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Land rights leaders suffer constant attacks amid attempts to restitute some of their land

After almost two years since the implementation of Santos’ historic Victims Law and land restitution process, restitution has only barely begun with less than 1 percent of a total of 2 million hectares has been approved for restitution after almost two years. However, opponents to restitution have been tirelessly attacking land rights activists attempting to further the process. Many have been killed and others who have attempted to return to their lands have been displaced for a second time due to threats or attacks.

In this document (Click here , we outline the 19 cases of assassinations and one attempted assassination of land leaders since the 2012 implementation of the Victims and Land Restitution Law.

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2nd National Award for the Defense of Human Rights in Colombia

USOC is proud to take part in the 2nd National Award for the Defense of Human Rights in Colombia. This award is a public recognition of the work that hundreds of people have done in the defense and promotion of human rights, truth, and justice in Colombia. The presentation of the 2013 award will be on September 9th in Bogotá. Click C for more information.

USOC está orgulloso de tomar parte en el segundo premio nacional a la defensa de los derechos humanos en Colombia. Éste premio es un reconocimiento público al trabajo que realizan cientos de personas en torno a la defensa y promoción de los derechos humanos, la verdad, y la justicia en Colombia. La entrega del premio a la defensa de los derechos humanos en Colombia 2013, será el 9 de septiembre en Bogotá. Haz clic acá para más información.

Listen to one of last year's winners speak about human rights in Colombia./ Escucha las palabras de uno de los ganadores del premio de 2012.

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Large-scale mining in Colombia: Human rights violations past, present and future

Today, May 9th, 2013, the US Office on Colombia releases its latest report, Large-scale mining in Colombia: Human rights violations past, present and future, which reveals shocking trends in human rights violations associated with large-scale mining throughout the country. Through careful case studies, the report evidences high incidences of 1) dispossession and displacement, 2) repeated violations of Afro-Colombian and indigenous people’s rights to free, prior and informed consent and 3) stigmatization, unfounded criminal proceedings and extrajudicial killings of human rights defenders.

Large-scale mining is officially considered one of five “engines” of the Colombian economy. During the last twelve years, over 1.5 million hectares of Colombian land have been sold off to large-scale mining corporations for exploration and exploitation of Colombia’s extensive mineral deposits, changing drastically the landscape of land ownership and use in Colombia’s countryside. Everything from emeralds to coal to gold is mined throughout Colombia, often in pristine ecosystems such as forests or tropical mountain ranges. This investment in large-scale mining is hugely controversial in Colombia due to environmental concerns, labor standards, community consent and the economic displacement of artisanal mining. However, one aspect of the mining boom that has been little explored is its potential effect on the human rights situation in Colombia. Amidst an ongoing civil conflict closely tied to issues of land tenure and access to resources, uncontrolled large-scale mining threatens to usher in Colombia's next big human rights crisis.

USOC co-hosts conference on land and prospects for peace in Colombia

Please join us on April 3, 2013 to discuss the relationship of land and the peace agenda. The event will provide a platform for discussion among a variety of stakeholders from the U.S. and Colombian governments, victims and affected parties, academics, international organizations, and NGOs. This event is co-sponsored by the United States Institute of Peace and the U.S. Office on Colombia, with the support of U.S. Agency for International Development, UN Development Program, Latin American Working Group Education Fund, Mercy Corps, and Lutheran World Relief.

Speakers

  • Absalón Machado, Rural Development Consultant, United Nations Development Program (PNUD)
  • Carlos Salgado, Director, Planeta Paz
  • Ricardo Sabogal, Director, Unit for the Restitution of Lands/Unidad de Restitución de Tierras
  • Jaime Enrique Arias, National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), Kankuamo governer
  • Ángela Suárez Álvarez, Program Manager, Victims Institutional Strengthening Program (VISP), USAID/Colombia
  • Zoraida Castillo, Director, Lutheran World Relief, Colombia
  • Yamile Salinas, Independent researcher and specialist in land rights
  • Donny Meertens, Professor, National University and Javeriana University
  • Everyldis Córdoba Borja, Coordinator, COCOMASUR (Community Council of Afro-Colombian Communities of the River Tolo)
  • Luis Ernesto Vargas Silva, Magistrate, Constitutional Court of Colombia
  • Wednesday, April 3
  • 1-5:30pm
  • U.S. Institute of Peace
  • 2301 Constitution Avenue, NW
  • Washington, DC 20037

Please RSVP as space is limited: http://colombia-land.eventbrite.com/#

If you cannot attend in person, the conference will be webcast live at:www.usip.org/webcast

Attacks on human rights defenders in Colombia on the rise in 2012

February 18, 2013

A new report by "We Are Defenders" finds that 357 human rights defenders were attacked in Colombia in 2012 despite a $100 million investment in protection programs. These numbers are much greater than the numbers for 2011 (when 239 attacks were reported), and highlight the need for political means of protection, especially full prosecution of those responsible for threats, attacks and assassinations of human rights defenders.

For a summary of the findings in Spanish, see:

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Expanding Military Jurisdiction in Colombia: A Major Setback for Justice

January 28, 2013

Colombia’s recent passage of a constitutional amendment that expands military jurisdiction in cases of human rights violations is a major setback for justice. The reform would allow grave human rights crimes to be investigated and tried by the military justice system, in direct conflict with years of jurisprudence of Colombia’s high courts and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

To read the full report in English, click here | Para leer el reporte en Español pulse aquí

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USOC's latest blog post - Published on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 by Common Dreams

Colombian Prosecutor Charging Human Rights Defender is Implicated in Forced Disappearance

by Dana Brown

After years of enduring threats from paramilitary organizations, David Ravelo, a Colombian human rights defender, economist and founding member of the Regional Corporation for the Defense of Human Rights (CREDHOS), has been imprisoned for the last two years based on the testimony of demobilized paramilitaries. The circumstances surrounding the case against him are filled with irregularities, including accusations of witness tampering and serious questions about witness credibility. And new information has just come to light that presents even more serious questions about the Ravelo’s imprisonment.

The prosecutor who charged Ravelo, William Pacheco, appears to have been involved in a 1992 forced disappearance and was dismissed from his then post as lieutenant in the police force. Given that in Colombia it is illegal for those dismissed from public office to work for the Attorney General’s office, this raises the question as to how he managed to become a federal prosecutor and hold other important official posts.

In 1995, Ravelo was absolved of the charge of rebellion relating to the homicide of David Nuñez Cala, a public official from the Mayor’s Office in Barrancabermeja, but he is currently being held on charges of aggravated homicide related to the same incident. He remains imprisoned based on the testimony of just three former paramilitaries, though over 30 people gave declarations contradicting that testimony. The principle witnesses, Mario Jaimes Mejia, alias “El Panadero” (the Baker), and Fremio Sanchez Carreno, alias “Commando Esteban”, are ex-paramilitaries, both of whom were sentenced to 20 years in prison for their involvement in a 1998 massacre that killed 7 and disappeared 25—a massacre publicly denounced at the time by Ravelo and CREDHOS. Furthermore, Orlando Noguera, another witness in the case, has publicly stated that Mejia and Carreno tried to bribe him so that he would implicate Ravelo, further eroding the ex-paramilitaries’ credibility.

Alirio Uribe, Ravelo’s lawyer, says, “It’s no secret to anyone that paramilitary groups in Barrancabermeja and throughout the country have declared human rights defenders military targets, including ordering that they be killed, and now they are doing it through the legal system.” For over a decade, Ravelo and has endured threats, many from paramilitary organizations, and since his imprisonment, threats have also been directed at his family members.

The latest revelations about Ravelo’s prosecutor, William Pacheco, bring up several new questions about the legitimacy of Ravelo’s trial. For instance, how can a person dismissed from public office become a Prosecutor for the Attorney General’s office? How does a person with such a past become a Director of the National Association of Prosecutors or member of the Anti-Terrorism Task Force? And finally, what authority does a person with such a past have to investigate and try a recognized human rights defender like David Ravelo?

Amidst these serious questions about his trial, Ravelo still sits in jail, after more than two years, awaiting sentencing, which brings me to my final question: Is this justice?

Impunity

August 21, 2012

Today the US Office on Colombia releases its latest report, Impunity: Has implementation of the accusatory legal system been an effective response to the fight against impunity in Colombia? By examining each stage in the judicial process under the new system, and illuminating important distinctions between Colombia’s accusatory system and the Anglo-Saxon model, the report indicates that there are several impediments to due process and access to justice, particularly for grave human rights violations, under Colombia’s accusatory system. The report includes a reflection on US investment in the accusatory system and the role the US government could play in urging the Colombian government to discuss potential reforms to the system in order to guarantee an efficient judiciary with access to justice for all victims of human rights violations and infractions of International Humanitarian Law.

To read the full report in English, click here

Colombian Army Kills Indigenous Civilian Violence Escalates in Cauca and Deepens Humanitarian Crisis for Indigenous Communities

July 19, 2012

Eighteen year old Fabian Guetio Vasquez was killed by the Colombian Army in Caldono, Cauca, at 5 a.m. yesterday morning. Mr. Guetio was on his way to his father’s home in the indigenous community of La Laguna when soldiers fatally shot him in the back of the neck. The commander of the Third Division of the Army was relieved of his post as a result of the murder. We join the indigenous communities’ demand for justice, respect for their territorial and communal rights and respectful dialogue with the Colombian government to find a non-violent solution to this conflict.

Over the last two weeks, over 35 indigenous civilians have been injured, over 2,500 have been forcibly displaced, and a dozen disappeared as the armed conflict between the security forces and the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) escalates in Cauca, Colombia. The Association of Indigenous Cabildos of Northern Cauca (ACIN) and the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) have called for an end to fighting between the security forces and the FARC and called for all armed actors to leave the indigenous territories.

In this already extremely hostile climate, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón and Army Commander Alejandro Navas made claims that the indigenous movement is infiltrated by the FARC , putting the community at greater risk by labeling them insurgents. We urge the Colombian government to immediately put an end to dangerous stigmatizations like these and take all the steps necessary to ensure the safety of the civilian population, as required under International Humanitarian Law.

The town of Toribío, the center of much of the recent conflict, has been victim to over 500 attacks in the last 30 years. In 2012 alone, the FARC has attacked this community over a dozen times. In this context, the ACIN and CRIC reiterate their historical call for peace.

Furthermore, it is essential that the Colombian government recognizes that construction of military bases within indigenous territories requires free, prior and informed consent from the community under Colombian and international law. We welcome the Colombian government’s agreement to begin dialogue with the indigenous communities of Northern Cauca today and we urge the government to fully implement the community’s proposals, respecting their rights to self-determination and informed consent.

66 of Colombia’s 102 indigenous peoples are at risk of extinction, and the conflict in Cauca is replicated in several indigenous communities throughout Colombia. The situation is critical and it is time for the Colombian government to listen to the concerns of the indigenous communities, respect their legitimate authorities and to take the necessary steps to protect this vulnerable population that has disproportionately suffered the consequences of the country’s ongoing conflict. The FARC should also respect International Humanitarian Law and the requests of the indigenous communities and withdraw from their territory.

US Office on Colombia

Washington Office on Latin America

Latin America Working Group

Presbyterian Peace Fellowship

Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America

Witness for Peace

Amazon Watch

Against All Odds: The Deadly Struggle of Land Rights Leaders in Colombia

International Verification Mission on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders

July 9, 2012

Today, July 9, 2012, the US Office on Colombia (USOC) and the Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF) released the final report of the International Verification Mission on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in Colombia. The report includes the findings of the 40-person mission conducted November 28-December 2, 2011 which show continued violations of the rights of human rights defenders despite a positive change in discourse at the national level. The mission, comprised of jurists, journalists and human rights activists from 15 different countries, visited eight regions of Colombia and verified firsthand the situation of human rights defenders with respect to five thematic areas identified by the Campaign for the Right to Defend Human Rights: impunity, baseless prosecutions, misuse of state intelligence information, systematic stigmatizations and structural problems with the protection program for defenders at risk.


International Audit Commission Declares CCAJAR’s Transparency and Legitimacy

June 3-8 USOC

Executive Director, Dana Brown, participated in the social and political audit of the Corporación Colective de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo ( CCAJAR ), an organization of human rights lawyers with whom USOC has worked closely. The audit is an innovative way in which CCAJAR aims to affirm its legitimacy and transparency after a series of defamatory statements made by the Colombian president, Inspector General, Minister of Justice and other high-ranking officials.

See the full report of the International Audit Commission here (in Spanish). We will post an English version soon!

See the June 8, 2012 press conference announcing the results of the Commission

US Office on Colombia, the Latin America Working Group and the Washington Office on Latin America Condemn Car Bomb in Bogotá

May 16, 2012

The US Office on Colombia (USOC) and the Latin America Working Group (LAWG) condemn the car bomb attack which killed at five people and left 39 injured yesterday, March 15, in Bogotá, Colombia.

“Attacks against civilians are reprehensible, and a clear violation of International Humanitarian Law. This crime must be thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice,” says Dana Brown, Executive Director of USOC.

The explosion injured former Minister of the Interior Fernando Londoño, the presumed target of the attack, and it killed his driver and bodyguard.

“We condemn this terrible crime, and stand with the citizens of Bogota,” says Lisa Haugaard, Executive Director of the Latin America Working Group.

“This bombing is abhorrent. We urge Colombians to refrain from resorting to violence when airing their discontent on policies. Such acts only add to the country’s cycle of violence and deepen political polarization. Colombians are encouraged to utilize the justice and legislative system to change policies in the country and to work towards a non-violent politically negotiated solution to the root causes of the internal armed conflict,” says Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli, Senior Associate for Colombia at the Washington Office on Latin America.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks thus far.

Women Human Rights Defenders and the Struggle for Justice in Colombia

Women Human Rights Defenders and the Struggle for Justice in Colombia

January 2012

Colombia continues to suffer one of the worst humanitarian and human rights crises in the world. In this context, those who defend human rights and the rule of law in Colombia have continuously been victims of systematic stigmatization, threats, sexual violence, unfounded criminal proceedings, violent attacks and killings carried out by all armed actors in the conflict. Amongst this group of defenders, women play a crucial role. Women defenders come from all walks of life; they are indigenous and Afro-Colombian women living in remote areas, trade unionists, internally displaced persons (IDPs), human rights lawyers defending victims of the conflict, lesbians and transgender women fighting against discrimination, journalists, mothers, daughters and sisters of the victims of extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances, and survivors of sexual violence. In this context women are carrying out a fundamental role as defenders of human rights and “builders of peace and democracy.”


Against All Odds: The Deadly Struggle of Land Rights Leaders in Colombia

Against All Odds: The Deadly Struggle of Land Rights Leaders in Colombia

November 1, 2011

Today the US Office on Colombia published a report on the dramatic situation of land rights leaders and associations of displaced communities in Colombia. Against all Odds: the Deadly Struggle of Land Rights Leaders in Colombia documents the cases of 20 land rights leaders that were assassinated during the Santos administration’s first year in office and the multiple threats, attacks and stigmatizations that such leaders face. The report was released in conjunction with a letter from U.S. human rights groups to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and aid vigorously promote protection of Colombia’s rural population and support safe, sustainable and voluntary returns.

  • Para leer el reporte en Español pulse aquí
  • Para leer la carta al Departamento de Estado pulse aquí

Human Rights during the Juan Manuel Santos Administration's First Year in Office

The U.S. Office on Colombia (USOC) and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) released a report today that assesses President Santos’s first year in office and his administration’s actions on key human rights concerns. The report offers analysis on the topics of extrajudicial executions, human rights defenders, Afro-Colombians, indigenous peoples, internal displacement, the Victims Law and sexual violence against women. It concludes that while the Santos administration offers an important political opportunity to strengthen the human rights agenda in the country, it also faces great obstacles in effectively translating better discourse into effective actions.

Para leer el reporte en Español pulse aquí

Mistake to Move Forward on Colombia FTA without Addressing Root Causes of Violence

Coalition of Groups ask U.S. Congress to Oppose Colombia Free Trade Agreement

Today, the U.S. Office on Colombia, along with more than 400 other organizations, academics, and individuals from the United States and Colombia, sent a letter to the U.S. Congress asking representatives to vote no on the pending U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement (FTA). The Labor Action Plan has not stopped new violence on trade unionists and labor activists from taking place, nor has it banned third party contracting that obstructs workers’ ability to unionize. Colombia’s internal armed conflict is generating violence and new displacements. Illegal armed groups exert influence over legal sectors of the economy including extractive industries, oil palm, mining, and development projects. Implementing the FTA solely based on the steps found in the Labor Action Plan, without addressing the deeper issues, will just lead to more violence and displacement.

To read the full press release in English click here . Para leer el comunicado de prensa pulse aquí

To read the Huffington post on the FTA by Kely Nicholls please click here

The U.S. Office on Colombia is launching a series of videos today that provide testimony from Colombia on the impact of the FTA on small-scale farmers and workers, Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities and overall human rights and security in Colombia. Please forward them to your representative and urge them to say NO to the FTA with Colombia

Open Letter to the Colombian Minister of Interior and Justice on the Protection Program for Human Rights Defenders

May 2011

A coalition of international organizations sent a letter to the Minister of Interior and Justice, Germán Vargas Lleras on the serious concerns regarding the protection program for human rights defenders.

To read the full letter in Spanish please click here

Public Policy Proposals for the Development of the Small Farm Economy in Colombia

May 9 2011

Public Policy Proposals for the Development of the Small Farm Economy in Colombia is a report that follows on the study published last year by the US Office on Colombia and Oxfam on the impacts of the Free Trade Agreement on Colombia's small scale farmers.

The new report by Santiago Perry proposes a series of measures that would help small-scale agricultural producers to prepare for the eventual impacts. These measures include the design of gender sensitive public policies that would help convert small farmers into dynamic and sustainable economic actors.

To read the full report please click here

To read the executive summary please click here

The US Office on Colombia, the Latin America Working Group, the Washington Office on Latin America and the Center for Justice and International Law welcome the decision reached in the case against General Arias Cabrales, in regards to his participation in the disappearance of 11 civilians during the siege of the Palace of Justice in 1985.

To read the full statement in Spanish please click here .

Santos and Obama promise move forward on Colombia FTA, announcing plan to protect workers: Human rights NGOs agree plan falls short

PRESS RELEASE

April 7, 2011

Washington, D.C. – The action plan signed today between the U.S. and Colombian governments to advance the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) falls far short of guaranteeing fair and safe conditions in which Colombian workers can exercise their rights and fails to address the broader issues of security and human rights, according to the Latin America Working Group, the U.S. Office on Colombia and the Washington Office on Latin America.

To read the full press release please click here

Para leer el comunicado de prensa en Español pulse aquí

Open Letter to Colombia's New Attorney General

March 29

A coalition of organizations in the United States and Europe sent an open letter to the newly appointed Attorney General Viviane Morales, regarding concerns over key human rights investigations that the Attorney General's Office is currently leading.

To read the letter in Spanish please click here

Para leer la carta en Español pulse aquí

Sexual Violence against women in the Context of the Colombian Armed Conflict

March 22

The U.S. Office on Colombia and the Campaign "Rape and other Violence: Leave my Body out of the War" coordinated a delegation of Colombian women to Washington DC, to present the findings of a recent survey on the magnitude of sexual violence against Colombian women in the context of the armed conflict.

The report concludes that more than 480,000 Colombian women have suffered some type of sexual violence between 2002 and 2009 in areas where there is presence of the legal and illegal armed actors. Almost 90% of these crimes are not reported and those that are continue in impunity.

The US Office on Colombia, the Latin America Working Group and the Washington Office on Latin America, press alert on the Free Trade Agreement between Colombia and the United States.

March 17, 2011

U.S. Congressmen tell President Obama: Colombia must take concrete steps to improve human rights before considering the FTA.

The Latin America Working Group, U.S. Office on Colombia, and the Washington Office on Latin America welcome the congressional initiative – led by Representatives James McGovern and George Miller – to establish tangible steps the Colombian government should take to improve human rights before the United States considers moving forward the pending Free Trade Agreement.

To read the full press alert please click here .

Closer to Home: A Critical Analysis of Colombia’s Proposed Land Law

With more than 4 million internally displaced people (IDPs), Colombia is living the hemisphere’s greatest humanitarian crisis. At the heart of this crisis is land—ownership of and access to—and the results include a combination of human suffering and stunted rural development for the country’s poorest regions. Despite investments reaching more than $6 billion, U.S. policy toward Colombia has failed to mitigate this crisis and subsequently advance rural development.

To read the full analysis, click here

Coalition of US, European and UK Organizations sent Letter to President Juan Manuel Santos regarding Human Rights in Colombia.

To read the Letter please click here

Breaking the Silence: In Search of ColombIa's Disappeared

New report reveals enormous dimensions of hidden tragedy in Colombia

Colombia has one of the highest levels of forced disappearances in the world. Mention the word “disappearance” in the Latin American context and most people think only about Chile, where 3,000 people were killed or disappeared, or Argentina, where some 30,000 people were disappeared in the “dirty war.” Yet new information is emerging that is unveiling the tragic dimensions of Colombia’s missing.

  • Para leer el reporte en Español pulse aquí
  • To read the press release please click here
  • Para leer el Comunicado de Prensa pulse aquí

Letter to President Santos regarding the Victims and Land Law

A coalition of US organizations sent a letter to President Santos on the bills no 85 and 107 (now combined) on reparation for victims of human rights violations and transitional norms for the restitution of land to victims of forced displacement, that were submitted in the beginning of November for the consideration of the Colombian Congress. The letter urges President Santos to open the debate of the proposed bills to include Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities and other social and human rights organizations to address some of the concerns within the bill.

To read the letter please click here

Para leer la carta en Español pulse aquí

Still Waiting for Justice

The challenges facing the new Colombian administration to overcome alarming levels of impunity and how the U.S. government can help.

Written by Kelly Nicholls and Diana Arango, USOC, with the help of Andreiev Pinzon, Techo Común delegate at USOC.

U.S. Government Certifies Colombia Despite Lack of Human Rights Results

More than 3,000 civilian deaths imputed to security forces; only token prosecutions advance

Press Release: US Office on Colombia, Latin America Working Group, Washington Office on Latin America and Center for International Policy

The State Department announced on September 15th that they certified that Colombia was meeting the human rights conditions required for receipt of military aid in the face of abundant evidence that human rights violations by security forces remain unpunished. Its own press release acknowledged the serious human rights problems in Colombia. U.S. and Colombian human rights groups provided extensive evidence to the State Department that in the past year, progress has stalled on investigating and prosecuting human rights violations, particularly the cases involving more than 3,000 civilians allegedly killed by Colombia's armed forces. Justice is not advancing even in the most notorious and well-documented cases, such as the 2005 San José de Apartadó massacre and the 2007-08 killings of over 20 young men in Soacha.

Press Release , Para leer el comunicado de prensa por favor pulsar aquí

Human Rights Defenders Campaign video

US organizations wrote to President Santos expressing their concern regarding recent developments in the Palace of Justice Case

Esteemed President Santos,

We write to express our concern regarding recent developments in the Palace of Justice case. In particular, the decision to dismiss prosecutor Angela María Buitrago, who had vigorously led the Palace of Justice investigation for the past several years, raises fundamental questions regarding Colombia’s willingness to prosecute even the gravest violations of human rights.

As you know, the Truth Commission for the Palace of Justice Events created by the Colombian Supreme Court has established that following the military’s recovery of the Palace of Justice from the M-19 guerrillas in November 1985, members of the armed forces killed and forcibly disappeared at least a dozen innocent victims. These crimes, which had gone largely unexamined for two decades, were seriously investigated for the first time beginning in 2005, when Buitrago was named as Prosecutor for the case. Despite significant obstacles, remarkable progress has been achieved. Several formal high-ranking military officers are currently under investigation or on trial, and earlier this year the first criminal conviction in the case was handed down against retired Coronel Alfonso Plazas Vega.

To read the full letter please click here

Para leer la carta en Español haga click aquí

Colombian and U.S. Human Rights Groups Call on the United States to Condition Aid and Support the Rule of Law

August 2010

As Colombian and U.S. human rights and nongovernmental groups, we call on the U.S. government not to certify that Colombia is meeting the human rights conditions for receipt of U.S. military assistance. To do so would violate the law governing U.S. foreign assistance, because not only has Colombia failed to meet the conditions, it has taken a significant step backward during the last year-long certification period, particularly in failing to bring human rights crimes by security forces to justice. Certifying under these conditions would tell Colombia’s new administration that the United States will not hold it accountable for abuses. By withholding certification, which is a judgment on the past administration’s record, the United States would help support the rule of law in Colombia. It would send a firm message that the U.S. government expects the new administration to distinguish itself from its predecessor by upholding human rights.

We urge the State Department to withhold certification until marked results are seen in advancing human rights cases and combating Colombia’s rampant impunity.

To read the full statement please click here

Mass Graves and Alleged Extrajudicial Executions in the Macarena, Colombia

August 2010

After Everardo Borda was killed by the armed forces on January 16, 2008 his body was allegedly dumped in a clandestine grave site directly beside the military base of the Rapid Deployment Force in the Macarena, Meta in central Colombia. According to the Inspector-General's initial report, there could be up to 2,000 non-identified bodies buried there. The Rapid Deployment Force (FUDRA in its Spanish acronym) has received considerable U.S. support since 2005 and the municipality of the Macarena and the surrounding region has been a focus of U.S.-backed military efforts to recover territory from the guerrillas.

To read the complete article please click here To watch the video of the public hearing click here

Military Assistance and Human Rights: Colombia, U.S. Accountability, and Global Implications

A Report by Fellowship for Reconciliation and US Office on Colombia

The scale of U.S. training and equipping of other nations’ militaries has grown exponentially since 2001, but there are major concerns about the extent to which the U.S. government is implementing the laws and monitoring the impact its military aid is having on human rights. This report by the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and U.S. Office on Colombia examines these issues through a detailed case study of U.S. military aid, human rights abuses, and implementation of human rights law in Colombia.

The experience of US military funding to Colombia shows alarming links between Colombian military units that receive U.S. assistance and civilian killings committed by the army. To prevent similar errors in Afghanistan and Pakistan, relevant Congressional committees and the State Department Office of the Inspector General must thoroughly study the Colombia case and implementation of U.S. law designed to keep security assistance from going to security force units committing gross human rights violations.

"Military Assistance and Human Rights: Colombia, U.S. Accountability, and Global Implications"

Far Worse than Watergate Widening Scandal regarding Intelligence Agency as New Government Takes Office in Colombia

A Report by US Office on Colombia, Latin America Working Group, Washington Office on Latin America and the Center for International Policy

June 17 2010

A new report released in the United States today reveals that the Watergate-like scandal in Colombia is even more shocking than initially reported, with the presidential intelligence agency, DAS, not only spying, but also carrying out dirty tricks and even death threats on major players in Colombia’s democracy.

“The new Colombian president, who will be elected on Sunday, will have a major clean up on his hands and must ensure that Colombia’s intelligence agencies can never again be used to spy on, harass and undermine the legitimate activities of key democratic actors,” said Lisa Haugaard, executive director, Latin America Working Group Education Fund.

Far Worse than Watergate also details new evidence that shows that this illegal activity may have been carried out with orders from top presidential advisors.

“This scandal is far more outrageous that we initially imagined. It includes spying in international territory, sending grotesque death threats, using blackmail, framing a journalist in a fabricated guerrilla video and conducting sabotage against Constitutional Court judges,” Kelly Nicholls, executive director, the U.S. Office on Colombia said. “The U.S. government must take this into consideration when deciding whether to certify Colombia’s compliance with the human rights conditions.”

These operations did not target alleged terrorists, but rather people carrying out legitimate, democratic activities. The targets included: Supreme Court and Constitutional Court judges, presidential candidates, journalists, publishers, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the United Nations and human rights defenders in Colombia, the United States and Europe.

“Last week U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised the Colombian Government’s commitment to building strong democratic institutions,” said Abigail Poe, deputy director, Center for International Policy. “However, this scandal puts that assertion into question. Moving forward, the United States must take this new evidence seriously and urge the investigation to include those outside the DAS who ordered and were consumers of illegal intelligence.”

"Far Worse than Watergate" , Press Release , Comunicado de Prensa

For the Report in Spanish please click here

Refugees International US Office on Colombia

Dear Secretary Clinton:

As you visit with government leaders from Ecuador and Colombia next week, you have an opportunity to assert U.S. leadership in addressing one of the world’s worst displacement crises. Refugees International and the U.S. Office on Colombia urge you to prioritize assistance and protection to refugees and internally displaced people in your discussions with government officials, and ultimately take the opportunity to address the Colombian refugee crisis from a regional perspective.

To read the full letter please click here

Watch Kelly Nicholls our Executive Director speak to Christian Aid about the International Campaign for the Right to Defend Human Rights and the presidential elections.

Call for Action against Escalating Threats and Attacks in Colombia

May 24, 2010

We, the undersigned human rights, faith-based and nongovernmental organizations, are gravely concerned with the escalating series of threats and attacks against human rights defenders in Colombia. We call upon the Colombian government to take vigorous measures to investigate and prosecute these threats and attacks, protect defenders at risk and proclaim the legitimacy of human rights defenders’work, essential to a society ruled by law.

To cite just a few examples, on April 10th, death threats were issued in the name of “Los Rastrojos –Comandos Urbanos” to more than sixty Colombian human rights organizations, individuals and international organizations, such as CODHES, AFRODES, MINGA, MOVICE, Fundación Nuevo Arco Iris, UN Development Program, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, CCAJAR, the Social Ministry of the Diocese of Tumaco and many Afro-Colombian and IDP leaders. This same group issued a second threat on May 18th naming many of the same organizations and individuals as well as adding new targets. In mid-April, a series of death threats were anonymously leveled against a Jesuit priest, Javier Giraldo, S.J., a human rights analyst who manages the human rights monitoring database at Jesuit Center of Investigation and Popular Education (CINEP) in Bogotá. The threats culminated in the scrawling of graffiti upon the wall of the CINEP offices and other buildings throughout Bogota that read, “Against the Priest,” and “Javier Giraldo = Dead.” This graffiti also threatened the Interchurch Justice and Peace Commission (CIJP). On May 14th, the U.S.-based Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) received a death threat in its email allegedly from the Colombian paramilitary group the Black Eagles. The threatwas directed at over 80 Colombian human rights, Afro-Colombian, indigenous, internally displaced and labor rights organizations and individuals, as well as at WOLA.

Threats must be taken seriously, both because they have a profoundly chilling effect on freedom of expression and association, and because they all too often are followed by attacks and assassinations. In 2009, the Colombian nongovernmental organization Somos Defensores registered 125 cases of threats against defenders, and the group reports that 32 of these defenders were subsequently assassinated. On May 18th, human rights defender and farmer Rogelio Martinez was murdered by a group of hooded men. Martinez was a member of MOVICE in Sucre and an IDP leader who headed efforts to secure the return of land, allegedly stolen by paramilitary forces in 2001, to 53 families in an area known as Alemania Farm. He had been the recipient of multiple threats, and MOVICE has documented more than 50 incidents of attacks, harassment and threats against its members. The Sucre branch of MOVICE has been constantly threatened and earlier this year there was an assassination attempt against another member of the organization.

Mr. Martinez’s murder is only the latest assassination of an IDP leader reclaiming land. Enrique Petro, a community leader of the Curvaradó region, is another IDP leader who is in great danger. CIJP received information that a group of paramilitaries has been paid to assassinate him because he brought national and international human rights organizations to the area.

Colombian authorities virtually never investigate such threats or prosecute their authors. We urge the Colombian government to make the investigation of these threats a higher priority for law enforcement, to group investigations together to identify patterns, and to communicate with victims regarding the progress of the investigations. We call upon the U.S. government to urge the Colombian government to address these investigations with speed and vigor. All such measures should be in accordance with the wishes of those under threat. We note that the U.S. Congress last year specifically included a new condition related to protection of human rights defenders into U.S. foreign assistance to Colombia. We urge the U.S. State Department to insist that there be significant progress in investigating these threat and effectively prosecuting cases of extrajudicial executions and other abuses by Colombia’s security forces before certifying that the human rights conditions in the 2010 Appropriations Act governing U.S.military assistance to Colombia are being met.

In the case of Mr. Martinez’s murder, we ask that the Colombian government provide protection measures to Mr. Martinez’s wife and children and to the 53 other families returning to Alemania Farm. We ask that organizations currently accompanying the return process to Alemania Farm, including Infancia Feliz, Agenda Caribe and the National Victims Movement-Sucre Chapter, be granted protection measures. In addition, we call on the Colombian government to ensure that the land return for whichMr. Martinez was advocating is successfully implemented.

We note that those who make these threats often claim that they are issued in defense of the Colombian government, as in the May 14th threat which accuses groups of “blocking the policies of the Colombian government.” This association makes it even more imperative for the Colombian government to denounce such threats publicly and to affirm its support for the legitimate and invaluable activities of human rights defenders.

For the Spanish version please click here

For the PDF in English including the list of signatories please click here

US Office on Colombia, Washington Office on Latin America, Latin Amerca Working Group, Center for International Policy

An Open Letter to Colombia’s Presidential and Vice Presidential Candidates

How will you pledge to build a nation where rights are respected and peace is possible?

The next Colombian president will have a historic opportunity to change the lives of millions of Colombians affected in profound and tragic ways by the country’s enduring armed conflict. Any candidate who takes office will have in his or her power the ability to strengthen the rule of law in Colombia and lead the nation in building a more just and inclusive society that promotes and respects the rights of all its citizens.

As U.S. organizations which have worked closely with Colombian civil society partners over the last dozen years, we have seven questions for all the presidential and vice presidential candidates. We thank you for your willingness to consider them.

1. What will you do to promote progress towards a just and lasting peace? Will your government commit to serious efforts to advance negotiations? What could the United States and the international community do to help expand the possibilities for peace in Colombia? How will you fully involve civil society organizations, churches, local governments and other civic organizations in the construction of peace?

2. What will you do to strengthen the rule of law so that those who commit grave human rights violations are brought to justice? In particular, what will you do to ensure that crimes allegedly committed by state actors are prosecuted? How will you ensure that all those officials who ordered and implemented illegal surveillance and even more serious abuses by the DAS and other intelligence agencies are brought to justice? How will you ensure that the well over 2,000 extrajudicial executions allegedly committed by security forces are vigorously investigated and prosecuted in civilian courts, and that such cases are once and for all excluded from military jurisdiction? What will you do to ensure that such crimes are never committed again?

3. What will you do to ensure a climate in which human rights defenders can carry out their important work? How will you carry out the recommendations of the National and International Campaign for the Right to Defend Human Rights, which seek to end impunity for violations against human rights defenders, the misuse of state intelligence, systematic stigmatization, and unfounded criminal proceedings, while also structurally improving the protection program? We ask this question using the broad definition of defenders, from human rights activists, union leaders and journalists reporting on abuses to Afro-Colombian, indigenous and victims’ groups defending their communities.

4. What will you do to support the rights of all victims of violence to truth, justice and meaningful reparations? How will you involve victims in the construction of processes to achieve these aims? How will you protect victims from threats as they advocate for these basic rights, including restitution of stolen land and property? How will you ensure that victims of ex paramilitary leaders extradited to the United States are guaranteed their rights to truth, justice and reparations? How will you ensure that victims of state actors can achieve reparations without waiting many years for prosecutions to conclude?

5. How will you address the needs of Colombia’s 4 million internally displaced persons? How will you implement the Constitutional Court’s requirements for government action in order to overcome the current state of unconstitutionality? What steps will you take to change the social stigma that exists in Colombian society in relation to internally displaced citizens?

6. What actions will you take to protect Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities’ human rights and territorial rights? What steps will you take to reverse the physical and cultural extinction of 32 indigenous groups at risk of disappearing? How will you guarantee that transparent, free and informed previous consultation is applied on development projects in ethnic territories? How will you prevent abuses against ethnic minorities from taking place and guarantee justice in such cases?

7. What steps will you take to dismantle paramilitaries and their successor organizations? What will you do to move forward cases involving para-politics? How will you bolster state institutions to prevent the influence of all illegal armed groups?

True security can only be built on a foundation of rule of law and respect for human rights. Ultimately, it can only be permanently achieved through the construction of a just and lasting peace. These goals have been postponed for too long, at great cost in human life. Now is the time to embrace them.

Our organizations are committed to standing with Colombians of all walks of life as they seek to build a society governed by the rule of law, where human rights are respected and peace is possible.

For the Spanish version please click here

Paramilitary Group issues Threats against 60 human rights organizations.

On April 10 the successor paramilitary group “Los Rastrojos” issued a public communiqué threatening more than 60 human rights and social organizations and individuals.

The threat demanded that the organizations stop all work with the victims of paramilitary violence, otherwise the “threats will materialize, and we will bring back the violence of the 90s without mercy or fear”. Among the organizations that were threatened are Codhes, Nuevo Arco Iris, Fundepaz, Movice, the Collective of Lawyers José Alvear Restrepo, the UNDP, and members of the opposition such as Jorge Robledo, Alexander López y Guillermo Jaramillo.

The US Office on Colombia strongly condemns this surge in threats against human rights defenders, and the general impunity in for such threats. To truly guarantee defenders’ safety, those responsible for the threats and attacks against them must be brought to justice. We urge the Colombian government to ensure that threats against human rights defenders are thoroughly investigated in a timely manner and those responsible brought to justice. Furthermore, the Colombian government must guarantee the safety of all of those individuals and organizations who were targeted in these recent threats.

For more information please go to El Espectador http://www.elespectador.com/noticias/paz/articulo200148-ong-recomiendan-eeuu-condicionar-certificacion-ddhh-colombia

ONIC Testifies before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.

Press Statement

On Thursday April 29, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the US Office on Colombia (USOC) supported the participation of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) in the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Hearing on "The Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Latin America."

At this hearing, Dario Mejia from the ONIC affirmed that "more that 80% of [indigenous] territories have been conceded for the implementation of economic projects without respect for our right to previous consultation." Indigenous communities in Colombia are frequently victims of forced displacement. According to Mejia, "between 2002 and 2008, over 70,000 indigenous people were registered for individual or collective internal displacement; in 2009 alone, 6,201 indigenous people were violently expelled from their ancestral homelands." Mejia exclaimed that " We are worried about the role of the United States in supporting policies that affect our cultures and can put our existence at risk."

He noted that US support of fumigations and Colombia's democratic security policy is leading to serious violations of the rights indigenous communities. As such, the ONIC "is very pleased to see the introduction of House Resolution 1224 by Representative Hank Johnson of Georgia on Recognizing and honoring the important work that Colombia's Constitutional Court has done on behalf of Colombia's internally displaced persons, especially indigenous peoples, Afro-Colombians, and women. [The ONIC] hopes that all Members of the US Congress co-sponsor this resolution and that the House of Representatives passes it soon."

International Observation Mission Finds Serious Risks to Colombian Electoral Process

In an extensive report released recently, an independent International Pre-Electoral Observation Mission in Colombia found serious impediments to free and fair elections in Colombia that affect the full integrity of the country´s Congressional elections on Mar. 14 and the upcoming presidential elections in May.

The report cites the following “electoral risk factors” .

1.The presence of illegal armed groups in the electoral process, including paramilitaries, narco-traffickers, emerging violent groups and other armed actors, inhibits free and fair elections in various regions of the country.

2. The Mission documented questionable practices that could lead to electoral fraud and the commission of electoral crimes in the pre-electoral period.

3. The Mission also expressed concerns over Illegal campaign financing that require further investigation

4.The Mission gathered many reports that government aid programs have been manipulated in places for political purposes.

For the complete report please click here Para el reporte en Español pulse aquí

Impact of the US-Colombia FTA on the Small Farm Economy in Colombia is an in-depth economic study that assesses the effect that FTA provisions would have on Colombia's small-scale farmers. The study ascertains the characteristics of Colombia's small farm economy and uses a rigorous methodology to calculate the differentiated impact of the FTA on the income of small-scale farmers according to what they produce and how it competes with US imports, using available data on prices and production and the average cost structure of small-scale producers. It concludes that a significant number of small farm households, who make up nearly 50% of those working in Colombia's agricultural sector, would see substantial drops in their income as a result of the FTA. This would result in a deeper vulnerability for a population that has already been disproportionally affected by Colombia's internal conflict.

Luis Jorge Garay and Fernando Barberi will be holding a series of events during the week of March 8th to the 12th in Washington DC to present the study, including a House Briefing on Thursday March 11th (for invitation please click here ), a public discussion at Carnegie Endowment for Peace co-hosted by the Inter-American Dialogue Us Office on Colombia and Oxfam America (for invitation please click here ) and a public talk on Thursday the 11th hosted by the US Office on Colombia, Oxfam America and Washington Office on Latin America, at 9:30 am at WOLA (for invitation please click here ) that will be focusing on the continuing crisis of forced displacement in Colombia.

Colombian officers charged with killing innocent civilians freed from jail

Impunity in Colombia prevails as 31 more military officers accused of being involved in the 2008 killing of young men from Soacha are released from jail. This casts serious doubt over the chances of justice for thousands of extrajudicial executions victims throughout the country.

Last week 13 more Colombian military officers accused of killing innocent young men from the impoverished neighborhood of Soacha were freed from jail. This follows the recent release of 17 other officers allegedly involved in this high-profile case. Their release is due to delays in their trials that are reportedly the result of the military defense lawyers’ delay tactics. There have been similar delays in the cases of the majority of the 47 military officers detained in relation to the Soacha extrajudicial executions and it is feared that more will be released shortly.

To read the Complete hill drop by USOC, LAWG and WOLA please click here

CLIMATE OF FEAR: COLOMBIAN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS UNDER THREAT

Click here to download full report

U.S. Congressional Hearing highlights critical situation facing Colombian defenders

A U.S. Congressional hearing on Colombian human rights defenders held on October 20 heard the need for the Colombian government to take concrete action to reduce assassinations, violent attacks, threats, systematic stigmatizations, baseless prosecutions and illegal surveillance against human rights defenders, while also addressing the alarming impunity rates for these cases.

The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC) hearing, which the U.S. Office on Colombia (USOC) played a central role in coordinating, was chaired by Congressman McGovern and Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin and attended by around 100 people.

Witnesses included; Margaret Sekaggya, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Reynaldo Villalba Vargas, President of the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyer’s Collective, Principe Gabriel Gonzalez, Coordinator, Political Prisoners Solidarity Committee, Kelly Nicholls, Executive Director, USOC, and Andrew Hudson, Manager of the Human Rights Defenders Program, Human Rights First.

At the hearing Congressman McGovern said he was very concerned that the damage created by the Presidential intelligence scandal was “much more extensive”.

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International-Campaign-for-the-Right-to-Protect-Human-Rights

Today a national and international campaign for the protection of Colombia's human rights defenders will be launched in Bogotá. In Colombia, being a human rights defender is a dangerous, often deadly job and the situation is only getting worse. Those working on issues ranging from displacement to the rights of women, Afro-Colombians, the indigenous and other victims of the armed conflict are threatened, attacked, stigmatized, and put under illegal surveillance on a daily basis. In response to this situation and to calls from our Colombian partners to help bring international attention to this troubling situation, USOC has been working with our partners in Colombian, Europe, the UK and the U.S. to help develop an international campaign for the Right to Defend Human Rights. The Campaign will be launched today by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, in Bogotá. Over 200 organizations across the globe have signed onto the Campaign.

To read the Declaration of the Campaign please click here, to read the Recommendations please click here

Para Leer la Declaración de la Campaña en Español por favor pulse aquí, para leer las Recomendaciones haga click aquí

USTR Comment Period about the Pending Free Trade Agreement with Colombia

September 2009

Yesterday the US Office on Colombia and Oxfam America, as well as a broad range of human rights, labor, environmental, development and faith-based organizations submitted written comments to the United States Trade Representative (USTR) calling on the Obama Administration to broaden the debate around the pending free trade agreement between the United States and Colombia. The comments were filed in response to a formal request by USTR for views on the pending trade agreement.

“We welcome the USTR’s willingness to meet with our organizations and to listen to our concerns. We hope that our views will be given full consideration and reflected in the policy decisions that the government makes with regard to the FTA,” said Kelly Nicholls, Executive Director, U.S. Office on Colombia.

To Read the Complete press release please click here

To Read the Comments submitted to USTR please click here

Colombia’s Intelligence Agency: Spying on Democracy” a report by US Office on Colombia, LAWG and WOLA

Following on the heels of the "falsos positivos" scandal involving soldiers killing civilians and dressing them up as guerrillas killed in combat, a scandal far worse than Watergate is unfolding featuring Colombia's presidential intelligence agency, the Administrative Security Department (DAS). Exposed by the Colombian news weekly Semana and the subject of an Attorney General's office incestigation, the DAS is revealed to have been illegally spying on many of the varied forces of Colombian democracy: opposition politicians, human rights groups, journalists, clergy, unions, and Supreme Court justices. The operation went deeper than surveillance, employing a variety of dirty tricks , seeking to "neutralize and restrict" the normal activities of human rights groups and any voices critical of the Uribe administration.

For the Full report please click here.

More than 10 People Killed in New Awa Massacre

The US Office on Colombia is deeply sadden by the massacre of 12 Awá indigenous peoples, including four children on August 26, 2009 in the indigenous reserve Gran Rosario in Tumaco, Nariño. We call on the Colombian Government to immediately investigate this situation, prosecute those responsible and institute an effective protection program for the remaining members of this highly vulnerable community.

USOC, LAWG and WOLA sent a letter to Vice-President Francisco Santos asking him to act on this pressing issue. To Read the letter please click here , and to sign on to the letter please go to Urgent Actions .

"A State of Impunity in Colombia: Extrajudicial Executions Continue, Injustice Prevails." A report by the US Office on Colombia

Extrajudicial executions continue to be reported throughout Colombia, while impunity rates for this deeply troubling crime remain alarmingly high. The US Government has provided considerable funding for the Colombian Attorney-General's office (AG), including for the AG's Human Rights Unit which is in charge of cases of extrajudicial executions. While it is very important to support Colombia's judicial and oversight agencies, it is crucial that this support be subject to careful scrutiny and that it produces concrete results. Results are especially needed in cases of alleged extrajudicial executions, where there is a 98.5 per cent "impunity rate", or cases in which no conviction has resulted between 2002 and April 2009.

To Read the Full Report Please Click Here

Obama Calls For Human Rights Improvements. Colombia Needs to do More before FTA Considered.

Joint Statement of LAWG, USOC and WOLA

Monday's meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and his Colombian counterpart, Alvaro Uribe, marks a shift in U.S. foreign policy towards Colombia, with a greater focus on human rights.

"We are pleased that President Obama voiced concerns about the intelligence scandal, the continuing practice of extrajudicial executions and the possibility of President Uribe running for a third term in office," said Kelly Nicholls, Executive Director, U.S. Office on Colombia. "U.S. and Colombian human rights organizations greatly welcome President Obama's public support for labor and civil rights leaders and his focus on the importance of the rule of law and transparency."

President Obama expressed his polite displeasure at the possibility of the Colombian President amending the Colombian Constitution to run for a third term in office when he said: "our experience in the United States is that two terms works for us and that after eight years usually the American people want a change."

To Read the complete statement please click here

To Read the transcript of meeting between Obama and Uribe please click here

Joint Press Release from WOLA, LAWG, CIP and HRF: on Uribe's Visit to the White House

President Obama Must Raise Human Rights Concerns with Colombian President Opportunity to Show Human Rights are Important for US Allies and Adversaries

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's meeting with President Obama on Monday comes at a controversial moment. President Uribe is embroiled in a number of human rights, corruption and abuse of power scandals. The Colombian President is seriously considering amending the Constitution to run for a third term in office. Meanwhile, a Free Trade Agreement remains stalled in the U.S. Congress.

"It is crucial that President Obama send the right message, with the right tone. Colombia is a close partner of the United States, which makes it all the more important that we voice concerns about human rights violations and the rule of law," said Gimena Sánchez Garzoli, Senior Associate for Colombia, Washington Office on Latin America.

To read the entire press release please click here

Recent Attacks against Family Members of Victims of Extrajudicial Executions.

On May 5, 2009 a trial began against army officers from the Third High Mountain “Rodrigo Lloreda Caicedo” Battalion charged with the death of Mr. Jose Orlando Giraldo. Only five days later on May 10, Mr. Jose Wilson Giraldo, Mr. Orlado’s brother and a key witness in the trial, was shot in the head by unidentified men while leaving his house in the company of his wife. Mr. Giraldo survived the attack but remains in hospital.

In another similar case, Mayerli Alejandra Legarda the 12-years-old daughter of Edwin Legarda, who was killed by the army last year, was threatened by armed gunmen, while she was in front of her house located near the Municipality of Popayán in the Department of Cauca. Mayerli ran inside the house and the armed men fled the area after they noticed that the indigenous guard was present in the house.

Please go to our Urgent Action's link and help us address this pressing issue by signing on to a letter to Ambassador William R. Brownfield.

Surge of Attacks and Threats against Human Rights Defenders

The US Office on Colombia (USOC) is deeply troubled by a surge of attacks and threats against human rights defenders in recent months. Afro-Colombian and Indigenous leaders, as well as leaders of the internally displaced population and women’s groups have been particularly targeted.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has publicly expressed its concern for human rights defenders in Colombia after these recent attacks and death threats. Its communiqué cited “threats against human-rights workers and social activists, including displaced leaders working to defend their communities’ rights”. It also included indigenous, Afro-Colombian and social group leaders as having been targeted, with acts of intimidation against all of them increasing in recent months. Some have been killed and others forced to flee for safety, with many victims’ friends and families remaining silent for fear of reprisal attacks. .

We ask you to please take a moment and sign on to an automated letter to the Colombian Government asking them to urgently address this issue and to guarantee the safety of all those who are under threat.

Hilldrop: Impacts of US-Colombia FTA on Colombia’s rural poor

The Obama Administration and US Congress should not pass the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in its present form as it could have dire consequences for Colombia’s rural poor and may subsequently lead to a growth of illicit crops. The trade deal negotiated between Colombia and the United States during the Bush Administration should be revised to take into account the existing situation of rural poverty and inequality in Colombia and ensure its application does not undermine food security and rural development efforts.

Read the full US Office on Colombia-Oxfam America hilldrop.

Delegation of Colombian human rights leaders.

From March 2-6, the US Office on Colombia - along with CIP, LAWG, and WOLA - hosted a delegation of 6 prominent Colombian activists representing various sectors of Colombia's vibrant civil society. The purpose of the delegation was to promote the recommendations laid out in the Compass for Colombia Policy for a shift in US foreign policy towards Colombia so as to promote human rights, the rule of law and a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The delegates met with a broad array of policymakers and civil society groups, including: the National Security Council, the Department of State, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, Congressional offices - including a special event in Congress hosted by Representative Sam Farr (D CA) and Representative Eliot Engel (D NY) - and university students.

Watch two interviews done by Peruanista with Libia Grueso (PCN) and Jorge Rojas (CODHES).

Colombian civil society peace letter to Obama.

On February 26, 2009, Colombian civil society organizations, human rights activists, academics, and Colombian congressmen presented a letter – with 166 signatures – addressed to President Obama to US Ambassador William Brownfield in Bogotá. The letter details recommendations for a negotiated solution to the ongoing internal armed conflict in Colombia.

Read the full letter in Spanish or English.

Lina Malagon Joint Statement

Eight labor and human rights organizations call on the Colombian government to respect the work of trade unionists and human rights defenders in Colombia and to retract statements that put these workers at risk... Download full letter and read more

Colombian NGO letter to the DOS and DOJ regarding possible "HH" extradition

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Partial return of Afro-Colombian lands in Curvarado a Step Forward

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Hilldrop to Congress chronicles ongoing practice of extrajudicial executions

The US Office on Colombia – along with the Center for International Policy, the Washington Office on Latin America, and the Latin America Working group – published and distributed a memo on extrajudicial executions to the House of Representatives and Senate this week. In this document, we urge the 111th US Congress not to tolerate ongoing extrajudicial executions in Colombia. Despite the Colombian military shake-up following the highly publicized Soacha cases in September 2009, this systematic practice of state agents killing civilians and often presenting them as guerrillas who had died in combat, continues unabated.

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Awá Massacre Indicative of Lack of Protection for Colombia’s Indigenous

Download this letter in PDF format

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), the U.S. Office on Colombia (USOC) and the Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF) strongly condemn last week’s massacre of 17 members of the indigenous Awá community and call on the Colombian Government to immediately investigate this situation, prosecute those responsible and institute an effective protection program for the remaining members of this community. The murders were reportedly committed by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and among the victims were two women and a child. This massacre hits a community that has already been devastated by numerous displacements, murders and constant harassment from armed groups.

Reports received by WOLA indicate that indigenous communities are hard hit by violence, internal displacement and abuses committed by all parties to the conflict. On December 16, 2008, for example, Edwin Legarda, the husband of indigenous leader Aída Quilcué of the Indigenous Regional Council of Cauca (CRIC) was killed at the hands of Colombian soldiers. Shortly after the high profile death of Mr. Legarda, five Kankuamo indigenous persons died and 89 were injured due to a grenade attack in Atanquez.

The critical situation of the indigenous communities throughout Colombia led the National Organization of Indigenous Persons (ONIC) to recently announce that 32 indigenous ethnic groups are at risk of disappearing, with 18 smaller groups at risk of becoming physically and culturally extinct in the near future. WOLA, USOC and LAWGEF urge the U.S. Embassy to support the formation of an emergency program focused on indigenous communities in danger of extinction, created by indigenous organizations and headed by the ONIC. We urge the FARC to respect international humanitarian law and end any and all attacks against the civilian population.

Contact:
Gimena Sánchez
Senior Associate for Colombia
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
gsanchez@wola.org
wola.org
202-797-2171

Lisa Haugaard
Executive Director
Latin American Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF)
lisah@lawg.org
lawg.org
202-546-7010

Kelly Nicholls
Executive Director
U.S. Office on Colombia (USOC)
kelly@usofficeoncolombia.org
usofficeoncolombia.org
202-232-8090

Email communication intercepted by Colombian government.

On December 19, 2006, intercepts of the email accounts of over 150 human rights defenders, trade unionists, academics, journalists, and labor organizations were ordered by the police intelligence agency, SIJIN. This request was reiterated by SIJIN in September 2007 and November 2008 – all of which were granted by the 12th Anti-Terrorism Specialized Prosecutor. Some of the human rights organizations being monitored include: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Movement for Victims of States Crimes (MOVICE), the Colombian Network for Action on Free Trade, the Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective, the Yira Castro human rights organization, and the US-based interfaith peace organization, Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR).

In response to this illegal interception, 14 international organizations, including the US Office on Colombia, drafted and sent a letter to Attorney General Mario Iguarán on December 18, 2008 urging him to conduct thorough and prompt investigations and to US Ambassador William Brownfield.

Extrajudicial Killings in Colombia

This video documents the violence of war and contains some explicit language in Spanish. For more information visit Witness For Peace.


Extrajudicial Killing In Colombia from Witness For Peace on Vimeo.

Body Counts and Injustice in Colombia's Armed Conflict: A USOC Publication.

The US Office on Colombia (USOC) recently published - "Body Counts and Injustice in the Colombian Armed Conflict" - a report that details recent trends and modalities in extrajudicial executions, showing cases of this horrendous crime in 27 of Colombia's 32 departments. The publication looks at a number of recent cases and includes an analysis of the Colombian government's steps to address extrajudicial executions. The report concludes with a number of recommendations of concrete actions the US Government can take to help address this crime which the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has described as a "systematic practice" throughout the country. These recommendations include: using the leverage of certification to ensure that there are effective and timely prosecutions in the Colombian civilian justice system, suspending military assistance to all Colombian army units credibly implicated in cases of alleged extrajudicial executions, and ensuring that the Southern Command identify and address causes of extrajudicial executions.

USOC recently distributed the report to all members of the US House of Representatives and the US Senate. Download a copy of the report.

USOC Blog: State Agents Allegedly Kill Edwin Legarda, Activist and Husband of CRIC’s leader

On December 16, 2008, indigenous activist and husband of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC)’s leader Edwin Legarda Vázquez was allegedly killed by members of the national army’s José Hilario López Battalion.

To continue reading, see our blog.

New Report Outlines a Just and Effective Foreign Policy toward Colombia

October 22, 2008

During their final presidential debate, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain expressed markedly different opinions on U.S. policy toward Colombia, an important partner in Latin America. Yet the next U.S. president won’t just be debating policy, he will be making it—and in the case of Colombia, he will need more than minor changes along the margins. He will need a new approach.

The Compass for Colombia Policy, written by some of Washington’s top Colombia experts, offers a better way forward for one of the main foreign policy challenges that the next administration will face. This report makes a detailed, persuasive case for a new U.S. strategy that would achieve our current policy goals while ending impunity and strengthening respect for human rights. Instead of risking all by placing too much faith in a single, charismatic leader, the United States must appeal to the aspirations and needs of all Colombians by strengthening democratic institutions, such as the judiciary. In particular, the United States must stand by and empower the human rights advocates, victims, judges, prosecutors, union leaders, journalists and others who are the driving forces towards a more just and peaceful Colombia.

The Compass details seven sensible steps policymakers can take to create a just and effective Colombia policy.

  1. Use U.S. Aid and Leverage for Human Rights and the Rule of Law

    To address a human rights crisis that continues unabated and a chronic lack of political will to deal with it, the United States must use tougher diplomacy to encourage the Colombian government to strengthen human rights guarantees, protect human rights defenders, and bolster institutions needed to break with a history of impunity for abuses. Colombia’s judicial system is central to the rule of law and must receive strong support.

  2. Actively Support Overtures for Peace

    The United States cannot continue to bankroll a war without end and, as the civilian population in the countryside continues to endure immense suffering, should make peace a priority.

  3. Support Expansion of the Government’s Civilian Presence in the Countryside

    Militarily occupying territory is not the solution to Colombia’s problems. The United States should help Colombia strengthen its civilian government presence in rural zones to address lawlessness, poverty and inequality, the roots of the conflict.

  4. Protect the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons and Refugees

    The United States can help resolve Colombia’s massive humanitarian crisis by insisting on the dismantlement of paramilitary structures, supporting Colombia’s Constitutional Court rulings on IDPs, and increasing and improving aid to IDPs and refugees.

  5. Protect the Rights of Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Communities

    The United States must pay special attention to promoting ethnic minorities’ land rights and guarantee that U.S. aid projects are not carried out on land obtained by violence.

  6. Ensure that Trade Policy Supports, Not Undermines, Policy Goals towards Colombia

    The United States should insist upon labor rights advances, especially in reducing and prosecuting violence against trade unionists, prior to further consideration of the trade agreement. The United States must ensure that any trade agreement will not undermine U.S. policy goals, such as reducing farmers’ dependence on coca and ending the conflict.

  7. Get Serious—and Smart—about Drug Policy

    The United States is overdue for a major course correction in its drug control strategy, which has failed spectacularly in Colombia and the Andean region. The United States should end the inhumane and counterproductive aerial spraying program and invest seriously in rural development, including alternative development designed with affected communities. Drug enforcement should focus higher up on the distribution chain, disrupt money laundering schemes and apprehend violent traffickers. Access to high-quality drug treatment in the United States, which will cut demand, must be the centerpiece of U.S. drug policy.

“The next administration should use diplomatic pressure to hold Colombia to much higher standards on human rights, labor rights, and protection of the rule of law.” –Lisa Haugaard, Latin America Working Group Education Fund

“The United States must recognize the magnitude of the human rights crisis for Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities in Colombia, in which hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lands and livelihoods to violence.” –Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, Washington Office on Latin America

“Nine years after the launch of Plan Colombia, the production of cocaine remains virtually unchanged. The United States simply cannot afford to continue to pursue this costly and failed counternarcotics policy. The next President must change course.” –Adam Isacson, Center for International Policy

“In the last decade, Colombia’s conflict has taken 20,000 more lives and displaced more than 2 million citizens. Now is the time to make renewed efforts for peace.” –Kelly Nicholls, U.S. Office on Colombia

For more information:

Lisa Haugaard, Latin America Working Group Education Fund, (202) 546-7010; lisah@lawg.org
Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, Washington Office on Latin America, (202) 797-2171; gsanchez@wola.org
Adam Isacson, Center for International Policy, (202) 232-3317; isacson@ciponline.org
Kelly Nicholls, US Office on Colombia, (202) 232-8090; kelly@usofficeoncolombia.org

Download information:

FULL REPORTS:
Compass for Colombia Policy (english, 3.8mb PDF)
Compass Nuevo Rumbo (español, 3.9mb PDF)
EXECUTIVE SUMMARIES:
Compass for Colombia Policy Executive Summary (english, 90k PDF)
Compass Nuevo Rumbo Resumen Ejec (english, 90k PDF)

Joint letter to Colombian Ambassador Carolina Barco

...regarding the worsening human rights situation in Colombia, presented to the Ambassador on 31 October 2008.

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See this news clip featuring the Coordinación Colombia Europa Estados Unidos (a USOC partner) and former USOC Techo Común delegate Claudia Erazo on the topic of the peace process and the need for a bilateral ceasefire:

Expanding Military Jurisdiction in Colombia: A Major Setback for Justice

January 28, 2013

Colombia’s recent passage of a constitutional amendment that expands military jurisdiction in cases of human rights violations is a major setback for justice. The reform would allow grave human rights crimes to be investigated and tried by the military justice system, in direct conflict with years of jurisprudence of Colombia’s high courts and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

To read the full report in English, click here | Para leer el reporte en Español pulse aquí

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USOC's latest blog post - Published on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 by Common Dreams

Colombian Prosecutor Charging Human Rights Defender is Implicated in Forced Disappearance

by Dana Brown

After years of enduring threats from paramilitary organizations, David Ravelo, a Colombian human rights defender, economist and founding member of the Regional Corporation for the Defense of Human Rights (CREDHOS), has been imprisoned for the last two years based on the testimony of demobilized paramilitaries. The circumstances surrounding the case against him are filled with irregularities, including accusations of witness tampering and serious questions about witness credibility. And new information has just come to light that presents even more serious questions about the Ravelo’s imprisonment.

The prosecutor who charged Ravelo, William Pacheco, appears to have been involved in a 1992 forced disappearance and was dismissed from his then post as lieutenant in the police force. Given that in Colombia it is illegal for those dismissed from public office to work for the Attorney General’s office, this raises the question as to how he managed to become a federal prosecutor and hold other important official posts.

In 1995, Ravelo was absolved of the charge of rebellion relating to the homicide of David Nuñez Cala, a public official from the Mayor’s Office in Barrancabermeja, but he is currently being held on charges of aggravated homicide related to the same incident. He remains imprisoned based on the testimony of just three former paramilitaries, though over 30 people gave declarations contradicting that testimony. The principle witnesses, Mario Jaimes Mejia, alias “El Panadero” (the Baker), and Fremio Sanchez Carreno, alias “Commando Esteban”, are ex-paramilitaries, both of whom were sentenced to 20 years in prison for their involvement in a 1998 massacre that killed 7 and disappeared 25—a massacre publicly denounced at the time by Ravelo and CREDHOS. Furthermore, Orlando Noguera, another witness in the case, has publicly stated that Mejia and Carreno tried to bribe him so that he would implicate Ravelo, further eroding the ex-paramilitaries’ credibility.

Alirio Uribe, Ravelo’s lawyer, says, “It’s no secret to anyone that paramilitary groups in Barrancabermeja and throughout the country have declared human rights defenders military targets, including ordering that they be killed, and now they are doing it through the legal system.” For over a decade, Ravelo and has endured threats, many from paramilitary organizations, and since his imprisonment, threats have also been directed at his family members.

The latest revelations about Ravelo’s prosecutor, William Pacheco, bring up several new questions about the legitimacy of Ravelo’s trial. For instance, how can a person dismissed from public office become a Prosecutor for the Attorney General’s office? How does a person with such a past become a Director of the National Association of Prosecutors or member of the Anti-Terrorism Task Force? And finally, what authority does a person with such a past have to investigate and try a recognized human rights defender like David Ravelo?

Amidst these serious questions about his trial, Ravelo still sits in jail, after more than two years, awaiting sentencing, which brings me to my final question: Is this justice?

Impunity

August 21, 2012

Today the US Office on Colombia releases its latest report, Impunity: Has implementation of the accusatory legal system been an effective response to the fight against impunity in Colombia? By examining each stage in the judicial process under the new system, and illuminating important distinctions between Colombia’s accusatory system and the Anglo-Saxon model, the report indicates that there are several impediments to due process and access to justice, particularly for grave human rights violations, under Colombia’s accusatory system. The report includes a reflection on US investment in the accusatory system and the role the US government could play in urging the Colombian government to discuss potential reforms to the system in order to guarantee an efficient judiciary with access to justice for all victims of human rights violations and infractions of International Humanitarian Law.

To read the full report in English, click here

Colombian Army Kills Indigenous Civilian Violence Escalates in Cauca and Deepens Humanitarian Crisis for Indigenous Communities

July 19, 2012

Eighteen year old Fabian Guetio Vasquez was killed by the Colombian Army in Caldono, Cauca, at 5 a.m. yesterday morning. Mr. Guetio was on his way to his father’s home in the indigenous community of La Laguna when soldiers fatally shot him in the back of the neck. The commander of the Third Division of the Army was relieved of his post as a result of the murder. We join the indigenous communities’ demand for justice, respect for their territorial and communal rights and respectful dialogue with the Colombian government to find a non-violent solution to this conflict.

Over the last two weeks, over 35 indigenous civilians have been injured, over 2,500 have been forcibly displaced, and a dozen disappeared as the armed conflict between the security forces and the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) escalates in Cauca, Colombia. The Association of Indigenous Cabildos of Northern Cauca (ACIN) and the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) have called for an end to fighting between the security forces and the FARC and called for all armed actors to leave the indigenous territories.

In this already extremely hostile climate, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón and Army Commander Alejandro Navas made claims that the indigenous movement is infiltrated by the FARC , putting the community at greater risk by labeling them insurgents. We urge the Colombian government to immediately put an end to dangerous stigmatizations like these and take all the steps necessary to ensure the safety of the civilian population, as required under International Humanitarian Law.

The town of Toribío, the center of much of the recent conflict, has been victim to over 500 attacks in the last 30 years. In 2012 alone, the FARC has attacked this community over a dozen times. In this context, the ACIN and CRIC reiterate their historical call for peace.

Furthermore, it is essential that the Colombian government recognizes that construction of military bases within indigenous territories requires free, prior and informed consent from the community under Colombian and international law. We welcome the Colombian government’s agreement to begin dialogue with the indigenous communities of Northern Cauca today and we urge the government to fully implement the community’s proposals, respecting their rights to self-determination and informed consent.

66 of Colombia’s 102 indigenous peoples are at risk of extinction, and the conflict in Cauca is replicated in several indigenous communities throughout Colombia. The situation is critical and it is time for the Colombian government to listen to the concerns of the indigenous communities, respect their legitimate authorities and to take the necessary steps to protect this vulnerable population that has disproportionately suffered the consequences of the country’s ongoing conflict. The FARC should also respect International Humanitarian Law and the requests of the indigenous communities and withdraw from their territory.

US Office on Colombia

Washington Office on Latin America

Latin America Working Group

Presbyterian Peace Fellowship

Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America

Witness for Peace

Amazon Watch

Against All Odds: The Deadly Struggle of Land Rights Leaders in Colombia

International Verification Mission on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders

July 9, 2012

Today, July 9, 2012, the US Office on Colombia (USOC) and the Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF) released the final report of the International Verification Mission on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in Colombia. The report includes the findings of the 40-person mission conducted November 28-December 2, 2011 which show continued violations of the rights of human rights defenders despite a positive change in discourse at the national level. The mission, comprised of jurists, journalists and human rights activists from 15 different countries, visited eight regions of Colombia and verified firsthand the situation of human rights defenders with respect to five thematic areas identified by the Campaign for the Right to Defend Human Rights: impunity, baseless prosecutions, misuse of state intelligence information, systematic stigmatizations and structural problems with the protection program for defenders at risk.


International Audit Commission Declares CCAJAR’s Transparency and Legitimacy

June 3-8 USOC

Executive Director, Dana Brown, participated in the social and political audit of the Corporación Colective de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo ( CCAJAR ), an organization of human rights lawyers with whom USOC has worked closely. The audit is an innovative way in which CCAJAR aims to affirm its legitimacy and transparency after a series of defamatory statements made by the Colombian president, Inspector General, Minister of Justice and other high-ranking officials.

See the full report of the International Audit Commission here (in Spanish). We will post an English version soon!

See the June 8, 2012 press conference announcing the results of the Commission

US Office on Colombia, the Latin America Working Group and the Washington Office on Latin America Condemn Car Bomb in Bogotá

May 16, 2012

The US Office on Colombia (USOC) and the Latin America Working Group (LAWG) condemn the car bomb attack which killed at five people and left 39 injured yesterday, March 15, in Bogotá, Colombia.

“Attacks against civilians are reprehensible, and a clear violation of International Humanitarian Law. This crime must be thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice,” says Dana Brown, Executive Director of USOC.

The explosion injured former Minister of the Interior Fernando Londoño, the presumed target of the attack, and it killed his driver and bodyguard.

“We condemn this terrible crime, and stand with the citizens of Bogota,” says Lisa Haugaard, Executive Director of the Latin America Working Group.

“This bombing is abhorrent. We urge Colombians to refrain from resorting to violence when airing their discontent on policies. Such acts only add to the country’s cycle of violence and deepen political polarization. Colombians are encouraged to utilize the justice and legislative system to change policies in the country and to work towards a non-violent politically negotiated solution to the root causes of the internal armed conflict,” says Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli, Senior Associate for Colombia at the Washington Office on Latin America.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks thus far.

Women Human Rights Defenders and the Struggle for Justice in Colombia

Women Human Rights Defenders and the Struggle for Justice in Colombia

January 2012

Colombia continues to suffer one of the worst humanitarian and human rights crises in the world. In this context, those who defend human rights and the rule of law in Colombia have continuously been victims of systematic stigmatization, threats, sexual violence, unfounded criminal proceedings, violent attacks and killings carried out by all armed actors in the conflict. Amongst this group of defenders, women play a crucial role. Women defenders come from all walks of life; they are indigenous and Afro-Colombian women living in remote areas, trade unionists, internally displaced persons (IDPs), human rights lawyers defending victims of the conflict, lesbians and transgender women fighting against discrimination, journalists, mothers, daughters and sisters of the victims of extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances, and survivors of sexual violence. In this context women are carrying out a fundamental role as defenders of human rights and “builders of peace and democracy.”


Against All Odds: The Deadly Struggle of Land Rights Leaders in Colombia

Against All Odds: The Deadly Struggle of Land Rights Leaders in Colombia

November 1, 2011

Today the US Office on Colombia published a report on the dramatic situation of land rights leaders and associations of displaced communities in Colombia. Against all Odds: the Deadly Struggle of Land Rights Leaders in Colombia documents the cases of 20 land rights leaders that were assassinated during the Santos administration’s first year in office and the multiple threats, attacks and stigmatizations that such leaders face. The report was released in conjunction with a letter from U.S. human rights groups to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and aid vigorously promote protection of Colombia’s rural population and support safe, sustainable and voluntary returns.

  • Para leer el reporte en Español pulse aquí
  • Para leer la carta al Departamento de Estado pulse aquí

Human Rights during the Juan Manuel Santos Administration's First Year in Office

The U.S. Office on Colombia (USOC) and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) released a report today that assesses President Santos’s first year in office and his administration’s actions on key human rights concerns. The report offers analysis on the topics of extrajudicial executions, human rights defenders, Afro-Colombians, indigenous peoples, internal displacement, the Victims Law and sexual violence against women. It concludes that while the Santos administration offers an important political opportunity to strengthen the human rights agenda in the country, it also faces great obstacles in effectively translating better discourse into effective actions.

Para leer el reporte en Español pulse aquí

Mistake to Move Forward on Colombia FTA without Addressing Root Causes of Violence

Coalition of Groups ask U.S. Congress to Oppose Colombia Free Trade Agreement

Today, the U.S. Office on Colombia, along with more than 400 other organizations, academics, and individuals from the United States and Colombia, sent a letter to the U.S. Congress asking representatives to vote no on the pending U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement (FTA). The Labor Action Plan has not stopped new violence on trade unionists and labor activists from taking place, nor has it banned third party contracting that obstructs workers’ ability to unionize. Colombia’s internal armed conflict is generating violence and new displacements. Illegal armed groups exert influence over legal sectors of the economy including extractive industries, oil palm, mining, and development projects. Implementing the FTA solely based on the steps found in the Labor Action Plan, without addressing the deeper issues, will just lead to more violence and displacement.

To read the full press release in English click here . Para leer el comunicado de prensa pulse aquí

To read the Huffington post on the FTA by Kely Nicholls please click here

The U.S. Office on Colombia is launching a series of videos today that provide testimony from Colombia on the impact of the FTA on small-scale farmers and workers, Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities and overall human rights and security in Colombia. Please forward them to your representative and urge them to say NO to the FTA with Colombia

Open Letter to the Colombian Minister of Interior and Justice on the Protection Program for Human Rights Defenders

May 2011

A coalition of international organizations sent a letter to the Minister of Interior and Justice, Germán Vargas Lleras on the serious concerns regarding the protection program for human rights defenders.

To read the full letter in Spanish please click here

Public Policy Proposals for the Development of the Small Farm Economy in Colombia

May 9 2011

Public Policy Proposals for the Development of the Small Farm Economy in Colombia is a report that follows on the study published last year by the US Office on Colombia and Oxfam on the impacts of the Free Trade Agreement on Colombia's small scale farmers.

The new report by Santiago Perry proposes a series of measures that would help small-scale agricultural producers to prepare for the eventual impacts. These measures include the design of gender sensitive public policies that would help convert small farmers into dynamic and sustainable economic actors.

To read the full report please click here

To read the executive summary please click here

The US Office on Colombia, the Latin America Working Group, the Washington Office on Latin America and the Center for Justice and International Law welcome the decision reached in the case against General Arias Cabrales, in regards to his participation in the disappearance of 11 civilians during the siege of the Palace of Justice in 1985.

To read the full statement in Spanish please click here .

Santos and Obama promise move forward on Colombia FTA, announcing plan to protect workers: Human rights NGOs agree plan falls short

PRESS RELEASE

April 7, 2011

Washington, D.C. – The action plan signed today between the U.S. and Colombian governments to advance the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) falls far short of guaranteeing fair and safe conditions in which Colombian workers can exercise their rights and fails to address the broader issues of security and human rights, according to the Latin America Working Group, the U.S. Office on Colombia and the Washington Office on Latin America.

To read the full press release please click here

Para leer el comunicado de prensa en Español pulse aquí

Open Letter to Colombia's New Attorney General

March 29

A coalition of organizations in the United States and Europe sent an open letter to the newly appointed Attorney General Viviane Morales, regarding concerns over key human rights investigations that the Attorney General's Office is currently leading.

To read the letter in Spanish please click here

Para leer la carta en Español pulse aquí

Sexual Violence against women in the Context of the Colombian Armed Conflict

March 22

The U.S. Office on Colombia and the Campaign "Rape and other Violence: Leave my Body out of the War" coordinated a delegation of Colombian women to Washington DC, to present the findings of a recent survey on the magnitude of sexual violence against Colombian women in the context of the armed conflict.

The report concludes that more than 480,000 Colombian women have suffered some type of sexual violence between 2002 and 2009 in areas where there is presence of the legal and illegal armed actors. Almost 90% of these crimes are not reported and those that are continue in impunity.

The US Office on Colombia, the Latin America Working Group and the Washington Office on Latin America, press alert on the Free Trade Agreement between Colombia and the United States.

March 17, 2011

U.S. Congressmen tell President Obama: Colombia must take concrete steps to improve human rights before considering the FTA.

The Latin America Working Group, U.S. Office on Colombia, and the Washington Office on Latin America welcome the congressional initiative – led by Representatives James McGovern and George Miller – to establish tangible steps the Colombian government should take to improve human rights before the United States considers moving forward the pending Free Trade Agreement.

To read the full press alert please click here .

Closer to Home: A Critical Analysis of Colombia’s Proposed Land Law

With more than 4 million internally displaced people (IDPs), Colombia is living the hemisphere’s greatest humanitarian crisis. At the heart of this crisis is land—ownership of and access to—and the results include a combination of human suffering and stunted rural development for the country’s poorest regions. Despite investments reaching more than $6 billion, U.S. policy toward Colombia has failed to mitigate this crisis and subsequently advance rural development.

To read the full analysis, click here

Coalition of US, European and UK Organizations sent Letter to President Juan Manuel Santos regarding Human Rights in Colombia.

To read the Letter please click here

Breaking the Silence: In Search of ColombIa's Disappeared

New report reveals enormous dimensions of hidden tragedy in Colombia

Colombia has one of the highest levels of forced disappearances in the world. Mention the word “disappearance” in the Latin American context and most people think only about Chile, where 3,000 people were killed or disappeared, or Argentina, where some 30,000 people were disappeared in the “dirty war.” Yet new information is emerging that is unveiling the tragic dimensions of Colombia’s missing.

  • Para leer el reporte en Español pulse aquí
  • To read the press release please click here
  • Para leer el Comunicado de Prensa pulse aquí

Letter to President Santos regarding the Victims and Land Law

A coalition of US organizations sent a letter to President Santos on the bills no 85 and 107 (now combined) on reparation for victims of human rights violations and transitional norms for the restitution of land to victims of forced displacement, that were submitted in the beginning of November for the consideration of the Colombian Congress. The letter urges President Santos to open the debate of the proposed bills to include Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities and other social and human rights organizations to address some of the concerns within the bill.

To read the letter please click here

Para leer la carta en Español pulse aquí

Still Waiting for Justice

The challenges facing the new Colombian administration to overcome alarming levels of impunity and how the U.S. government can help.

Written by Kelly Nicholls and Diana Arango, USOC, with the help of Andreiev Pinzon, Techo Común delegate at USOC.

U.S. Government Certifies Colombia Despite Lack of Human Rights Results

More than 3,000 civilian deaths imputed to security forces; only token prosecutions advance

Press Release: US Office on Colombia, Latin America Working Group, Washington Office on Latin America and Center for International Policy

The State Department announced on September 15th that they certified that Colombia was meeting the human rights conditions required for receipt of military aid in the face of abundant evidence that human rights violations by security forces remain unpunished. Its own press release acknowledged the serious human rights problems in Colombia. U.S. and Colombian human rights groups provided extensive evidence to the State Department that in the past year, progress has stalled on investigating and prosecuting human rights violations, particularly the cases involving more than 3,000 civilians allegedly killed by Colombia's armed forces. Justice is not advancing even in the most notorious and well-documented cases, such as the 2005 San José de Apartadó massacre and the 2007-08 killings of over 20 young men in Soacha.

Press Release , Para leer el comunicado de prensa por favor pulsar aquí

Human Rights Defenders Campaign video

US organizations wrote to President Santos expressing their concern regarding recent developments in the Palace of Justice Case

Esteemed President Santos,

We write to express our concern regarding recent developments in the Palace of Justice case. In particular, the decision to dismiss prosecutor Angela María Buitrago, who had vigorously led the Palace of Justice investigation for the past several years, raises fundamental questions regarding Colombia’s willingness to prosecute even the gravest violations of human rights.

As you know, the Truth Commission for the Palace of Justice Events created by the Colombian Supreme Court has established that following the military’s recovery of the Palace of Justice from the M-19 guerrillas in November 1985, members of the armed forces killed and forcibly disappeared at least a dozen innocent victims. These crimes, which had gone largely unexamined for two decades, were seriously investigated for the first time beginning in 2005, when Buitrago was named as Prosecutor for the case. Despite significant obstacles, remarkable progress has been achieved. Several formal high-ranking military officers are currently under investigation or on trial, and earlier this year the first criminal conviction in the case was handed down against retired Coronel Alfonso Plazas Vega.

To read the full letter please click here

Para leer la carta en Español haga click aquí

Colombian and U.S. Human Rights Groups Call on the United States to Condition Aid and Support the Rule of Law

August 2010

As Colombian and U.S. human rights and nongovernmental groups, we call on the U.S. government not to certify that Colombia is meeting the human rights conditions for receipt of U.S. military assistance. To do so would violate the law governing U.S. foreign assistance, because not only has Colombia failed to meet the conditions, it has taken a significant step backward during the last year-long certification period, particularly in failing to bring human rights crimes by security forces to justice. Certifying under these conditions would tell Colombia’s new administration that the United States will not hold it accountable for abuses. By withholding certification, which is a judgment on the past administration’s record, the United States would help support the rule of law in Colombia. It would send a firm message that the U.S. government expects the new administration to distinguish itself from its predecessor by upholding human rights.

We urge the State Department to withhold certification until marked results are seen in advancing human rights cases and combating Colombia’s rampant impunity.

To read the full statement please click here

Mass Graves and Alleged Extrajudicial Executions in the Macarena, Colombia

August 2010

After Everardo Borda was killed by the armed forces on January 16, 2008 his body was allegedly dumped in a clandestine grave site directly beside the military base of the Rapid Deployment Force in the Macarena, Meta in central Colombia. According to the Inspector-General's initial report, there could be up to 2,000 non-identified bodies buried there. The Rapid Deployment Force (FUDRA in its Spanish acronym) has received considerable U.S. support since 2005 and the municipality of the Macarena and the surrounding region has been a focus of U.S.-backed military efforts to recover territory from the guerrillas.

To read the complete article please click here To watch the video of the public hearing click here

Military Assistance and Human Rights: Colombia, U.S. Accountability, and Global Implications

A Report by Fellowship for Reconciliation and US Office on Colombia

The scale of U.S. training and equipping of other nations’ militaries has grown exponentially since 2001, but there are major concerns about the extent to which the U.S. government is implementing the laws and monitoring the impact its military aid is having on human rights. This report by the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and U.S. Office on Colombia examines these issues through a detailed case study of U.S. military aid, human rights abuses, and implementation of human rights law in Colombia.

The experience of US military funding to Colombia shows alarming links between Colombian military units that receive U.S. assistance and civilian killings committed by the army. To prevent similar errors in Afghanistan and Pakistan, relevant Congressional committees and the State Department Office of the Inspector General must thoroughly study the Colombia case and implementation of U.S. law designed to keep security assistance from going to security force units committing gross human rights violations.

"Military Assistance and Human Rights: Colombia, U.S. Accountability, and Global Implications"

Far Worse than Watergate Widening Scandal regarding Intelligence Agency as New Government Takes Office in Colombia

A Report by US Office on Colombia, Latin America Working Group, Washington Office on Latin America and the Center for International Policy

June 17 2010

A new report released in the United States today reveals that the Watergate-like scandal in Colombia is even more shocking than initially reported, with the presidential intelligence agency, DAS, not only spying, but also carrying out dirty tricks and even death threats on major players in Colombia’s democracy.

“The new Colombian president, who will be elected on Sunday, will have a major clean up on his hands and must ensure that Colombia’s intelligence agencies can never again be used to spy on, harass and undermine the legitimate activities of key democratic actors,” said Lisa Haugaard, executive director, Latin America Working Group Education Fund.

Far Worse than Watergate also details new evidence that shows that this illegal activity may have been carried out with orders from top presidential advisors.

“This scandal is far more outrageous that we initially imagined. It includes spying in international territory, sending grotesque death threats, using blackmail, framing a journalist in a fabricated guerrilla video and conducting sabotage against Constitutional Court judges,” Kelly Nicholls, executive director, the U.S. Office on Colombia said. “The U.S. government must take this into consideration when deciding whether to certify Colombia’s compliance with the human rights conditions.”

These operations did not target alleged terrorists, but rather people carrying out legitimate, democratic activities. The targets included: Supreme Court and Constitutional Court judges, presidential candidates, journalists, publishers, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the United Nations and human rights defenders in Colombia, the United States and Europe.

“Last week U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised the Colombian Government’s commitment to building strong democratic institutions,” said Abigail Poe, deputy director, Center for International Policy. “However, this scandal puts that assertion into question. Moving forward, the United States must take this new evidence seriously and urge the investigation to include those outside the DAS who ordered and were consumers of illegal intelligence.”

"Far Worse than Watergate" , Press Release , Comunicado de Prensa

For the Report in Spanish please click here

Refugees International US Office on Colombia

Dear Secretary Clinton:

As you visit with government leaders from Ecuador and Colombia next week, you have an opportunity to assert U.S. leadership in addressing one of the world’s worst displacement crises. Refugees International and the U.S. Office on Colombia urge you to prioritize assistance and protection to refugees and internally displaced people in your discussions with government officials, and ultimately take the opportunity to address the Colombian refugee crisis from a regional perspective.

To read the full letter please click here

Watch Kelly Nicholls our Executive Director speak to Christian Aid about the International Campaign for the Right to Defend Human Rights and the presidential elections.

Call for Action against Escalating Threats and Attacks in Colombia

May 24, 2010

We, the undersigned human rights, faith-based and nongovernmental organizations, are gravely concerned with the escalating series of threats and attacks against human rights defenders in Colombia. We call upon the Colombian government to take vigorous measures to investigate and prosecute these threats and attacks, protect defenders at risk and proclaim the legitimacy of human rights defenders’work, essential to a society ruled by law.

To cite just a few examples, on April 10th, death threats were issued in the name of “Los Rastrojos –Comandos Urbanos” to more than sixty Colombian human rights organizations, individuals and international organizations, such as CODHES, AFRODES, MINGA, MOVICE, Fundación Nuevo Arco Iris, UN Development Program, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, CCAJAR, the Social Ministry of the Diocese of Tumaco and many Afro-Colombian and IDP leaders. This same group issued a second threat on May 18th naming many of the same organizations and individuals as well as adding new targets. In mid-April, a series of death threats were anonymously leveled against a Jesuit priest, Javier Giraldo, S.J., a human rights analyst who manages the human rights monitoring database at Jesuit Center of Investigation and Popular Education (CINEP) in Bogotá. The threats culminated in the scrawling of graffiti upon the wall of the CINEP offices and other buildings throughout Bogota that read, “Against the Priest,” and “Javier Giraldo = Dead.” This graffiti also threatened the Interchurch Justice and Peace Commission (CIJP). On May 14th, the U.S.-based Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) received a death threat in its email allegedly from the Colombian paramilitary group the Black Eagles. The threatwas directed at over 80 Colombian human rights, Afro-Colombian, indigenous, internally displaced and labor rights organizations and individuals, as well as at WOLA.

Threats must be taken seriously, both because they have a profoundly chilling effect on freedom of expression and association, and because they all too often are followed by attacks and assassinations. In 2009, the Colombian nongovernmental organization Somos Defensores registered 125 cases of threats against defenders, and the group reports that 32 of these defenders were subsequently assassinated. On May 18th, human rights defender and farmer Rogelio Martinez was murdered by a group of hooded men. Martinez was a member of MOVICE in Sucre and an IDP leader who headed efforts to secure the return of land, allegedly stolen by paramilitary forces in 2001, to 53 families in an area known as Alemania Farm. He had been the recipient of multiple threats, and MOVICE has documented more than 50 incidents of attacks, harassment and threats against its members. The Sucre branch of MOVICE has been constantly threatened and earlier this year there was an assassination attempt against another member of the organization.

Mr. Martinez’s murder is only the latest assassination of an IDP leader reclaiming land. Enrique Petro, a community leader of the Curvaradó region, is another IDP leader who is in great danger. CIJP received information that a group of paramilitaries has been paid to assassinate him because he brought national and international human rights organizations to the area.

Colombian authorities virtually never investigate such threats or prosecute their authors. We urge the Colombian government to make the investigation of these threats a higher priority for law enforcement, to group investigations together to identify patterns, and to communicate with victims regarding the progress of the investigations. We call upon the U.S. government to urge the Colombian government to address these investigations with speed and vigor. All such measures should be in accordance with the wishes of those under threat. We note that the U.S. Congress last year specifically included a new condition related to protection of human rights defenders into U.S. foreign assistance to Colombia. We urge the U.S. State Department to insist that there be significant progress in investigating these threat and effectively prosecuting cases of extrajudicial executions and other abuses by Colombia’s security forces before certifying that the human rights conditions in the 2010 Appropriations Act governing U.S.military assistance to Colombia are being met.

In the case of Mr. Martinez’s murder, we ask that the Colombian government provide protection measures to Mr. Martinez’s wife and children and to the 53 other families returning to Alemania Farm. We ask that organizations currently accompanying the return process to Alemania Farm, including Infancia Feliz, Agenda Caribe and the National Victims Movement-Sucre Chapter, be granted protection measures. In addition, we call on the Colombian government to ensure that the land return for whichMr. Martinez was advocating is successfully implemented.

We note that those who make these threats often claim that they are issued in defense of the Colombian government, as in the May 14th threat which accuses groups of “blocking the policies of the Colombian government.” This association makes it even more imperative for the Colombian government to denounce such threats publicly and to affirm its support for the legitimate and invaluable activities of human rights defenders.

For the Spanish version please click here

For the PDF in English including the list of signatories please click here

US Office on Colombia, Washington Office on Latin America, Latin Amerca Working Group, Center for International Policy

An Open Letter to Colombia’s Presidential and Vice Presidential Candidates

How will you pledge to build a nation where rights are respected and peace is possible?

The next Colombian president will have a historic opportunity to change the lives of millions of Colombians affected in profound and tragic ways by the country’s enduring armed conflict. Any candidate who takes office will have in his or her power the ability to strengthen the rule of law in Colombia and lead the nation in building a more just and inclusive society that promotes and respects the rights of all its citizens.

As U.S. organizations which have worked closely with Colombian civil society partners over the last dozen years, we have seven questions for all the presidential and vice presidential candidates. We thank you for your willingness to consider them.

1. What will you do to promote progress towards a just and lasting peace? Will your government commit to serious efforts to advance negotiations? What could the United States and the international community do to help expand the possibilities for peace in Colombia? How will you fully involve civil society organizations, churches, local governments and other civic organizations in the construction of peace?

2. What will you do to strengthen the rule of law so that those who commit grave human rights violations are brought to justice? In particular, what will you do to ensure that crimes allegedly committed by state actors are prosecuted? How will you ensure that all those officials who ordered and implemented illegal surveillance and even more serious abuses by the DAS and other intelligence agencies are brought to justice? How will you ensure that the well over 2,000 extrajudicial executions allegedly committed by security forces are vigorously investigated and prosecuted in civilian courts, and that such cases are once and for all excluded from military jurisdiction? What will you do to ensure that such crimes are never committed again?

3. What will you do to ensure a climate in which human rights defenders can carry out their important work? How will you carry out the recommendations of the National and International Campaign for the Right to Defend Human Rights, which seek to end impunity for violations against human rights defenders, the misuse of state intelligence, systematic stigmatization, and unfounded criminal proceedings, while also structurally improving the protection program? We ask this question using the broad definition of defenders, from human rights activists, union leaders and journalists reporting on abuses to Afro-Colombian, indigenous and victims’ groups defending their communities.

4. What will you do to support the rights of all victims of violence to truth, justice and meaningful reparations? How will you involve victims in the construction of processes to achieve these aims? How will you protect victims from threats as they advocate for these basic rights, including restitution of stolen land and property? How will you ensure that victims of ex paramilitary leaders extradited to the United States are guaranteed their rights to truth, justice and reparations? How will you ensure that victims of state actors can achieve reparations without waiting many years for prosecutions to conclude?

5. How will you address the needs of Colombia’s 4 million internally displaced persons? How will you implement the Constitutional Court’s requirements for government action in order to overcome the current state of unconstitutionality? What steps will you take to change the social stigma that exists in Colombian society in relation to internally displaced citizens?

6. What actions will you take to protect Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities’ human rights and territorial rights? What steps will you take to reverse the physical and cultural extinction of 32 indigenous groups at risk of disappearing? How will you guarantee that transparent, free and informed previous consultation is applied on development projects in ethnic territories? How will you prevent abuses against ethnic minorities from taking place and guarantee justice in such cases?

7. What steps will you take to dismantle paramilitaries and their successor organizations? What will you do to move forward cases involving para-politics? How will you bolster state institutions to prevent the influence of all illegal armed groups?

True security can only be built on a foundation of rule of law and respect for human rights. Ultimately, it can only be permanently achieved through the construction of a just and lasting peace. These goals have been postponed for too long, at great cost in human life. Now is the time to embrace them.

Our organizations are committed to standing with Colombians of all walks of life as they seek to build a society governed by the rule of law, where human rights are respected and peace is possible.

For the Spanish version please click here

Paramilitary Group issues Threats against 60 human rights organizations.

On April 10 the successor paramilitary group “Los Rastrojos” issued a public communiqué threatening more than 60 human rights and social organizations and individuals.

The threat demanded that the organizations stop all work with the victims of paramilitary violence, otherwise the “threats will materialize, and we will bring back the violence of the 90s without mercy or fear”. Among the organizations that were threatened are Codhes, Nuevo Arco Iris, Fundepaz, Movice, the Collective of Lawyers José Alvear Restrepo, the UNDP, and members of the opposition such as Jorge Robledo, Alexander López y Guillermo Jaramillo.

The US Office on Colombia strongly condemns this surge in threats against human rights defenders, and the general impunity in for such threats. To truly guarantee defenders’ safety, those responsible for the threats and attacks against them must be brought to justice. We urge the Colombian government to ensure that threats against human rights defenders are thoroughly investigated in a timely manner and those responsible brought to justice. Furthermore, the Colombian government must guarantee the safety of all of those individuals and organizations who were targeted in these recent threats.

For more information please go to El Espectador http://www.elespectador.com/noticias/paz/articulo200148-ong-recomiendan-eeuu-condicionar-certificacion-ddhh-colombia

ONIC Testifies before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.

Press Statement

On Thursday April 29, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the US Office on Colombia (USOC) supported the participation of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) in the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Hearing on "The Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Latin America."

At this hearing, Dario Mejia from the ONIC affirmed that "more that 80% of [indigenous] territories have been conceded for the implementation of economic projects without respect for our right to previous consultation." Indigenous communities in Colombia are frequently victims of forced displacement. According to Mejia, "between 2002 and 2008, over 70,000 indigenous people were registered for individual or collective internal displacement; in 2009 alone, 6,201 indigenous people were violently expelled from their ancestral homelands." Mejia exclaimed that " We are worried about the role of the United States in supporting policies that affect our cultures and can put our existence at risk."

He noted that US support of fumigations and Colombia's democratic security policy is leading to serious violations of the rights indigenous communities. As such, the ONIC "is very pleased to see the introduction of House Resolution 1224 by Representative Hank Johnson of Georgia on Recognizing and honoring the important work that Colombia's Constitutional Court has done on behalf of Colombia's internally displaced persons, especially indigenous peoples, Afro-Colombians, and women. [The ONIC] hopes that all Members of the US Congress co-sponsor this resolution and that the House of Representatives passes it soon."

International Observation Mission Finds Serious Risks to Colombian Electoral Process

In an extensive report released recently, an independent International Pre-Electoral Observation Mission in Colombia found serious impediments to free and fair elections in Colombia that affect the full integrity of the country´s Congressional elections on Mar. 14 and the upcoming presidential elections in May.

The report cites the following “electoral risk factors” .

1.The presence of illegal armed groups in the electoral process, including paramilitaries, narco-traffickers, emerging violent groups and other armed actors, inhibits free and fair elections in various regions of the country.

2. The Mission documented questionable practices that could lead to electoral fraud and the commission of electoral crimes in the pre-electoral period.

3. The Mission also expressed concerns over Illegal campaign financing that require further investigation

4.The Mission gathered many reports that government aid programs have been manipulated in places for political purposes.

For the complete report please click here Para el reporte en Español pulse aquí

Impact of the US-Colombia FTA on the Small Farm Economy in Colombia is an in-depth economic study that assesses the effect that FTA provisions would have on Colombia's small-scale farmers. The study ascertains the characteristics of Colombia's small farm economy and uses a rigorous methodology to calculate the differentiated impact of the FTA on the income of small-scale farmers according to what they produce and how it competes with US imports, using available data on prices and production and the average cost structure of small-scale producers. It concludes that a significant number of small farm households, who make up nearly 50% of those working in Colombia's agricultural sector, would see substantial drops in their income as a result of the FTA. This would result in a deeper vulnerability for a population that has already been disproportionally affected by Colombia's internal conflict.

Luis Jorge Garay and Fernando Barberi will be holding a series of events during the week of March 8th to the 12th in Washington DC to present the study, including a House Briefing on Thursday March 11th (for invitation please click here ), a public discussion at Carnegie Endowment for Peace co-hosted by the Inter-American Dialogue Us Office on Colombia and Oxfam America (for invitation please click here ) and a public talk on Thursday the 11th hosted by the US Office on Colombia, Oxfam America and Washington Office on Latin America, at 9:30 am at WOLA (for invitation please click here ) that will be focusing on the continuing crisis of forced displacement in Colombia.

Colombian officers charged with killing innocent civilians freed from jail

Impunity in Colombia prevails as 31 more military officers accused of being involved in the 2008 killing of young men from Soacha are released from jail. This casts serious doubt over the chances of justice for thousands of extrajudicial executions victims throughout the country.

Last week 13 more Colombian military officers accused of killing innocent young men from the impoverished neighborhood of Soacha were freed from jail. This follows the recent release of 17 other officers allegedly involved in this high-profile case. Their release is due to delays in their trials that are reportedly the result of the military defense lawyers’ delay tactics. There have been similar delays in the cases of the majority of the 47 military officers detained in relation to the Soacha extrajudicial executions and it is feared that more will be released shortly.

To read the Complete hill drop by USOC, LAWG and WOLA please click here

CLIMATE OF FEAR: COLOMBIAN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS UNDER THREAT

Click here to download full report

U.S. Congressional Hearing highlights critical situation facing Colombian defenders

A U.S. Congressional hearing on Colombian human rights defenders held on October 20 heard the need for the Colombian government to take concrete action to reduce assassinations, violent attacks, threats, systematic stigmatizations, baseless prosecutions and illegal surveillance against human rights defenders, while also addressing the alarming impunity rates for these cases.

The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC) hearing, which the U.S. Office on Colombia (USOC) played a central role in coordinating, was chaired by Congressman McGovern and Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin and attended by around 100 people.

Witnesses included; Margaret Sekaggya, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Reynaldo Villalba Vargas, President of the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyer’s Collective, Principe Gabriel Gonzalez, Coordinator, Political Prisoners Solidarity Committee, Kelly Nicholls, Executive Director, USOC, and Andrew Hudson, Manager of the Human Rights Defenders Program, Human Rights First.

At the hearing Congressman McGovern said he was very concerned that the damage created by the Presidential intelligence scandal was “much more extensive”.

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International-Campaign-for-the-Right-to-Protect-Human-Rights

Today a national and international campaign for the protection of Colombia's human rights defenders will be launched in Bogotá. In Colombia, being a human rights defender is a dangerous, often deadly job and the situation is only getting worse. Those working on issues ranging from displacement to the rights of women, Afro-Colombians, the indigenous and other victims of the armed conflict are threatened, attacked, stigmatized, and put under illegal surveillance on a daily basis. In response to this situation and to calls from our Colombian partners to help bring international attention to this troubling situation, USOC has been working with our partners in Colombian, Europe, the UK and the U.S. to help develop an international campaign for the Right to Defend Human Rights. The Campaign will be launched today by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, in Bogotá. Over 200 organizations across the globe have signed onto the Campaign.

To read the Declaration of the Campaign please click here, to read the Recommendations please click here

Para Leer la Declaración de la Campaña en Español por favor pulse aquí, para leer las Recomendaciones haga click aquí

USTR Comment Period about the Pending Free Trade Agreement with Colombia

September 2009

Yesterday the US Office on Colombia and Oxfam America, as well as a broad range of human rights, labor, environmental, development and faith-based organizations submitted written comments to the United States Trade Representative (USTR) calling on the Obama Administration to broaden the debate around the pending free trade agreement between the United States and Colombia. The comments were filed in response to a formal request by USTR for views on the pending trade agreement.

“We welcome the USTR’s willingness to meet with our organizations and to listen to our concerns. We hope that our views will be given full consideration and reflected in the policy decisions that the government makes with regard to the FTA,” said Kelly Nicholls, Executive Director, U.S. Office on Colombia.

To Read the Complete press release please click here

To Read the Comments submitted to USTR please click here

Colombia’s Intelligence Agency: Spying on Democracy” a report by US Office on Colombia, LAWG and WOLA

Following on the heels of the "falsos positivos" scandal involving soldiers killing civilians and dressing them up as guerrillas killed in combat, a scandal far worse than Watergate is unfolding featuring Colombia's presidential intelligence agency, the Administrative Security Department (DAS). Exposed by the Colombian news weekly Semana and the subject of an Attorney General's office incestigation, the DAS is revealed to have been illegally spying on many of the varied forces of Colombian democracy: opposition politicians, human rights groups, journalists, clergy, unions, and Supreme Court justices. The operation went deeper than surveillance, employing a variety of dirty tricks , seeking to "neutralize and restrict" the normal activities of human rights groups and any voices critical of the Uribe administration.

For the Full report please click here.

More than 10 People Killed in New Awa Massacre

The US Office on Colombia is deeply sadden by the massacre of 12 Awá indigenous peoples, including four children on August 26, 2009 in the indigenous reserve Gran Rosario in Tumaco, Nariño. We call on the Colombian Government to immediately investigate this situation, prosecute those responsible and institute an effective protection program for the remaining members of this highly vulnerable community.

USOC, LAWG and WOLA sent a letter to Vice-President Francisco Santos asking him to act on this pressing issue. To Read the letter please click here , and to sign on to the letter please go to Urgent Actions .

"A State of Impunity in Colombia: Extrajudicial Executions Continue, Injustice Prevails." A report by the US Office on Colombia

Extrajudicial executions continue to be reported throughout Colombia, while impunity rates for this deeply troubling crime remain alarmingly high. The US Government has provided considerable funding for the Colombian Attorney-General's office (AG), including for the AG's Human Rights Unit which is in charge of cases of extrajudicial executions. While it is very important to support Colombia's judicial and oversight agencies, it is crucial that this support be subject to careful scrutiny and that it produces concrete results. Results are especially needed in cases of alleged extrajudicial executions, where there is a 98.5 per cent "impunity rate", or cases in which no conviction has resulted between 2002 and April 2009.

To Read the Full Report Please Click Here

Obama Calls For Human Rights Improvements. Colombia Needs to do More before FTA Considered.

Joint Statement of LAWG, USOC and WOLA

Monday's meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and his Colombian counterpart, Alvaro Uribe, marks a shift in U.S. foreign policy towards Colombia, with a greater focus on human rights.

"We are pleased that President Obama voiced concerns about the intelligence scandal, the continuing practice of extrajudicial executions and the possibility of President Uribe running for a third term in office," said Kelly Nicholls, Executive Director, U.S. Office on Colombia. "U.S. and Colombian human rights organizations greatly welcome President Obama's public support for labor and civil rights leaders and his focus on the importance of the rule of law and transparency."

President Obama expressed his polite displeasure at the possibility of the Colombian President amending the Colombian Constitution to run for a third term in office when he said: "our experience in the United States is that two terms works for us and that after eight years usually the American people want a change."

To Read the complete statement please click here

To Read the transcript of meeting between Obama and Uribe please click here

Joint Press Release from WOLA, LAWG, CIP and HRF: on Uribe's Visit to the White House

President Obama Must Raise Human Rights Concerns with Colombian President Opportunity to Show Human Rights are Important for US Allies and Adversaries

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's meeting with President Obama on Monday comes at a controversial moment. President Uribe is embroiled in a number of human rights, corruption and abuse of power scandals. The Colombian President is seriously considering amending the Constitution to run for a third term in office. Meanwhile, a Free Trade Agreement remains stalled in the U.S. Congress.

"It is crucial that President Obama send the right message, with the right tone. Colombia is a close partner of the United States, which makes it all the more important that we voice concerns about human rights violations and the rule of law," said Gimena Sánchez Garzoli, Senior Associate for Colombia, Washington Office on Latin America.

To read the entire press release please click here

Recent Attacks against Family Members of Victims of Extrajudicial Executions.

On May 5, 2009 a trial began against army officers from the Third High Mountain “Rodrigo Lloreda Caicedo” Battalion charged with the death of Mr. Jose Orlando Giraldo. Only five days later on May 10, Mr. Jose Wilson Giraldo, Mr. Orlado’s brother and a key witness in the trial, was shot in the head by unidentified men while leaving his house in the company of his wife. Mr. Giraldo survived the attack but remains in hospital.

In another similar case, Mayerli Alejandra Legarda the 12-years-old daughter of Edwin Legarda, who was killed by the army last year, was threatened by armed gunmen, while she was in front of her house located near the Municipality of Popayán in the Department of Cauca. Mayerli ran inside the house and the armed men fled the area after they noticed that the indigenous guard was present in the house.

Please go to our Urgent Action's link and help us address this pressing issue by signing on to a letter to Ambassador William R. Brownfield.

Surge of Attacks and Threats against Human Rights Defenders

The US Office on Colombia (USOC) is deeply troubled by a surge of attacks and threats against human rights defenders in recent months. Afro-Colombian and Indigenous leaders, as well as leaders of the internally displaced population and women’s groups have been particularly targeted.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has publicly expressed its concern for human rights defenders in Colombia after these recent attacks and death threats. Its communiqué cited “threats against human-rights workers and social activists, including displaced leaders working to defend their communities’ rights”. It also included indigenous, Afro-Colombian and social group leaders as having been targeted, with acts of intimidation against all of them increasing in recent months. Some have been killed and others forced to flee for safety, with many victims’ friends and families remaining silent for fear of reprisal attacks. .

We ask you to please take a moment and sign on to an automated letter to the Colombian Government asking them to urgently address this issue and to guarantee the safety of all those who are under threat.

Hilldrop: Impacts of US-Colombia FTA on Colombia’s rural poor

The Obama Administration and US Congress should not pass the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in its present form as it could have dire consequences for Colombia’s rural poor and may subsequently lead to a growth of illicit crops. The trade deal negotiated between Colombia and the United States during the Bush Administration should be revised to take into account the existing situation of rural poverty and inequality in Colombia and ensure its application does not undermine food security and rural development efforts.

Read the full US Office on Colombia-Oxfam America hilldrop.

Delegation of Colombian human rights leaders.

From March 2-6, the US Office on Colombia - along with CIP, LAWG, and WOLA - hosted a delegation of 6 prominent Colombian activists representing various sectors of Colombia's vibrant civil society. The purpose of the delegation was to promote the recommendations laid out in the Compass for Colombia Policy for a shift in US foreign policy towards Colombia so as to promote human rights, the rule of law and a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The delegates met with a broad array of policymakers and civil society groups, including: the National Security Council, the Department of State, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, Congressional offices - including a special event in Congress hosted by Representative Sam Farr (D CA) and Representative Eliot Engel (D NY) - and university students.

Watch two interviews done by Peruanista with Libia Grueso (PCN) and Jorge Rojas (CODHES).

Colombian civil society peace letter to Obama.

On February 26, 2009, Colombian civil society organizations, human rights activists, academics, and Colombian congressmen presented a letter – with 166 signatures – addressed to President Obama to US Ambassador William Brownfield in Bogotá. The letter details recommendations for a negotiated solution to the ongoing internal armed conflict in Colombia.

Read the full letter in Spanish or English.

Lina Malagon Joint Statement

Eight labor and human rights organizations call on the Colombian government to respect the work of trade unionists and human rights defenders in Colombia and to retract statements that put these workers at risk... Download full letter and read more

Colombian NGO letter to the DOS and DOJ regarding possible "HH" extradition

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Partial return of Afro-Colombian lands in Curvarado a Step Forward

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Hilldrop to Congress chronicles ongoing practice of extrajudicial executions

The US Office on Colombia – along with the Center for International Policy, the Washington Office on Latin America, and the Latin America Working group – published and distributed a memo on extrajudicial executions to the House of Representatives and Senate this week. In this document, we urge the 111th US Congress not to tolerate ongoing extrajudicial executions in Colombia. Despite the Colombian military shake-up following the highly publicized Soacha cases in September 2009, this systematic practice of state agents killing civilians and often presenting them as guerrillas who had died in combat, continues unabated.

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Awá Massacre Indicative of Lack of Protection for Colombia’s Indigenous

Download this letter in PDF format

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), the U.S. Office on Colombia (USOC) and the Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF) strongly condemn last week’s massacre of 17 members of the indigenous Awá community and call on the Colombian Government to immediately investigate this situation, prosecute those responsible and institute an effective protection program for the remaining members of this community. The murders were reportedly committed by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and among the victims were two women and a child. This massacre hits a community that has already been devastated by numerous displacements, murders and constant harassment from armed groups.

Reports received by WOLA indicate that indigenous communities are hard hit by violence, internal displacement and abuses committed by all parties to the conflict. On December 16, 2008, for example, Edwin Legarda, the husband of indigenous leader Aída Quilcué of the Indigenous Regional Council of Cauca (CRIC) was killed at the hands of Colombian soldiers. Shortly after the high profile death of Mr. Legarda, five Kankuamo indigenous persons died and 89 were injured due to a grenade attack in Atanquez.

The critical situation of the indigenous communities throughout Colombia led the National Organization of Indigenous Persons (ONIC) to recently announce that 32 indigenous ethnic groups are at risk of disappearing, with 18 smaller groups at risk of becoming physically and culturally extinct in the near future. WOLA, USOC and LAWGEF urge the U.S. Embassy to support the formation of an emergency program focused on indigenous communities in danger of extinction, created by indigenous organizations and headed by the ONIC. We urge the FARC to respect international humanitarian law and end any and all attacks against the civilian population.

Contact:
Gimena Sánchez
Senior Associate for Colombia
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
gsanchez@wola.org
wola.org
202-797-2171

Lisa Haugaard
Executive Director
Latin American Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF)
lisah@lawg.org
lawg.org
202-546-7010

Kelly Nicholls
Executive Director
U.S. Office on Colombia (USOC)
kelly@usofficeoncolombia.org
usofficeoncolombia.org
202-232-8090

Email communication intercepted by Colombian government.

On December 19, 2006, intercepts of the email accounts of over 150 human rights defenders, trade unionists, academics, journalists, and labor organizations were ordered by the police intelligence agency, SIJIN. This request was reiterated by SIJIN in September 2007 and November 2008 – all of which were granted by the 12th Anti-Terrorism Specialized Prosecutor. Some of the human rights organizations being monitored include: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Movement for Victims of States Crimes (MOVICE), the Colombian Network for Action on Free Trade, the Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective, the Yira Castro human rights organization, and the US-based interfaith peace organization, Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR).

In response to this illegal interception, 14 international organizations, including the US Office on Colombia, drafted and sent a letter to Attorney General Mario Iguarán on December 18, 2008 urging him to conduct thorough and prompt investigations and to US Ambassador William Brownfield.

Extrajudicial Killings in Colombia

This video documents the violence of war and contains some explicit language in Spanish. For more information visit Witness For Peace.


Extrajudicial Killing In Colombia from Witness For Peace on Vimeo.

Body Counts and Injustice in Colombia's Armed Conflict: A USOC Publication.

The US Office on Colombia (USOC) recently published - "Body Counts and Injustice in the Colombian Armed Conflict" - a report that details recent trends and modalities in extrajudicial executions, showing cases of this horrendous crime in 27 of Colombia's 32 departments. The publication looks at a number of recent cases and includes an analysis of the Colombian government's steps to address extrajudicial executions. The report concludes with a number of recommendations of concrete actions the US Government can take to help address this crime which the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has described as a "systematic practice" throughout the country. These recommendations include: using the leverage of certification to ensure that there are effective and timely prosecutions in the Colombian civilian justice system, suspending military assistance to all Colombian army units credibly implicated in cases of alleged extrajudicial executions, and ensuring that the Southern Command identify and address causes of extrajudicial executions.

USOC recently distributed the report to all members of the US House of Representatives and the US Senate. Download a copy of the report.

USOC Blog: State Agents Allegedly Kill Edwin Legarda, Activist and Husband of CRIC’s leader

On December 16, 2008, indigenous activist and husband of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC)’s leader Edwin Legarda Vázquez was allegedly killed by members of the national army’s José Hilario López Battalion.

To continue reading, see our blog.

New Report Outlines a Just and Effective Foreign Policy toward Colombia

October 22, 2008

During their final presidential debate, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain expressed markedly different opinions on U.S. policy toward Colombia, an important partner in Latin America. Yet the next U.S. president won’t just be debating policy, he will be making it—and in the case of Colombia, he will need more than minor changes along the margins. He will need a new approach.

The Compass for Colombia Policy, written by some of Washington’s top Colombia experts, offers a better way forward for one of the main foreign policy challenges that the next administration will face. This report makes a detailed, persuasive case for a new U.S. strategy that would achieve our current policy goals while ending impunity and strengthening respect for human rights. Instead of risking all by placing too much faith in a single, charismatic leader, the United States must appeal to the aspirations and needs of all Colombians by strengthening democratic institutions, such as the judiciary. In particular, the United States must stand by and empower the human rights advocates, victims, judges, prosecutors, union leaders, journalists and others who are the driving forces towards a more just and peaceful Colombia.

The Compass details seven sensible steps policymakers can take to create a just and effective Colombia policy.

  1. Use U.S. Aid and Leverage for Human Rights and the Rule of Law

    To address a human rights crisis that continues unabated and a chronic lack of political will to deal with it, the United States must use tougher diplomacy to encourage the Colombian government to strengthen human rights guarantees, protect human rights defenders, and bolster institutions needed to break with a history of impunity for abuses. Colombia’s judicial system is central to the rule of law and must receive strong support.

  2. Actively Support Overtures for Peace

    The United States cannot continue to bankroll a war without end and, as the civilian population in the countryside continues to endure immense suffering, should make peace a priority.

  3. Support Expansion of the Government’s Civilian Presence in the Countryside

    Militarily occupying territory is not the solution to Colombia’s problems. The United States should help Colombia strengthen its civilian government presence in rural zones to address lawlessness, poverty and inequality, the roots of the conflict.

  4. Protect the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons and Refugees

    The United States can help resolve Colombia’s massive humanitarian crisis by insisting on the dismantlement of paramilitary structures, supporting Colombia’s Constitutional Court rulings on IDPs, and increasing and improving aid to IDPs and refugees.

  5. Protect the Rights of Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Communities

    The United States must pay special attention to promoting ethnic minorities’ land rights and guarantee that U.S. aid projects are not carried out on land obtained by violence.

  6. Ensure that Trade Policy Supports, Not Undermines, Policy Goals towards Colombia

    The United States should insist upon labor rights advances, especially in reducing and prosecuting violence against trade unionists, prior to further consideration of the trade agreement. The United States must ensure that any trade agreement will not undermine U.S. policy goals, such as reducing farmers’ dependence on coca and ending the conflict.

  7. Get Serious—and Smart—about Drug Policy

    The United States is overdue for a major course correction in its drug control strategy, which has failed spectacularly in Colombia and the Andean region. The United States should end the inhumane and counterproductive aerial spraying program and invest seriously in rural development, including alternative development designed with affected communities. Drug enforcement should focus higher up on the distribution chain, disrupt money laundering schemes and apprehend violent traffickers. Access to high-quality drug treatment in the United States, which will cut demand, must be the centerpiece of U.S. drug policy.

“The next administration should use diplomatic pressure to hold Colombia to much higher standards on human rights, labor rights, and protection of the rule of law.” –Lisa Haugaard, Latin America Working Group Education Fund

“The United States must recognize the magnitude of the human rights crisis for Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities in Colombia, in which hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lands and livelihoods to violence.” –Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, Washington Office on Latin America

“Nine years after the launch of Plan Colombia, the production of cocaine remains virtually unchanged. The United States simply cannot afford to continue to pursue this costly and failed counternarcotics policy. The next President must change course.” –Adam Isacson, Center for International Policy

“In the last decade, Colombia’s conflict has taken 20,000 more lives and displaced more than 2 million citizens. Now is the time to make renewed efforts for peace.” –Kelly Nicholls, U.S. Office on Colombia

For more information:

Lisa Haugaard, Latin America Working Group Education Fund, (202) 546-7010; lisah@lawg.org
Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, Washington Office on Latin America, (202) 797-2171; gsanchez@wola.org
Adam Isacson, Center for International Policy, (202) 232-3317; isacson@ciponline.org
Kelly Nicholls, US Office on Colombia, (202) 232-8090; kelly@usofficeoncolombia.org

Download information:

FULL REPORTS:
Compass for Colombia Policy (english, 3.8mb PDF)
Compass Nuevo Rumbo (español, 3.9mb PDF)
EXECUTIVE SUMMARIES:
Compass for Colombia Policy Executive Summary (english, 90k PDF)
Compass Nuevo Rumbo Resumen Ejec (english, 90k PDF)

Joint letter to Colombian Ambassador Carolina Barco

...regarding the worsening human rights situation in Colombia, presented to the Ambassador on 31 October 2008.