Statement by NGOs Regarding U.S. Activists Slain in Colombia

April, 1999

We were deeply saddened by the brutal killings of Ingrid Washinawatok, Terence Freitas, and Lahe'ena'e Gay, three U.S. citizens who had devoted their lives to humanitarian work. Their vibrant presence will be deeply missed both here in the United States and amongst the U'wa people in Colombia. We strongly condemn this act of violence and the thousands of other acts of brutality that have been committed in Colombia by all armed actors against innocent civilians.

Ingrid Washinawatok, a member of the Menominee nation and co-chair of the Indigenous Women's Network, was dedicated to working with indigenous issues, and served with the International Indian Treaty Council in various roles since 1978. Lahe'ena'e Gay was a representative of the Pacific Cultural Conservancy International and a Hawaiian-Mohawk activist. Terence Freitas was an ally to indigenous peoples, an environmental activist and biologist who dedicated two years of his life to working with the U'wa people of Colombia. These three humanitarians traveled to Arauca, Colombia, to support the establishment of a cultural education system for U'wa children and to continue the struggle for peace, human rights and the protection of the environment in Colombia and around the world. We extend our deepest sympathies to the families of these three courageous and dedicated individuals.

We understand that the FARC has admitted responsibility for these senseless acts. We call on the FARC to turn over those responsible to Colombian authorities so that they can be prosecuted to the full extent of the law in accordance with international standards.

We call on the Colombian government to carry out a thorough investigation, led and coordinated by the Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General's office, and to prosecute those responsible and cooperate fully with any independent international investigation. We ask the U.S. government to provide the necessary technical and economic resources to the Colombian judiciary to facilitate such an investigation. Investigative support from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Office in Colombia would strengthen the investigation's credibility.

As U.S. citizens involved in human rights and humanitarian work, we are horrified by the violence carried out by all sides in the Colombian conflict. The killings of our U.S. colleagues follow a wave of violence by rightwing paramilitaries in which 140 villagers were killed in several days in January. In February, two of our Colombian human rights colleagues from the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners were killed; other nongovernmental human rights workers and government investigators were kidnapped; and paramilitary leader Carlos Castano issued a collective death threat directed at all those working for human rights. The attacks directed at nongovernmental organizations and human rights defenders working in war-torn regions of Colombia, horrendous in themselves, further expose the civilian population to indiscriminate attacks by silencing those who would investigate or denounce abuses.

Indigenous peoples throughout the Americas struggle daily for resource and sovereignty rights - Colombia is no exception. In fact, indigenous peoples of Colombia are often the target of violence in the context of the long-running internal conflict and increasing multi-national investment. Whole communities have suffered during attacks by paramilitary, military and guerilla forces, and are forcibly displaced from their sacred lands or living under constant threat. The U'wa are just one of these groups caught between oil exploration, the guerrillas, the military and paramilitaries.

We call on all parties in the Colombian conflict -- including the guerrillas, paramilitary groups, and members of the Colombian armed forces and police--to respect international humanitarian law and, in particular, the lives of non-combatants. We call on all parties to respect the territorial and cultural rights of the indigenous people of Colombia.

These last brutal attacks by the FARC and by the paramilitaries further underscore the urgency for a peace process to advance. No one remains unscathed by this senseless war. We urge renewed efforts by all sides and by the international community to seek a peaceful solution to this bitter conflict.



Christine Halvorson, Amanaka Amazon Network

Atossa Soltani, Director, Amazon Watch

Erik van Lennep, Executive Director, The Arctic to Amazonia Alliance

Ambassador Robert White, President, Center for International Policy

Gary L. Cozette, Director, Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America

Rodney I. Page, Executive Director, Church World Service

Cristina Espinel & Barbara Gerlach, Co-Chairs, Colombia Human Rights Committee, Washington, D.C.

Flavio Santi, Director de Communicaciones y Promocion Social, Confederacion de Nacionalidades Indigenas del Amazonia (CONFENIAE)

Nicole Thornton, Education Coordinator, Cultural Survival

Ann Butwell, Co-Coordinator, Ecumenical Program on Central America & the Caribbean (EPICA)

James Hansen, Director Federal Land Action Group

John Lindsay-Poland, Coordinator, Fellowship of Reconciliation Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean

Paula Palmer, Executive Director, Global Response

Robert O. Weiner, Director of Protection, Lawyers Committee for Human Rights

Marie Dennis Director Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Raul Yzaguirre President National Council of La Raza

Barbara J. Bramble Vice President, Strategic Programs Initiative National Wildlife Federation

Kathy Thornton, RJM National Coordinator NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby

Charles McCollough Staff Associate Office for Church in Society/United Church of Christ

Rev. Elenora Giddings Ivory Director Presbyterian Church U.S.A., Washington Office

Tim Keating Executive Director Rainforest Relief

Deborah McLaren Director Rethinking Tourism Project: Indigenous Peoples Project

James J. Silk Director Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights

Jaydee Hanson Assistant General Secretary United Methodist Church - General Board of Church & Society

Stephen Coats Executive Director U.S./Labor Education in the Americas Project

George Vickers Executive Director Washington Office on Latin America

Leanora E. Winters International Coordinator Women of All Red Nations, Northeast Region

John W. Friede Executive Director Worldview

Pam Genise Legislative Associate Church of the Brethren, Washington Office

Cathy Crumbley Co-Chair Colombia Vive, Boston

Patricia Krommer, CSJ Member of the Board of Directors The Humanitarian Law Project, International Educational Development, Inc.

Debra Preusch Executive Director Interhemispheric Resource Center

Kripa Kirati Chairman Nepal Indigenous Peoples Development and Information Service Centre (NIPDISC)

Rita Clark Director Nicaragua-U.S. Friendship Office

Larry Brown Executive Manager Pacific Cultural Conservancy, Inc.

Wes Callender Director Voices on the Border

Jean Stokan* Policy Director SHARE Foundation

Lara Marsh* Campaigns Worker Tourism Concern

Joshua Cooper Coordinator Hawaii Institute for Human Rights

Audra Slocum President Iowa City Chapter, Amnesty International

Russell Richard Valencia Chair Oregon Chicano Coalition

Dwight Smith Director Orange County Catholic Worker

Jennifer Owens J.U.S.T.I.C.E.

Richard Boren Coordinator Southwest Toxic Watch

Anje Van Berckelaer* Program Assistant Harvard Law School, Human Rights Program

Susan Culhane* Program Administrator Harvard Law School, Human Rights Program

Daniel Andrew Birchok, Jr.* Student John Carroll University

Andrea Vergara* Postdoctoral Fellow University of Massachusetts Medical School

Kimberly Stanton* Consultant

Timi Headley* Concerned Citizen

Robert E. Rutkowski Esq.* Concerned Citizen


* Signing on as individuals.


To reply to this letter, please send correspondence to: Lisa Haugaard, Latin America Working Group, 110 Maryland Ave NE, Washington DC 20002, U.S.A.; fax: (202) 543-7647;


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