Human Rights Defenders, Civilians, Targets of Armed Actions

This issue of Colombia Update focuses on the stepped-up attacks on civilians--and particularly on human rights activists--by the armed actors in Colombia. Ironically perhaps, the escalation of violent acts against civilians comes as two of the principals to the conflict, the Colombian government and the rebel Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) have been slowly advancing in peace talks. As with previous issues, we convey only a small slice of the daily incidents of terror being imposed on Colombians of all walks of life.

The articles in this issue describe paramilitary attacks against civilians in Urabá, Córdoba, Norte de Santander, Medellín, and elsewhere. These actions included operations in areas routinely patrolled by Army or Police forces, neither of which were present at the time of paramilitary attacks. Other articles describe the murder of three indigenous rights activists from the U.S. by the FARC, and mass kidnappings of civilians by the guerrilla Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN).

In the midst of continued forced displacement, disappearances, and shows of force by the parties to the armed conflict, Colombia receives disproportionately low coverage in the mass media, whether based on extent of human suffering (the humanitarian concerns very much present in Kosovo or Sierra Leone, e.g., are equally compelling in Colombia), or on the extent of U.S. involvement: the United States is actually contributing to armed violence in Colombia, by imposing a military-style drug war, thereby undermining domestic peace initiatives. These issues are increasingly being addressed by policy makers in Congress and in the Administration. Indeed, in June a Congressional delegation, headed by Rep. Delahunt (D-MA) travelled to Bogotá and the southern demilitarized zone, where they met with FARC leadership. Adam Isacson's article provides a first-hand account of their visit.

As the violence worsens, displaced continuing crossing international borders. Most recently, in early June paramilitary action forced civilians into Venezuela. Hiram Ruiz of the U.S. Committee for Refugees has contributed an article describing what he saw.

Finally, the Colombian situation cries out for more attention. This issue also describes expanded organizing opportunities, including an upcoming fall tour and conferences. Read on for more information and to see you how can become involved.

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