ASFADDES Human Rights Workers Under Threat


This article is based on a sign-on letter that 24 U.S.-based NGOs supported, calling on the Colombian government to guarantee the safety of the members of ASFADDES, dated February 22, 2001.


The human rights organization known as the Association of Family Members of the Detained and Disappeared (ASFADDES) has played a critical role in the promotion of human rights in Colombia and helping the family members of victims of political violence seek justice. They have worked for the last dozen years to make forced disappearance a crime officially on the books in Colombia, which was finally accomplished with the passage of a law criminalizing forced disappearance last year.

Since 1993, ASFADDES has been the victim of numerous threats, attacks and harassment. As a result of this mounting pressure and concern for the members' safety, ASFADDES has temporarily closed their doors since December of 2000.

In November, the Medellín ASFADDES offices received numerous threatening phone calls and mail, and a member of the Popayán section of ASFADDES was reportedly being followed.

These threats follow serious and systematic attacks against the organization. On October 6, 2000, two members of the Medellín branch of ASFADDES, Angel Quintero and Claudia Patricia Monsalve, were disappeared. On September 30, three members of ASFADDES were declared military targets in a pamphlet published by Colombia's largest paramilitary group, the AUC. On July 11, Elizabeth Canas Cano, a member of the Barrancabermeja branch of ASFADDES, was murdered.

ASFADDES members are under particular threat because they are one of the few organizations to bring cases against members of Colombia's security forces domestically and internationally -- before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights -- often raising the profile of collusion between Colombia's security forces and the paramilitary groups.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordered the Colombian government to provide special protective measures to ASFADDES members to ensure their safety. Certain measures of physical protection have been taken by the government, although ASFADDES asserts that these are not always carried out expeditiously. However, ASFADDES is extremely concerned that the Colombian government has not taken effective measures to investigate and prosecute the multiple cases of threats, harassment, murder and disappearance directed against ASFADDES members, and thus ensure that this violence will come to an end.

The Colombian government must take effective actions to vigorously investigate those who plan and perpetrate attacks against the ASFADDES members, and to prosecute those responsible in civilian courts. The government must also ensure that the ASFADDES offices receive the proper protection. These measures should be taken in the context of a broader call to all the armed actors to respect the legitimate work of local, regional, national and international non-governmental organizations, as well as to abide by international humanitarian and human rights law.


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