappings".
Would the Colombian government like to
explain the recent arrest of Ms Luz Perly Cordoba, a human
rights and trade union activist?
Would they explain why a system of
informers has been encouraged among civilians in that
Would they explain why they ignore
calls from the EU and the UN to ensure that human rights
abuses no longer occur ?
However the very campaign to release
Ingrid and the other hostages has focused the eyes of Europe
and the world on Colombia. This is recognised by Santos and
he stated that the Colombian government would welcome any
offers of mediation. He also stated that when the present
government came to power they had reintroduced the rule of
law in 170 municipalities previously in the control of
rebels. The homocide rate has decreased by 20% and
forced displacement by 52% . He admitted that the government
had not reached all its objectives and stated that the
judicial system was not working and that this was the
greatest weakness of democracy in Colombia : «
Bogota ne peut pas renoncer à l ' option militaire » Libération
Colombian rebel commander told local television three U.S.
Defense Department contractors held prisoner for a year are CIA
agents and that chances for a deal to free them and other
hostages are slim.
"They're Americans. Our information is they are CIA
agents. Verified," Raul Reyes, a senior member of the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a guerrilla army known
by the Spanish initials FARC, told Noticias Uno late on Sunday.
The FARC captured civilian contractors Thomas Howes, Marc
Gonsalves and Keith Stansell when their light aircraft crashed
on a mission to spray drug crops in southern Colombia in
February 2003. The rebels killed another American and a
Colombian who survived the crash.
The United States and the three men themselves have denied
they work for the CIA, saying they were among hundreds of
civilian contractors hired by Washington to assist Colombia's
war on cocaine : Colombian
rebels call US hostages CIA agents Reuters
The husband of Colombia's most
famous hostage, who has questioned the will of the government to
free his wife from Marxist rebels, said on Tuesday he would
briefly leave the country following death threats.
Juan Carlos Lecompte, whose wife, Ingrid
Betancourt, was kidnapped as she ran for president two years
ago, said anonymous callers told him that if he did not like
President Alvaro Uribe he should get out of the country : Hostage's
Husband to Leave Colombia After Threats Reuters
a shocking story, all the more so for those who haven't
followed it, or have simply forgotten. "The Kidnapping of
Ingrid Betancourt" tells of the abduction of a Colombian
presidential candidate who dared to wage a campaign for reform
Probes Colombia Kidnapping Miami
More than 52 cities in the World participate in the 1st
International Hostages' Day organized by the Ingrid Betancourt
Marking the two-year anniversary of her abduction by
Colombian rebels, supporters of presidential candidate Ingrid
Betancourt prayed for her release in an emotional ceremony on
Saturday in Bogota.
Relatives demanded a prisoner swap with the rebels, and
criticized perceived government inaction. Hundreds of
supporters -- including Rome's mayor Walter Veltroni -- left a
painted star on a Bogota sidewalk in Betancourt's honor.
In Paris, where the dual French-Colombian national enjoys
near-celebrity status, a giant portrait of Betancourt was
draped down the facade of city hall. Supporters planned a
Sunday march in her honor.
"I hope that our wish can soon come true ... Ingrid
Betancourt, along with all of the people who today are held
prisoner, may finally be free," Veltroni told the crowd
in Bogota, many carrying balloons reading: "Freedom for
Colombian authorities are stepping up their campaign to
capture or kill the country's top rebel commanders, placing
ads in the country's main airports offering millions of
dollars in rewards for information, officials said Tuesday.
This week, the Defense Ministry launched the second phase
of a campaign dubbed ``Energize Colombia Against Terrorism,''
broadcasting ads on special screens set up in airports across
the country. The campaign is aimed at getting Colombians to
identify suspects and report rebel movements in the
Topping the most wanted list is Manuel Marulanda, the
founder and leader of Latin America's biggest rebel group, the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Also included
are FARC commanders Luis Suarez and Alfonso Cano.
Notably absent from the list are the two top right-wing
paramilitary commanders, who are blamed for some of the worst
atrocities in the civil war but are currently pursuing peace
talks with the government.
Meanwhile, a leading Colombian journalist, citing ``very
reliable sources'' close to the FARC, reported Tuesday that
Marulanda, 73, is suffering from terminal cancer and likely
has no more than six months to live : Colombia
Turns Up Heat on Rebel Leaders Guardian, UK
A year after they were taken hostage in Colombia following
the crash of their small plane during an drug surveillance
mission for the Defense Department, three Americans remain in
captivity in the Andean jungle with scant prospects for freedom.
One year ago today, the engine failed on the U.S.
surveillance plane run by Northrop Grumman subsidiary California
Microwave Systems. After pilot Tom Janis crash-landed on a
hilltop clearing, guerrillas meeting nearby converged on the
site and killed Janis and a Colombian intelligence officer, Luis
Alcides Cruz. Crew members Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and
Keith Stansell were captured and spirited away by the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by its Spanish
acronym as the FARC.
After a year, little is known about the condition of the
three beyond the fact that they are probably alive, held
somewhere in a rebel-controlled zone in southern Colombia. The
only hard evidence about their condition was a video made in
July by a Colombian journalist who visited a jungle camp where
they were being held.
The prospects for a release or rescue seem remote. Colombian
President Alvaro Uribe recently reiterated his policy against
prisoner exchanges with the FARC.
The U.S. government has offered rewards of more than $5
million for information leading to their rescue and the arrest
of their captors, but says it won't negotiate for their release.
"We don't want these guys forgotten," said
Stansell's mother, Lynne Stansell of Bradenton, Fla. "They
were doing a job for the government. They were fighting this war
on drugs for the government as if they had been soldiers. We
appreciate the federal government serving them as if they had
been in U.S. uniforms, and hope they will do whatever can be
done to bring these guys home." : U.S.
hostages in Colombia mark 1 year Nola.com
Betancourt's mother accuses President Uribe of Colombia.
Alvaro Uribe became president, I thought at first that he was
going to help us free my daughter Ingrid," explained
Yolanda Pulecio, Ingrid Betancourt's mother. "Ingrid has
been a prisoner for two years and I don't believe in him any
more. It is with deep sorrow that I realise that this man has
deceived us. When dealing with him we have met nothing but
disinterest or scorn. It is his duty to do everything to
liberate the many people held prisoner by the guerrilla, as the
Geneva Convention requires. This would be made possible by means
of a humanitarian agreement as distinct from a peace agreement.
FARC have said they are ready to negotiate. But the government
Pulecio is a woman who has been hurt but continues to fight. She
was one of three victims from Colombia who spoke at a press
conference in Brussels organised by the Belgian Association for
Colombia, an umbrella group of NGOs concerned with the worsening
situation in Colombia. The same group organised a protest
outside the Commission building in Brussels.
Gloria Ines Ramirez, another witness, is a trade unionist that
had to flee Colombia following threats. When asked about
President Uribe's claim that the number of killings of trade
unionists had dropped, she refuted this, saying that "The
Government uses these statistics to legitimise its policies but
trade unionists and their families have never received so many
death threats. As a result many trade unions have lost their
effectiveness in several regions. There are many trade
unionists like myself who have had to leave the country to stay
alive. As well, the government continues to accuse trade unions
of promoting terrorism or being responsible for bankrupting
businesses. What type of a country is this where the suspicion
of promoting terrorism is enough for a person to be put in
prison? Even if that person is freed six months later, it is a
Toscana, a native of northern Colombia, also had to leave the
country with his wife and six children after his four brothers
were killed by paramilitaries on the orders of the brother of
the former Ambassador to Brussels, Carlos Arturo Marulanda. The
latter wished to evict peasant farmers who were farming lands
that he later resold illegally.
a victim of the violence I am asking the E.U. to refuse to
support Uribe's policies, stated Ariel Toscana. Uribe is
agreeing to demobilise the paramilitaries by guaranteeing them
impunity. Their tragic victims have a right to see that those
who are guilty of killing be judged. Fortunately I have been
made welcome in Belgium and have been able to speak on behalf of
those in Colombia who are unable to speak freely. The EU must
listen to these victims." :
« J’accuse » de la mère d’Ingrid Betancourt Le
Soir en ligne
About a dozen European lawmakers walked out of a speech
Tuesday by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to protest a new law
granting sweeping powers to the country's armed forces.
Uribe shrugged off his critics, saying the legislation was
necessary to bring peace to the country.
The law allows Colombian forces to detain suspects without
warrants, tap phones and search homes. The United Nations and
rights groups say the measures violate international laws on
In protest, many EU lawmakers wore white scarves inscribed
with the words ``Peace and justice in Colombia.'' About 20 of
the 626-member assembly walked out as Uribe began to speak.
``We consider his visit at this time to be insensitive and
inappropriate,'' said Monica Frassoni, leader of the Green
group. ``There are too many open questions about human rights
Uribe said terrorism was also a violation of human rights.
``Human rights should not be used to cover up terrorist
action,'' he told reporters. ``You need to get to know Colombia
At the parliament, Uribe reiterated he would not negotiate an
exchange of prisoners with his country's largest rebel group,
which is holding dozens of hostages.
``The terrorists who are legitimately in prison, are another
thing and we are not going to make any deals with them that will
threaten our security,'' he said.
His comments were his clearest rejection to date of a
prisoner exchange, demanded by the FARC and generally supported
by European officials.
Uribe is in principle opposed to dealing with the FARC -
which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United
States and the EU - but has said he would consider an exchange
if rebels freed by the government go into exile and never return
to Colombia : Europe
Lawmakers Protest Colombia Leader
Colombian president Álvaro Uribe arrives in Europe this
week. It is his first visit since signing a UK-brokered deal
last year under which he pledged to improve his country's track
record on human rights in exchange for more European Union aid.
Beginning in Brussels on Monday, Uribe will press Europe's
leaders to schedule a donors' conference to come up with the
cash. But Europe should delay. President Uribe has failed to
keep his promise to improve human rights. Until he honours it,
further financial aid should be withheld.
No one doubts that Colombia needs help. Left-wing guerrillas
and right-wing paramilitaries killed over 2,500 civilians last
year. Each day, 650 people on average fled their homes, making
Colombia a humanitarian disaster zone. These illegal armies have
an inexhaustible source of cash, since Americans and,
increasingly, Europeans buy the cocaine and heroin they control.
But help cannot come at the expense of human rights.
President Uribe has backed legislation that allows soldiers to
carry out arrests and searches without a warrant, inspired by
the global trend to suspend rights in the "war on
terror." In London last July, Colombia pledged to refrain
from precisely such measures.
This was just one of 24 recommendations made by the U.N. High
Commissioner for Human Rights that Colombia agreed to implement,
but which the government has so far failed to act on. In
addition, units of Colombia's military have yet to sever their
ties with deadly paramilitaries. Recently, soldiers raided one
paramilitary base - only to discover a sergeant and police
officer on site, reportedly helping coordinate operations.
The Colombian authorities, meanwhile, have proposed allowing
these killers to elude any real punishment by paying a fee,
their crimes essentially erased - cash in return for a "get
out of jail free" card. This deal would be yet another blow
to victims of their terror. It would also send a message to
guerrillas to continue killing, since eventually the government
may grant similar terms.
Human rights groups have recorded more than 600 killings
attributed to paramilitaries since they announced an alleged
ceasefire in December 2002. Only last month, church leaders
warned that up to 400 paramilitaries had seized villages along
the Opogadó river in northern Colombia. In one, gunmen cut the
phone lines and showed teenagers the fistfuls of cash they would
get for fighting. As one columnist put it, "people know
that the paramilitaries are everywhere, and that they are
President Uribe is, however, betting that Europe will look
the other way. Certainly, Bush and Blair have done so. Last
month, the Bush Administration "certified" Colombia's
performance on human rights, despite evidence that it had failed
to meet the conditions established by the US Congress. In other
words, Colombia's record on human rights was not deemed an
impediment to the allocation of half a billion dollars of US
military aid this year.
Whilst the UK claims to support human rights, its resolve
fades when real action is called for. Britain, and the rest of
the European Union, should be wiser. Real security cannot be won
by allowing the paramilitaries to run roughshod over the law,
terrorizing millions of Colombians.
Before the donors' conference is scheduled, President Uribe
should withdraw the perilous legislation which allows the
military to carry out arrests without warrant - an invitation to
increases in torture and forced disappearances. He must also
move to break the paramilitary stranglehold on the Middle
Magdalena valley, where human rights and aid groups are under
attack. The EU spends more than 330 million euro on these civil
society initiatives, and they are working. But the Colombians
who do this work are terrified. They need political support just
as much as they need cash.
Only last week, the Bishop of Barrancabermeja, Jaime Prieto,
issued a heartwrenching plea: "We are under permanent
threat and attack... As long as there is no government
authority, we are in the hands of illegal groups. Before it was
the guerrillas and now it is the paramilitaries, not only in
Barrancabermeja, but across the entire region." No
programme, no matter how well-designed or funded, can prosper in
a climate of terror. If Uribe's officers fail to take effective
action, he should fire them and find soldiers who can.
Agreement will not be easy, as a recent visit to Colombia by
EU Commissioner Chris Patten made clear. After Patten suggested
that Colombia should live up to its human rights commitments,
Uribe's vice-president blasted him for, in his words, treating
the country as a "banana republic." One Medellín
daily wrote that Patten's brains needed a scrubbing. After
Patten left, paramilitaries took pot shots at Norwegian refugee
specialists, as their Colombian colleagues escorted them up the
But, whatever the difficulties, real change is needed. Europe
- together with Latin American donors like Argentina, Brazil and
Chile - must ensure that its aid comes with strings attached.
Failure to take a tough stance would be a disservice to
courageous figures like Bishop Prieto and to Colombians who seek
to live in a secure country, and who instinctively understand
that human rights cannot be a pick-and-choose issue. Human
rights abuses are a crime, whoever they are committed by. Only
if this point is understood does Colombia have any hope of a
· Robin Kirk, a Human Rights Watch researcher, is the
author of More Terrible Than Death: Massacres, Drugs and
America's War in Colombia (Public Affairs), and of a number of
HRW reports on Colombia (www.hrw.org)
Colombia's human rights bluff Guardian,
President Alvaro Uribe will visit Europe
this week and will address the Plenary session of the European
Parliament in Strasbourg. However the welcome extended to him
will not be unanimous. Several groups - Liberals, Greens and the
Left Alliance are opposed to his visit, while the Socialists and
the PPR will welcome him with some reservation.
The members of all political groups will
attend the Plenary Session during which President Uribe will
outline the internal unrest in his country and will seek the
support of Europe.
The representatives of the groups opposed
to his visit will not attend the lunch given in honour of the
Colombian president. They have even arranged a meeting with
NGO's to underline their opposition. The Liberals are critical
of this visit "because of the lack of Human Rights in
Colombia", according to their spokesman, while the Greens
reject the harmful collaboration between Colombia and the US in
the war against drugs.
The PPE think it is an honour to welcome
Uribe, because he has been democratically elected, a position
criticised by the Socialists who wish to state clearly that they
don’t support some of the policies of Uribe and that they
understand the opposition's point of view.
As well as addressing the plenary session,
President Uribe will for the first time come before the Foreign
Affairs Commission to answer deputies' questions. The
demobilisation of the paramilitaries, respect for Human Rights,
the kidnappings by guerrilla groups, and a possible humanitarian
exchange will be among the subjects discussed.
President Uribe will also visit Brussels
where he will meet with community and national groups. He will
meet Javier Solana, with whom he will chair the official
ceremony when a co-operation agreement between Colombia and the
International European Police (Europol) will be signed.
After Brussels, President Uribe will visit
France and Italy when he will have an audience with John Paul
11. President Uribe will be accompanied by, among others, the
Chancellor Carolina Barco, the Minister for Commerce, Industry
and Tourism Jorge Humerto Botero, the High Commisioner for
Peace, Luis Carlos Restropo and the Presidential Adviser to Plan
Colombia, Luis Alfonso Hoyos as well as his wife Lina Moreno.
to Amnesty International, European countries have an
opportunity to act on human rights crisis in Colombia.
The Colombian President's visit to Brussels and
Strasbourg this week comes just after the release of the EU
Council of Foreign Ministers' statement on Colombia. Alvaro
Uribe Vélez's visit will offer the European Union and
individual member states an important opportunity to adhere
to the EU's own stated policies with regards to the human
rights crisis in Colombia. They will have the opportunity to
show the world that there is no dichotomy between foreign
policy and human rights advocacy.
The Council's statement made reference to the importance
of the implementation of repeated United Nations human
rights recommendations. They made specific reference to the
necessity of ending impunity, the importance of ending
collusion between the security forces and the
paramilitaries; and the need to ensure that any process of
demobilisation of illegal armed groups guarantees the rights
of victims of the conflict to truth, justice and reparation.
The Council made reference to the UN's concerns regarding
the granting of judicial police powers to the security
On the other side of the world, the Colombian government
was not only avoiding international recommendations, but
also suggesting that the human rights situation was
improving in the country. The government has pointed to an
improvement in the human rights crisis and argues that there
has been a reduction of kidnapping and killings in 2003.
However, this does not take into account that, in many
conflict zones, the figures of killings and
"disappearances" have increased or the fact that
reporting human rights violations has been made more
difficult and dangerous. Human rights organizations working
in Colombia are increasingly being labelled as subversive
and many cases of human rights violations committed by the
security forces are still being presented as killings of
guerrillas in combat, bringing even more impunity into the
context of an almost complete lack of justice.
Amnesty International is clear that government policies
have not secured a substantive improvement of the human
rights situation. The mechanisms of impunity that allow
human rights violations to continue are not being
dismantled, but are, in fact, being consolidated.
Military courts, which have played a major role in
guaranteeing the impunity of members of the security forces
in human rights violations, continue to investigate such
cases, despite repeated United Nations recommendations. The
civilian justice system also plays an important role in
guaranteeing impunity by repeatedly failing to advance
investigations against members of the security forces,
high-ranking officers in particular, even when there is
strong and incontrovertible evidence.
The family of Nydia Erika Bautista is in the process of
appealing the decision made by the Office of the Attorney
General to end criminal investigations against former
General Alvaro Velandia Hurtado implicated in her torture,
murder and "disappearance" in 1987. The Office of
the Attorney General took this decision despite the fact
that the Procurator General had requested that the Attorney
General advance investigations on the basis of the strong
evidence uncovered in the course of disciplinary
Is this backlash to human rights what the government sees
as a "major improvement during 2003"?
If the human rights crisis in Colombia has continued to
deteriorate in recent years, responsibility falls equally
upon armed opposition groups and successive governments. For
their part, the two largest guerrilla groups -- the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the
National Liberation Army (ELN) -- have repeatedly failed to
end kidnapping and other violations of international
humanitarian law, as recommended by the United Nations.
Colombian Governments have failed to implement repeated
UN recommendations to end impunity in human rights
violations cases. They have not broken the link between the
security forces and paramilitary groups, nor acted to combat
and dismantle these groups. And they continue to fail to
guarantee protection to vulnerable sectors of civilian
society, including peasant farmers, black and indigenous
communities living in conflict zones, human rights
defenders, trade unionists and others campaigning against
social and economic injustice.
Rather than putting all the international recommendations
into practice, or even consideration, the Colombian
government continues to pursue policies that exacerbate the
human rights crisis. Granting judicial police powers to the
armed forces, facilitating policies that may permit
paramilitarism to re-emerge under a new legal guise, and
putting forward a process of demobilisation by which
paramilitaries will only be recycled into the conflict, will
do nothing but exacerbate the context of impunity in which
human rights violators and abusers act.
Moreover, the government's purported peace process with
the paramilitaries threatens to bring about a situation that
would lead to de facto amnesties for those who have abused
and violated human rights. The process is being used to draw
up contracts of impunity for those responsible for an
escalating human rights and humanitarian crisis, including
paramilitaries, their security force backers and guerrillas.
The government's policies threaten to deny victims and
their families their right to truth, justice and integral
reparation. Amnesty International calls on the EU and member
states to reiterate stated EU policy positions to the effect
that any peace process should guarantee the right to truth,
justice and reparation of victims. They should also insist
that guerrilla groups comply with international humanitarian
law and call on both the Colombian government and guerrilla
groups to sign a humanitarian agreement to remove the
civilian population from the conflict.
The facts and figures are in the public domain. EU
representatives will now have to demonstrate to the public
that their recommendations are more than just words by
approaching the Colombian government with specific
recommendations and finding ways to held those responsible
accountable : Colombia:
European countries have an opportunity to act on human
rights crisis Amnesty
Hidden Tragedy- Introduction
Hidden Tragedy- Part 1 (human rights defenders)
Hidden Tragedy- Part 2 (displaced people)
Hidden Tragedy- Part 3 (trade unionists) 15/08/2003
Hidden Tragedy- Part 4 (Yolanda Bercerra)
Hidden Tragedy- Part 5 (AI concerns)
Tragedia Oculta- whole video (Spanish)
The French Colombian hostage, Ingrid
Betancourt, kidnapped for nearly 2 years, has been given the
symbolic Freedom of the City of Bogotà. 1064 towns all over
the world have recognised the contribution of Ingrid
Betancourt to peace and justice in her country. "As well
as recognising Ingrid in this way, for me it is a sort of
'life-insurance'. This sends a message to the guerrillas,
saying that they must respect her life, that has been
recognised by so many towns in the world", explained
Ingrid's husband, Juan Carlos Lecompte. The latter stressed
that the campaign to honour Ingrid was part of a plan to ' put
more pressure on the Government to sign a Humanitarian
Exchange Agreement ', thereby allowing hostages to be freed.
Ingrid Betancourt who is a symbol against
corruption in Colombia, was kidnapped by FARC on February
23,2002 during her presidential campaign while a member of the
On Tuesday, 10 Feb, it is expected that
some deputies will criticise his visit, others his policies.
Four political groupings in the EU, the
Liberals, the Left Alliance, the Greens and the EDD will
express their opposition to the visit of President Uribe of
Colombia to address a plenary session of the Parliament. Some
of these deputies will walk out, including 16 members of the
Italian Socialist Party.
Others will wear white scarves with
slogans in favour of Human Rights and a negotiated settlement
to the conflict in Colombia. These will be distributed by
NGO's to deputies.
Although the Liberals oppose the visit,
"because the cause of Human Rights seem to be getting
steadily worse in Colombia", the President of the
Liberals, the Briton, Graham Watson, will listen to President
Uribe's message in the plenary session.
However he will not attend the lunch
given in honour of Uribe and his delegation by President Pat
Cox. Another group leader, the Spaniard Pedro Marset who is
Vice-President of the Parliamentary delegation for South
America has excused himself saying, "it is not good for
one's health to be in the company of certain people".
On Tuesday afternoon, President Uribe
will answer questions at the Foreign Affairs Commission of the
Parliament. He must answer a series of questions tabled by
members who are concerned by the human rights situation in
"We are particularly concerned and
want to ask President Uribe about several issues:
for example the involvement of children
in guerrilla groups, the increasing co-operation between these
groups and the army: drug trafficking as "there is proof
that economic links exist between those involved in drug
trafficking and the forces of the State" and human rights
in the prisons, stated Watson.
The socialist Deputy Fava, will ask Uribe
what he thinks ' of the fact that not a single part of the
London Declaration has been implemented.' The Colombian
Government and representatives of the International community
signed the London Declaration in London, last summer.
Fava will also ask the reasons why Uribe
wishes to change the Colombian Constitution in such a way that
there is a danger that the fundamental legal and human rights
of the citizen may be transferred to military and
"Uribe is the only Latin American
President to claim that it is possible to stop drug
trafficking by burning or fumigating the cocoa plantations.
The general experience in the latter years in Latin America
show that the only effective solution is an economic one.
Farmers must be able to grow other crops that will allow them
to survive", says Fava.
Fava who supports
EU policies with regard to Colombia maintains that "if the
centres set up to monitor human rights in a country say there is
a serious problem with human rights, then we have a serious
problem with regard to cooperating politically and economically
with this country because there is a clause in our treaties
whereby respect for Human Rights is an absolute prerequisite for
having economic relations with a country. This applies also to
(cooperation with) Colombia."
Fava insists that the conflict with the
guerrillas can only be solved by political means not military
means. The history of Latin America has taught us this.
Pedro Marset hopes that the MEP's will ask
'difficult' questions. He himself will ask questions about Human
Rights, about the rights of Trade Unions, about the American
military presence in
Colombia, the worsening of human and trade
"Uribe has not fulfilled any of the
recommendations on Human Rights that the United Nations
suggested and as regards the conflict he has said in a clear
manner that he is determined to pursue a military solution. So
there is no evidence that Uribe is willing to conform to the
wishes of the Euopean Union, to the wishes of the Parliament or
of the Council in order to achieve an end to this conflict.
Uribe is convinced that the only solution is a military solution
and he is supported in this by President Bush", he notes
The Left Alliance, the Liberals and the
Greens have organised a meeting on Tuesday afternoon at which
representatives of Colombian political, social and trade union
groups will speak, among them Melanie Delloye-Betancourt,
daughter of Ingrid Betancourt, about the "serious
consequences of Uribe's policies".
- Inés Peña, journalist and human rights activist, was
assaulted and tortured in the city of Barrancabermeja on
Peña, host of the Cultura por la Vida (Culture for Life)
television programme, was abducted by two armed men who
identified themselves as members of the paramilitary group
United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). They forced Peña
into a car at gunpoint, shaved her hair and burnt her feet
with boiling water.
In her weekly television segment Peña speaks about young
people affected by the civil war and denounces human rights
violations committed by armed groups. She has been
threatened in the past.
Peña also belongs to the youth chapter of the women
rights’ group Organización Femenina Popular, OFP
(Women’s Popular Organisation).
The attackers told her to end her involvement with the
television program. Barrancabermeja city is controlled by
In October 2003, Janeth Montoya, a reporter for the
Barrancabermeja-based daily Vanguardia Liberal, received
death threats after she reported a story exposing the social
problems of a poor neighborhood where armed groups are
On 4th February unidentified gunmen shot and killed Oscar
Alberto Polanco, director of TV channel CNC, outside of
Bogota : Colombia
: Women's rights activist attacked and tortured Index
on Censorship, UK
Archbishop of Tunja (Boyacà),
Monsignor Luis Augusto Castro, clarified on Tuesday, 3
February on Colombian National Radio that there was no
difference of opinion between the Catholic Church and the
Government on the finalisation of an 'eventual humanitarian
agreement' which may bring about the liberation of those
kidnapped by the guerrillas.
"I do not think there is any
difference of opinion. We are in discussions with the
government. We have clearly done what we had to do, each of
us. I cannot see where there can be any disagreement, he
stated. We are trying to create common ground so that each
side may understand the other better and in so doing
differences may be reduced so progress can be made towards
this humanitarian agreement", he added.
He confirmed that there were no
disagreements with the government in any way. We are trying
to understand the position of the Government and also that
of FARC in order to bring about a method of reconciliation.
Monsignor Castro stated that one
important point is that the Government is no longer
demanding peremptorily that those rebels who might be freed
would have to leave the country. President Uribe has
underlined that what he is asking is simply that those who
come out of prison will not reoffend but he is not demanding
that they be exiled.
In a statement President Uribe
announced that the National Government would not allow the
liberation of rebel terrorists without an agreement to
respect the laws and to give effective guarantees that they
will not commit any more crimes.
In his statement on Colombian National
Radio, Archbishop of Tunja, was of the opinion that a Peace
Process must be negotiated discreetly given the sensitivity
and complexity of the matter.
"We must be careful if we want to
avoid further problems. We must nurture this process",
he stressed : Monseñor
Castro desvirtúa discrepancias con el Gobierno sobre "acuerdo humanitario" RCN