Statement from Amnesty International on Protection of Human Rights Workers

New York, May 19, 2000


Organization Cites Killings of 25 Human Rights Defenders in Three Years

Despite the pledge of President Andrés Pastrana to make human rights a priority, his administration has done little to protect human rights defenders in Colombia -- and the complicity of the Colombian armed forces has led to the death and departure from Colombia of dozens of human rights activists, a new Amnesty International report shows.

In the past three years alone, more than 25 Colombian human rights activists have been killed, a similar number have narrowly escaped murder, and at least 40 have fled the country fearing for their lives, according to the report, "Colombia: Protection of human rights defenders: One step forward, three steps back."

Incidents have occurred as recently as two weeks ago: On May 3, activist Jesús Ramiro Zapata Hoyos was killed in Segovia, Antioquia, after being abducted by a group of armed men. He was a leading member of the Northeastern Human Rights Committee and the Human Rights Collective, Seeds of Liberty, an umbrella organization of human rights non-governmental organizations. The next morning an unidentified caller told his family to collect the body from the outskirts of Segovia. The day he was abducted Jesús Ramiro had reported to local authorities that: "Between April 15 and Friday, April 28, new paramilitaries in the area who do not know me have inquired about my whereabouts eight times." Colombia military troops in the area did nothing to confront a paramilitary force, reportedly 500 strong, which entered the region on April 3.

Amnesty International has also learned that, in another recent incident, a man with a police identity card has threatened to kill 14-year-old Juliet Tatiana Manrique and her mother, human rights activist Astrid Manrique Carvajal. The threats appear to be directly linked to Manrique Carvajal's work for the Association of Relatives of the Detained Disappeared.

"These chilling details point to a situation in which human rights defenders continue to face alarming levels of danger and systematic intimidation campaigns," said Dr. William F. Schulz, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA (AIUSA). As Colombia's violent conflict continues to escalate and all sides show blatant disregard for human rights, those who stand up for such rights are left defenseless in the face of frequent attacks. The report acknowledges that Colombian authorities have taken some initial steps to improve the protection of human rights organizations and their members, including offering police protection and bullet-proof jackets to individuals, installing security cameras and reinforcing the premises of organizations. However, these instances are outweighed by government inaction, including: ·

"So far the authorities have confined themselves to initial measures for protection, which merely patch up the problem, but do not deal with its root causes," said Acting Latin America Advocacy Director Andrew Miller. "What is now needed is for the Colombian authorities to show the political will to implement a more effective protection strategy and to stop the impunity that shelters those who target human rights defenders."

In one of many such examples of impunity, members of CREDHOS, a non-governmental human rights organization, were killed in 1991 and 1992. In 1993, two Colombian Navy officers related that the killings were planned and carried out under the command of Colonel Rodrigo Quiñonez Cárdenas, intelligence director of the Colombian Navy. In March of this year, the military court in which Colonel Quiñonez and eight other members of the armed forces were tried, cleared senior officers of any involvement. This ruling was reached even though investigations conducted by the Office of the Attorney General concluded that "denunciations (corroborated with other pieces of evidence) unequivocally point to Colonel Rodrigo Quiñonez as the 'boss' of this enterprise and all these crimes."

Amnesty International urges the Colombian authorities to address the issue of impunity and to undertake a series of protective measures, including disbanding, disarming and prosecuting paramilitary groups operating with the complicity of the security forces; ensuring that exhaustive and impartial investigations are carried out into violations against human rights defenders and that those responsible are brought to justice; suspending from active service armed forces personnel against whom there is credible evidence of human rights violations; and purging the armed forces of anyone found responsible for human rights violations.




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