Persecution of Colombian Human Rights Defenders: a Congressional Testimony

Check out testimony below made by Human Rights First’s Andrew Hudson, at the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Hearing yesterday. Accompanying Andrew was Gabriel Gonzalez, Colombian human rights defender and recipient of our annual human rights award, who also gave firsthand testimony of the plight of human rights activists in Colombia.

Both the Miami Herald and VOA covered the hearing.

Human Rights Defenders in the Crosshairs: The Ongoing Crisis in Colombia

Mr Chairman,

Around the world, Human Rights First protects human rights activists who are
attacked for defending the rights of others. For many years we have focused on
Colombia as a country with particularly high levels of persecution against
defenders. As the last witness today, I will briefly summarize some key themes
that have emerged in this hearing and present some recommendations for
Congress.

Today we have heard compelling evidence from a UN expert and two
Colombian human rights activists about the reality on the ground in Colombia.
(As an aside we are delighted that Gabriel Gonzalez is here today and thank
you Chairman McGovern for helping him obtain a visa to come the US.

Human Rights First is honoring Gonzalez with its 2009 annual human rights
award in recognition of his brave human rights advocacy and the harrowing
baseless prosecution he continues to suffer.)

All speakers have voiced serious concerns about patterns of harassment against
Colombian human rights activists. All speakers have described how
Colombian activists are subject to the full gamut of human rights violations
including killings, torture, threats, misuse of state intelligence, systematic
stigmatization, unfounded criminal proceedings and impunity for violations
against defenders. Most shockingly as the Special Rapportuer concluded,
activists are targeted “because of their legitimate work in upholding human
rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Human Rights First welcomes the statement by Colombian President Uribe on
17 September 2009 after his meeting with the Special Rapporteur that, “The
defense of human rights is a necessary and legitimate action for democracy in a
country like Colombia which is proud to be completely open to international
scrutiny in this field”. We hope that this will signal an end to his dangerous
stigmatization of human rights defenders as terrorists. We also welcome the
constructive relationship we have forged with various Colombian institutions
in particular to close baseless criminal charges against Colombian defenders.

In February this year, HRF testified before this Commission and released a comprehensive
report documenting how trumped-up criminal charges are used to silence and stigmatize
defenders. Six months later, only one defender in the report remains imprisoned, Carmelo
Agamez. Sadly, however, many more defenders have subsequently been unfairly detained in
those intervening months.

As a source of approximately $500 million in annual aid to Colombia, the US can and must
play a role in addressing the problems we have heard today. We have the following
recommendations for Congress:

  1. US Congress should include in appropriations legislation a condition requiring
    certification by the State department that Colombia is not violating the rights of
    defenders (a provision to this effect is in the draft Appropriations Bill and we urge that
    it be retained in the final Act).
  2. The US Department of Justice should be a key ally for defenders in Colombia by
    ensuring that its significant judicial reform aid is being used to defend those upholding
    the rule of law in Colombia. The US Congress should increase oversight of DOJ
    (through reporting requirements and budget hearings) to determine how DOJ is ending
    impunity for violations against defenders, the misuse of state intelligence and
    unfounded criminal proceedings.
  3. As Gonzalez’s 4 months visa delay demonstrates, there is a desperate need for
    Congress to overhaul so-called “administrative processing” procedures so that
    legitimate human rights defenders can obtain visas in a reasonable amount of time.
  4. We also recommend that members of Congress encourage US foreign policy to
    Colombia to adopt the detailed recommendations contained in the international
    campaign for the right to defend human rights (copies of these recommendations are
    available at this hearing).

Thank you.

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Published on October 21, 2009

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