Statement Concerning Targeting Of Colombia's Civilian Population

U.S. Groups Condemn The ELN Hijacking And Other Cases Of Kidnapping

May, 1999

We are profoundly concerned about the violations of international humanitarian law committed by all parties of the Colombian conflict. We call on all actors to respect the rights of civilians, including those working for national and international humanitarian organizations.

We condemn the practice of kidnapping and all other acts of violence perpetrated against the civilian population. We are particularly concerned with the continued practice of "pescas milagrosas" or "miracle fishing trips" -- incidents in which the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) kidnap civilians at roadblocks and hold them for ransom.

The April 12, 1999, hijacking of Avianca flight 9463 and subsequent kidnapping of 43 passengers by the ELN is another example of a tactic that targets civilians. We call on the ELN to immediately and safely release the remaining hostages. At the same time, we are deeply concerned by reports of indiscriminate strafing and aerial bombings in the municipality of San Pablo by the Colombian military. This apparent attempt to confront the ELN in response to the hijacking could cause further displacement of the civilian population.

We are particularly troubled by statements made by FARC commander "Mono Jojoy" in reference to our three colleagues killed in March by the FARC while they were working for indigenous rights with the U'wa people in Northern Colombia. Mono Jojoy was quoted as saying, "In the case of the three Northamericans, they were organizing the U'wa indigenous people against the guerrillas in the name of human rights. Commander Gildardo, who committed the killings, began the investigation [of the three activists] for this reason." This statement equates the legitimate defense of human rights with taking sides in the armed conflict and uses that characterization to justify "military" action. This is the same logic used by the paramilitaries, and it is fundamentally wrong. Non-governmental human rights organizations and human rights defenders must have the right to speak freely about conditions in a country and denounce abuses by all sides without fear of reprisal.

Individuals working for human rights and peace in Colombia are increasingly coming under attack. While the majority of these attacks are perpetrated by the paramilitaries, all armed actors are targeting human rights and peace workers. This increasingly oppressive environment illustrates the need to raise awareness of the critical role that respect for human rights and political freedom play in upholding the rule of law and democracy.

We call on all parties -- including the guerrillas, paramilitary groups, and members of the Colombian armed forces and police -- to respect the legitimate work of human rights and peace advocates and to respect international humanitarian law, in particular, principles of respect for the lives of non-combatants.

These recent attacks by the FARC and the ELN further underscore the urgent need to prioritize respect for human rights as a means to advance a negotiated settlement. We urge all actors in the United States and Colombia to foster a process of peace rather than increased conflict.


J. Daryl Byler
Mennonite Central Committee, Washington Office

Barbara Gerlach and Cristina Espinel
Colombia Human Rights Committee

Adam Isacson
Center for International Policy

Viviana Krsticevic
Center for Justice and International Law

Margaret Popkin
Program Director for Africa and Latin America
Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights

Hiram Ruiz
Policy Analyst
U.S. Committee for Refugees

Winifred Tate
Washington Office on Latin America


For further information or to respond to this statement, please contact Lisa Haugaard of the Latin America Working Group tel: 202-546-7010 fax: 202-543-7647 or Alison Giffen of the U.S./Colombia Coordinating Office tel: 202-232-8090 fax: 202-232-8092.



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