Human Rights Group Says Colombian President’s Rhetoric Endangers Activists
A representative of Human Rights First, a New York-based advocacy organization, met with Colombia’s Vice President yesterday to express the group’s concern that President Alvaro Uribe’s public statements are contributing to a climate of increased danger for human rights activists in Colombia.
Andrew Hudson of HRF said that on February 3, President Uribe made sweeping comments about members of the political opposition, in which the president stated that some of them “went from being terrorists in camouflage to terrorists in business suits.”
Two days after these comments, an email echoing them and containing death threats was sent to approximately 70 of Colombia’s leading human rights defenders and organizations. In the email, the regrouped paramilitaries who made the threats identified themselves with President Uribe’s policies and adapted specific language from his February 3 statement.
President Uribe has previously made similar defamatory comments about human rights defenders. Such comments increase their vulnerability, especially in the context of Colombia’s armed conflict. “Equating human rights defenders with terrorists delegitimizes their essential work,” said Hudson. , adding, “It also makes the dangerous suggestion that acts of violence against human rights activists enjoy the acquiescence of the government,” he continued.
At the meeting and in letters sent to Vice-President Santos (click here for letter) and U.S. Ambassador William Wood (click here for letter), Human Rights First called upon President Uribe and other senior government figures to make consistent public statements recognizing the legitimacy and importance of the work performed by Colombian human rights defenders. It also expressed its concern that President’s Uribe’s comments conflate non-violent critics of his policies with terrorists.