The Corporación Regional para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos is based in the city of Barrancabermeja, and works throughout the Middle Magdalena river region in north-central Colombia. Founded in 1988, its founding President, Jorge Gómez Lizarazo, was awarded the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award in 1991.
The people of the Middle Magdalena region of Colombia are bearing witness to the most profound human rights and international humanitarian law crisis ever known in Colombia's recent history. To make matters worse, there has been a dramatic increase in absolute poverty, with over 70% of the one million residents not even meeting their basic human needs, and unemployment averaging around 40%.
The human rights crisis is a result of repeated, deliberate, permitted, and systematic actions taken by the Colombian government against the very social fabric of society; its social leaders, human rights defenders, and the general population. The situation has gotten so critical, that the State is not even guaranteeing the safety of international organizations, which facilitated the of the humanitarian organization Peace Brigades International as a military target by the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) paramilitaries.
Violations of international humanitarian law and human rights are steadily mounting in Barrancabermeja. From May 16, 1998 to date, over 50 people have been disappeared; 18,000 have been displaced; and for the first two months of 2001, one person has been killed every 12 hours, on average, because of the armed conflict. In the year 2000, three times as many people died per capita than in the rest of the country. These deeds were preceded by the assassination of over 3,300 people during the 1990s, with absolute impunity.
We human rights defenders continue to be subjected to harassment, targeting, threats, criminal prosecution based on false evidence, forced displacement, and assassination attempts. We are denied the most fundamental guarantees for conducting our humanitarian work without having to face such obstacles.
The international humanitarian law crisis engulfing the region is a result of the degradation of the armed conflict. This can be seen in the indiscriminate belligerent actions by the state security forces, the guerrillas, and the paramilitaries, with different levels of responsibility.
Many organizations have been forced to limit their work or to dismantle altogether, leading the social fabric to weaken and become dispersed. The existing organizations are victims of the state's security apparatus, and the paramilitary groups, and in more than a few cases, to the action of the guerrilla groups, having been declared to be military targets. The Regional Corporation for the Defense of Human Rights (CREDHOS) has been declared a military target by the AUC (paramilitaries) 18 times, and in the last five months seven directors of CREDHOS have been forced to leave the city.
The key determinants of the social and political problem in this region are:
(1) The government's unwillingness to solve the basic needs of the population, and its implementation of an exclusionary model of development.
(2) The imposition of an authoritarian model of governance
This imposition of this exclusionary development model has brought on, by de facto means, the expropriation of the property rights of small and medium farmers and merchants; it has imposed "flexible" working conditions, the disintegration of the trade-union organizations, and the physical elimination of their leaders.
Authoritarianism is aimed at "solving" the armed conflict by force, and any petition or voice on behalf of the social sectors leads to the conditioning or dismantling of the democratic non-governmental organizations of the region, and the physical elimination of their leaders, or they are condemned to forced displacement.
These two models constitute a whole, and have come to replace the rule of law by a de facto state that does not recognize the human person as a subject of rights, but as a subject of obligations. This model is being imposed by the state security forces, the illegal self-defense forces, and by the most conservative political and economic sectors of the region. That is why one can find settlements of paramilitary forces in the urban areas of over 45 different municipalities, all in the same jurisdictions were the state security forces are based in the region.
The implementation of these models of development and governance is what enables us to show that human rights violations are not random or isolated, and that the government is also implicated in these criminal practices. To the contrary, violations of human rights and international humanitarian law are systematic and are an essential part of keeping unmodified the prevailing model of accumulation of wealth. This is why the Colombian government is not carrying out the recommendations that the United Nations has been making for several years now regarding human rights.
Under these critical conditions, we call for the social organizations, human rights defenders, and civil society to focus their work on the following:
- The President of Colombia should be urged to immediately adopt measures to ensure the protection of social leaders, human rights defenders, and the civilian population.
- There should be a coordinated effort outside of Colombia to change the government's policy so as to improve the situation of human rights and international humanitarian law in Colombia. Efforts should also promote de-escalation of the war, strive for a negotiated solution to the armed conflict, and bring about alternative substitution of illegal coca crops in consultation and coordination with the communities.
- Acts of international solidarity should be redoubled, with systematic accompaniment, monitoring, political pressure, and the establishment of sister communities and organizations.
- Urge the armed actors to respect the civilian population, protest, and humanitarian accords.
- Request that the eradication of illicit crops by means that do not to cause environmental disasters.
Barrancabermeja, March 5, 2001
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