Agustín Jiménez: Human Rights Workers


In March 1999 Agustín Jiménez, President of the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (CSPP), participated in a speaking tour after two members of the CSPP were murdered. He returned to the United States in the fall, participating in the conference Civilians Under Fire. Following is a summary of his remarks. He also travelled to Chicago to address the 10th anniversary luncheon of the Chicago Religious Leadership Network. His talk, which was attended by over 100 people, had a great impact on raising awareness about the ongoing human rights catastrophe in Colombia among local activists. A feature interview with Agustín appeared in the Chicago Tribune of Sunday, Nov. 21.

Agustín Jiménez, noted that after 40 years the armed conflict in Colombia has reached a point where 10 persons are killed daily. Of those 10, 7 are civilians who have nothing to do with the conflict. They have been labeled “military objectives.” He observed that the paramilitaries serve the function of “winning the war” for the military. They function as a “third actor,” as they carry out actions that the military cannot do because they are too macabre. They are responsible for the cruelest massacres; for example, they kill peasants with machetes and chain saws to “cleanse the area of guerillas.” It is unbelievable that there could be human beings capable of doing such things. Agustín Jiménez recalled a widow who spoke to him, asking “How could they have killed my husband? He helped them for several days. He took care of them.” The answer is that they do it to spread terror, to take over the land they want to control. The result is that it may appear that the army is responsible for fewer human rights violations. But the army has concrete ties with the paramilitaries. The army defends the paramilitaries from the guerillas. They army doesn’t go after the paramilitaries, even when there have been public pronouncements to the contrary. Many violations by the army remain in the gravest impunity, because of the army's esprit de corps.

Agustín Jiménez spoke of the grave situation human rights defenders. For years the issue of their security has been debated. On June 16, 1997, a concrete proposal was presented to President Samper, who promised to study the proposal, but did nothing. There have been overtures to President Pastrana, but he delayed in scheduling a meeting. It took two killings and four kidnappings before he agreed to discuss the matter. When the meeting was finally held, the President was reminded of the prior proposal and of the fact that fewer than 20% of those needing protection had been helped, and some of the people in greatest danger are not receiving any protection at all. The funds needed to implement the protection plan are not available. It would be strange and difficult to understand why the United States would strengthen such an army, providing more money to prop up the policy of the “internal enemy.” The US Congress cannot make this error, being an accomplice in such actions.


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