Spring Tour of Colombia Human Rights Network: Human Rights Defenders under Threat in Colombia

The 1999 Spring Tour of the Colombia Human Rights Network featured three human rights leaders from Colombia. Gloria Flórez, co-director of the human rights group MINGA, and one of four Colombians given the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in November 1998, was joined by Agustín Jiménez, President of the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (CSPP) and José Girón, of the board of the Instituto Popular de Capacitación (IPC) of Medellín, whose organizations were hit by 4 kidnappings and 2 murders within a 3-day period the last days of January of this year.

The tour was co-sponsored by the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial, and received the support of Oxfam-U.K. Among them, the three visited Boston, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and North Carolina.

In Washington activists were particularly enthusiastic with how well they worked together to convey a clear message on behalf of human rights advocates in Colombia. In two-and-half days in Washington, we met with members of Congress and their staffs, including Senator Kennedy, and other sympathetic members of Congress, as well as with several drug-war hardliners. We had very positive meetings with the State Department, National Security Council, the Agency for International Development (AID), and an exploratory meeting with an assistant to the Attorney General. We were also very successful with the media, including meetings with the editorial boards of the Washington Post and Washington Times, and interviews with Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now and Radio América (national Spanish-language network). Disappointing was the scant interest of the Washington-based Colombian media in the interest of human rights defenders in their own country.

In the other cities visited, Gloria, José, and Agustín spoke to university audiences, non-governmental groups, community groups, the local offices of Congressional representatives, and the press, and the United Nations, in New York.

See information elsewhere in this issue on the Fall 1999 tour of the Colombia Human Rights Network, which will focus on indigenous groups as especially endangered by the mounting political violence directed at civilians, in terms of killings, forced displacement, and threats to their way of life and very existence as a people.


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