In The Press 

News have now been moved to a different page : see www.Betancourt.info 

30/03/04

  • 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 ZNET.

24/03/04

  • 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 critics.

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 question.

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 Journal

24/03/04

  • The failure to prosecute a top Colombian army general accused of working with illegal paramilitary groups shows continuing flaws in the Attorney General’s office, Human Rights Watch said today.

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 paramilitary leaders.”  
 
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 guerrillas.  
 
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 : Colombia: Prosecution Problems Persist Human Rights Watch 

22/03/04

  • 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 civil war.

    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 United States.

    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 territory.

    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 Chronicle

19/03/04

  • 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 free her".

    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 country?

    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 

15/03/04

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 AlertNet, UK

11/03/04

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

24/02/04 :

It's 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 : Documentary Probes Colombia Kidnapping Miami Herald, FL

22/02/04 :

More than 52 cities in the World participate in the 1st International Hostages' Day organized by the Ingrid Betancourt Committees.

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 Ingrid." : 

18/02/04 :

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 countryside.

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

17/02/04 :

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

13/02/04

Ingrid Betancourt's mother accuses President Uribe of Colombia.

"When 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 is not."

Yolanda 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.

 Ms 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 terrible injustice.

Ariel 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.

"As 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."   : Le « J’accuse » de la mère d’Ingrid Betancourt Le Soir en ligne

10/02/04

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 human rights.

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 violations.''

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 properly.''

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
Guardian, UK

08/02/04

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 winning."

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 Magdalena River.

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 stable future.

· 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)

Call Colombia's human rights bluff Guardian, UK

07/02/04

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.

07/02/04

  • According 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 forces.

    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 investigations.

    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 International

  • VIDEOS : 

  • The Hidden Tragedy- Introduction 10/12/2002

  • The Hidden Tragedy- Part 1 (human rights defenders) 13/01/2003

  • The Hidden Tragedy- Part 2 (displaced people) 
    13/04/2003

  • The Hidden Tragedy- Part 3 (trade unionists) 15/08/2003

  • The Hidden Tragedy- Part 4 (Yolanda Bercerra) 05/08/2003

  • The Hidden Tragedy- Part 5 (AI concerns) 05/08/2003

  • La Tragedia Oculta- whole video (Spanish) 12/08/2003

06/02/04

  • Symbolic Freedom of Bogotá for Ingrid Betancourt.

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 Green party.  

6/02/04

  • On the occasion of the visit of President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia to the European Assembly.

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 Colombia.

"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 administrative bodies.

"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 unions rights.

"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 with regret.

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".

06/02/04

  • Inés Peña, journalist and human rights activist, was assaulted and tortured in the city of Barrancabermeja on January 28.

    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 paramilitary forces.

    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 active.

    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

05/02/04

  • 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 Radio


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AlterFocus : info Ingrid Betancourt www.Betancourt.info