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20 September 2002


Fear for Safety

UA 286/02


Members of peasant communities in Cauca department


Amnesty International is concerned for the safety of peasant farmer

communities and social activists in the southwestern department of

Cauca, where protesters have been participating in a strike and

demonstrations since 16 September. Security forces in the area have

reportedly restricted access to food, water and medical attention for

peasant farmers participating in the strike.


Reports also suggest that tear-gas has been used against the

demonstrators and that a large number of riot police have arrived in

the area. Amnesty International is concerned that action taken by the

security forces should not involve the disproportionate and

indiscriminate use of force against the demonstrators.


Demonstrations have been concentrated in areas to the north and

south of the department: in an area known as La Fonda in the

municipality of Patia to the south, and La Maria in the municipality of

Piendamo to the north. Concern for those participating in the strike

has been heightened by accusations made by senior government and

security officials, labelling the national rural strike a guerrilla-

organized protest. People previously labelled as guerrilla

sympathizers or collaborators by the security forces or their

paramilitary allies have frequently been the victim of serious human

rights violations committed by paramilitary forces. There is also

concern for the safety of numerous social organizations in the area,

which have faced paramilitary death threats in advance of the strike.


Food and supplies have reportedly been restricted. For example,

according to local sources, on 14 September two vehicles full of food

destined for the more than 2000 peasants demonstrating in the La

Maria area were seized by the police and some of their contents

reportedly destroyed. Several people who were taken ill in La Fonda

after drinking contaminated water were allegedly prohibited from

travelling to a nearby hospital for medical attention. In the light of

reports of a heavy paramilitary presence in the area, a short distance

from army positions, Amnesty International is concerned for the

safety of the protesters.


Over the last two years, Amnesty International has received

information of death threats and killings by paramilitary forces who

participated in previous rural strikes. Reports of paramilitary forces in

the area, together with repeated reports received since 1999 of a

large paramilitary presence in the department, despite the heavy

presence of the security forces, raises concerns for the safety of the



According to reports, on 16 September at a meeting in which the

Governor of Cauca, police and army officers, representatives of the

human rights ombudsman, the regional procurator, and coordinators

from the demonstrations were in attendance, a senior security force

officer said that some of the demonstration leaders were members of

extreme left-wing groups and that some peasant organizations were

infiltrated by insurgent groups. This accusation followed a paramilitary

death threat issued by the Bloque Calima, Calima Block of the

Autodefensas Campesinas de Cordoba y Uraba (ACCU), United Self-

Defense Forces of Colombia, on 7 September. The death threat, in

the form of a communique to the media, was also received by several

social organizations. This threat has raised concerns for the safety of

social organizations and trade unionists in Cauca Department,

including those that are not participating in the strike.



A national peasant demonstration began on 16 September. Rural

peasant communities and agricultural communities have been

mobilizing in protest at government agricultural policies, the influence

of transnational corporations on Colombian agriculture, the

destruction of national food sovereignty and the loss of biodiversity as

well as the continued killing and 'disappearance' of peasant farmers,

and the forced displacement of peasant communities as a result of

the armed conflict in Colombia.


The strike action in Cauca coincides with the continued build-up of

paramilitary groups in the region, which have been able to operate in

the department despite the strong presence of the security forces.

Guerrilla forces have carried out numerous threats and killings of

civilians they consider to be collaborating with their enemies,

including death threats against mayors and other municipal officials.


RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly

as possible:

- expressing concern for the safety of peasant farmers participating in

the strike action;

- urging that the security forces should not take any action which

places civilian population in danger, and calling for guarantees that

the peasant farmers will have access to food, water and medical


- expressing concern at the reported use of tear gas and excessive

force against those attending the demonstrations;

- expressing concern for members of trade unions and social

organizations, following the death threat issued by the ACCU on 7

September, urging that the authorities take all measures deemed

appropriate by the security forces themselves to guarantee their


- urging that full and impartial investigations are undertaken into these

death threats and those responsible to be brought to justice and the

results to be made public;

- urging full and impartial investigations into possible links between

the security forces and paramilitaries in the department of Cauca that

the results are made public and that those members of the security

forces responsible for operating in unison with paramilitary forces or

supporting them are brought to justice;

- expressing concern at the continued large-scale presence of

paramilitary forces in Cauca despite the heavy military presence in

the department and urging immediate decisive action to confront and

dismantle these groups, in line with repeated UN recommendations

and governmental commitments.





President of the Republic:

Senor Presidente Alvaro Uribe Velez

Presidente de la Republica

Palacio de Narino

Carrera 8 No.7-26

Santafe de Bogota


Telegram: Presidente de la Republica, Bogota, Colombia

Fax: 011 57 1 342 0592

Salutation: Excmo. Sr. Presidente Uribe / Dear President Uribe


Minister of Defense:

Dra. Martha Lucia Ramirez

Ministra de Defensa Nacional

Ministerio de Defensa Nacional

Avenida Eldorado CAN - Carrera 52, Santafe de Bogota, Colombia

Telegram: Ministra de Defensa, Bogota, Colombia

Fax: 011 57 1 222 1874

Salutation: Dear Minister Ramirez / Sra. Ministra Ramirez


Minister of the Interior and Justice:

Dr. Fernando Londono Hoyos

Ministro del Interior y Justicia

Ministerio del Interior y Justicia,

Palacio Echeverry, Carrera 8a, No.8-09, piso 2o.,

Santafe de Bogota


Telegram: Ministro del Interior, Bogota, Colombia

Fax: 011 57 1 566 4573

Salutation: Dear Dr. Londono Hoyos / Sr. Ministro Londono




National Advocate for the people:

Sr. Eduardo Cifuentes Munoz

Defensor del Pueblo

Defensoria del Pueblo,

Calle 55, No. 10-32/46 office 301,

Santafe de Bogota


Telegram: National Advocate, Bogota, Colombia

Fax: 011 57 1 640 0491

Salutation: Dear Mr. Cifuentes Munoz / Estimado Sr. Cifuentes



Ambassador Luis Alberto Moreno

Embassy of Colombia

2118 Leroy Pl. NW

Washington DC 20008

Fax: 1 202 232 8643


Please send appeals immediately. Check with the Colorado office

between 9:00 am and 6:00 pm, Mountain Time, weekdays only, if

sending appeals after November 1, 2002.


Amnesty International is a worldwide grassroots movement

that promotes and defends human rights.


Urgent Action Network

Amnesty International USA

PO Box 1270

Nederland CO 80466-1270

Email: uan@aiusa.org


Phone: 303 258 1170

Fax: 303 258 7881