Clinton, Obama Administration Urged to Protect Colombian Human Rights Defenders
Washington, DC – A coalition of nine human rights organizations led by Human Rights First released a letter to Secretary Clinton today urging the U.S. government to leverage its influence to protect Colombian human rights defenders from prosecutorial abuse and uncorroborated charges. The letter highlighted one human rights defender in particular, Principe Gabriel González, who is presently serving out a seven year sentence on baseless charges meant to impede his human rights work. “We support the U.S. government’s role in promoting the rule of law in Colombia, but much work still needs to be done to protect human rights defenders from prosecutorial abuse and uncorroborated charges. We write you as human rights activists to urge you to continue to monitor Colombia’s human rights performance, and to use U.S. leverage to alleviate violations as they occur,” the letter states. “While there are many human rights defenders at risk, we would like to bring to your attention human rights defender Principe Gabriel González, who is imprisoned today under the codes of yesterday’s discredited criminal justice system. … González’s case raises concern about Colombia’s commitment to the rule of law.” González was a prominent student activist and, as a Regional Coordinator for the Political Prisoners Solidarity Committee, he worked to expose ill-treatment of Colombian political prisoners. In 2006 he was detained on unsubstantiated charges of rebellion and association with FARC guerillas. Of his two accusers, one could not identify González and the other admitted to providing a statement under duress. A trial court acquitted him of all charges and went so far as to say the prosecution should never have brought them in the first place. The prosecution appealed the court’s decision to the Superior Tribunal of Bucaramanga which overturned the acquittal and sentenced González to seven years imprisonment. He was re-arrested in August when the Supreme Court declined to hear his case on jurisdictional grounds. In its letter, the coalition urged the U.S. Department of State to raise the case of Principe Gabriel González with President Santos and to encourage González’s unconditional and immediate release on the grounds that due process standards have not been met in this case. The group also asked that an Embassy representative meet with González in prison and that the U.S. Embassy continue to monitor González’s case and condition. The groups also asked the administration to request that the Colombian government guarantee González’s safety while in prison. Human Rights First celebrated González’s work with its prestigious human rights award in 2009. Later that year, Human Rights First released a comprehensive report documenting the widespread use of trumped-up charges to silence Colombian human rights activists.