Human Rights Defenders Targeted: Attacks on the IPC and the CSPP

On January 29, four Colombian human rights defenders were kidnapped by paramilitaries under the command of Carlos Castaño, the leader of Colombia's best-known paramilitary organization, the Peasant Self-Defense Force of Córdoba and Urabá (AACCU - Autodefensas Campesinas de Córdoba y Urabá). Those kidnapped were Jairo Bedoya, Claudia Tamayo, Jorge Salazar, and Olga Rodas, all employees of the Popular Training Institute (Instituto Popular de Capacitación, IPC), a human rights group in Medellín. The four hostages were released in subsequent weeks after Castaño released two letters presenting his points of view and issuing a threat not only to human rights activists, but to all Colombian and international non-government organizations operating in Colombia.

Two days after the aforementioned kidnapping, two activists with the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (Comité de Solidaridad con Presos Políticos, CSPP) were pulled off a public bus and executed by reputed paramilitaries. Those killed were Everardo De Jesús Puerta and Julio Ernesto González. Castaño denied involvement in the second incident. Both took place in the department of Antioquia.

These attacks on human rights defenders provoked an international outcry, including demands that the kidnap victims be released; that the Colombian Government provide guarantees for the physical security for human rights defenders; that ties between the state=s security forces and paramilitary groups be cut; and that the paramilitary groups be dismantled. These demands were made by human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), Colombia Human Rights Network, and the Colombia Support Network, as well as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, among others. While visiting the United States just one month after the ordeal, an IPC representative emphasized the fundamental importance of the U.S. response for gaining the release of his colleagues.

These actions, the increasingly heightened danger, and the resulting reduced presence of human rights organizations in areas of violent conflict may limit the quantity and quality of information circulating inside and outside areas of direct conflict. The reduced presence of human rights defenders coupled with a limited amount of information circulating may make it easier for violent actors to operate with even less consideration for human dignity.


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