TO: Colombia Human Rights Network and Sister Organizations
SUBJECT: An important call to action/sign-on letter follows
FROM: The U.S./Colombia Coordinating Office
I have just returned from a three-week delegation to Colombia with very sobering news. As many of you have heard, the human rights community has come under increasing attack from right-wing paramilitary groups in the last two weeks. Eclipsed by the tragedy of the earthquake, the Colombian government and the international press have been slow to respond adequately to recent attacks on the human rights community. We need your help to bring attention and protection to Colombian human rights defenders.
Thursday, January 28, paramilitaries kidnapped four members of the Popular Training Institute (Instituto Popular de Capacidad or IPC). A legitimate, internationally funded NGO, the IPC is located in Medellin. · Sunday, January 31, two leaders of the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners were pulled off a public bus in Antioquia en route to Bogota and killed by reputed paramilitaries. ·
February 1, Carlos Castano, the infamous leader of the unified paramilitary front (the Autodefensas Unidades de Colombia) took credit for the kidnapping and accused the IPC members as being "three parasubversives and a guerilla." Carlos Castano went on to threaten all domestic and international human rights groups and non-governmental organizations in Colombia that he considers guerilla "facades," including the Colombian Attorney General's Human Rights Unit.
February 8, two members of the IPC were released by Carlos Castano. The release may have been due in part to the international response to the kidnapping. US NGOs encouraged congressional letters as well as statements by James Rubin of the State department.
Never before has Carlos Castano or any other paramilitary force issued such a public threat to not only domestic but international non-governmental organizations, including human rights, church, humanitarian, environmental and development groups. The threat has provoked widespread fear within the Colombia human rights community, which already faces intimidation, death threats and assassinations.
Attached below is a very important NGO sign-on letter (put together by the Latin America Working Group) urging President Pastrana to protect human rights defenders and non-governmental organizations (a Spanish version is attached to this communication). If your organization is able to sign on, please reply to this email with your name, title and organization. We are seeking organizations rather than individuals to sign. THIS LETTER WILL CLOSE AT NOON, THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 11TH. The letter will be copied to various governmental officials, the Coordinacion Colombia-Europa and other human rights organizations as well as distributed widely to the press.
If you are unable to sign on to this communication on such short notice or if you would like to further support human rights defenders in Colombia, we ask your organization to join a letter writing campaign. We are asking leaders of churches, grassroots organizations and NGO's to write similar letters on behalf of their organization to President Pastrana. You may use the letter below as a model. We will be collecting these letters and sending them together to Colombia and to the press by the end of February. If possible, please send letters via email or fax to the U.S./Colombia Coordinating Office by February 20th, telephone: 202-232-8090, fax: 202-232-8092.
PLEASE NOTE: A more detailed report on the situation in Colombia as well as detailed information on advocacy activities occurring in the US, Colombia, Canada and Europe will follow in the upcoming COLOMBIA INFOinBRIEF to be distributed within the week. For further information please contact the US/Colombia Coordinating Office, tel: 202-232-8090.
Thank you for your time and consideration of this matter.
February 10, 1999
President Andrés Pastrana Arango
República de Colombia
Palacio de Nariño
Santafé de Bogotá, Colombia
Dear President Pastrana:
We write to express our extreme concern for the safety and well-being of human rights workers in Colombia, who are increasingly under attack. On Thursday, January 28, four employees of the Instituto Popular de Capacitación (IPC), a leading human rights organization in Medellín, were kidnaped from their office. Just three days later, two employees of the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (CSPP) were pulled from a bus traveling between Medellín and Bogotá and killed. These actions come on the heels of the assassination of numerous prominent Colombian human rights activists over the last several years.
On February 1, 1999, Carlos Castaño, Colombia's most powerful paramilitary leader, took responsibility for the kidnaping of the IPC employees, announcing that they are being held as prisoners of war. In his statement, he claims that guerrillas have infiltrated some human rights groups and essentially declares Colombian human rights advocates as military targets. Castaño's letter launches a new and dark phase in the Colombian conflict, making it clear that any human rights activist in Colombia today is at greater risk than ever before.
Colombia's courageous human rights advocates already face a long-standing campaign of intimidation, threats and assassination, largely attributed to right-wing paramilitary groups. Scores of human rights defenders have been killed in recent years. Following a FARC attack on Castaño's headquarters, paramilitary organizations dramatically stepped up their operations in January, unleashing a wave of massacres. These organizations are responsible for the majority of political killings in the Colombian conflict today. We strongly condemn all human rights violations committed in Colombia, whether perpetrated by paramilitary organizations, guerrillas or state agents.
We ask that you take quick and decisive action to ensure the safety of the human rights community and others in Colombia by working with local human rights leaders to develop effective protection measures and by implementing the necessary guarantees to allow human rights work to go forward. We also urge you to follow through on your bold promise to combat paramilitary groups. We specifically request that any warrants pending against individuals involved in paramilitary organizations be swiftly carried out and that members of the Colombian armed forces and police implicated in paramilitary activity be investigated and sanctioned appropriately.
Your challenge to bring peace, security and justice to Colombia is a daunting one. It is our fervent hope that your efforts to achieve peace will be successful. For lasting peace to take root, human rights workers must be able to act without fear of reprisal.
Alliance for Global Justice
Shazia N. Anwar
The Center for Conscience & War/NISBCO
Robert E. White
The Center for International Policy
Barbara Gerlach & Cristina Espinel
Colombia Human Rights Committee
Fellowship of Reconciliation Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean
Joseph Nangle, OFM
Franciscan Mission Service
Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA
Patricia Krommer, CSJ
Member of the Board of Directors
Humanitarian Law Project, International Education Development, Inc.
Interhemispheric Resource Center
International Labor Rights Fund
Melinda St. Louis
Latin America Emergency Response Network
Mark B. Brown
Lutheran Office for Governmental Affairs, Evangelical Lutheran Church in
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
J. Daryl Byler
Mennonite Central Committee, Washington Office
Bro. Gerald D. Meegan, SDB
National Association of Religious Brothers (NARB)
Rev. Oscar Bolioli
Director, Latin America/Caribbean Office
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., Church World
Service & Witness Unit
Kathy Thornton, R.S.M.
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Office for Church in Society/United Church of Christ
Alice Wolters/Mark Saucier
Peru Peace Network
James J. Silk
Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights
Director, Washington Office
School of the Americas Watch
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
Roger P. Winter
U.S. Committee on Refugees
Washington Office on Latin America
Women Strike for Peace