This year in Colombia, human rights defenders and social leaders have faced 232 threats, 21 attacks and 70 assassinations, 31 of which occurred after the bilateral ceasefire with the FARC went into effect.
Recently, the neo-paramilitary group Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC) circulated a flyer warning of a major "cleansing" in December of the very leaders who will be key to achieving peace in Colombia. The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) has published an article that provides background information on the wave of violence being perpetrated against HRDs in the country.
The peace accords, approved unanimously by the Colombian Congress on November 30, 2016, commit the parties to protecting human rights defenders and working to prevent such attacks.
This week, members of the U.S. Congress are circulating an urgent sign-on letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, calling on him to take immediate action to condemn these acts and work with the Colombian government to strengthen and promote mechanisms of protection for human rights defenders.
Please contact your representative TODAY and ask that they sign on to the letter. Remember - calls have a much greater impact than emails!
You can find your representative by clicking here. The deadline to sign on to the letter is TOMORROW close of business, Friday, December 9th. Representatives can sign on to the letter by contacting Cindy Buhl (in Rep. McGovern's office) at 5-6101 or cindy.buhl(at). mail.house.gov
12/6/16 - Signatories to date (14):
James P. McGovern (MA)
Rosa L. DeLauro (CT)
John Lewis (GA)
Jan Schakowsky (IL)
Mark Pocan (WI)
Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC)
Gwen Moore (WI)
Michael M. Honda (CA)
Donna F. Edwards (MD)
Peter Welch (VT)
Barbara Lee (CA)
José E. Serrano (NY)
Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ)
The Honorable John F. Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20520
Dear Secretary Kerry,
We write to express our greatest sense of urgency and extreme concern regarding the escalation of murders, threats and attacks against Colombian human rights defenders, trade unionists, LGBT and women activists, land rights advocates, and community, campesino, Afro-Colombian and Indigenous leaders.
We know that you share our concern. For this reason, we urge you to press and work with the Colombian government to publicly condemn in the strongest possible terms this violence and to increase and expand mechanisms designed to prevent such attacks from being carried out and to provide defenders and social leaders protection so that they may continue exercising their invaluable leadership and work. Such actions must be done repeatedly and consistently, in all regions and at all levels of government. We also strongly recommend that protection measures be designed in close consultation with vulnerable communities, individuals and organizations in order to strengthen their effectiveness.
We emphatically condemn these murders and the intimidation of social leaders and activists. They are the very human capital that Colombia requires as it must now implement the peace accords, promote development and political participation, and guarantee truth, justice, reparations and an end to violence. Colombia does not need more victims; it needs community, regional and national leaders willing to take on this challenge.
In June, U.S. Ambassador Kevin Whitaker joined the ambassadors from Sweden, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Norway and Canada and denounced the killings of Colombian human rights defenders and to work on behalf of defenders at risk. We strongly encourage you to direct Ambassador Whitaker and this diplomatic group visit the areas where defenders are most threatened and vulnerable, denounce the violence perpetrated against these defenders and activists, and promote and provide mechanisms of protection.
At the same time, we urge you, Mr. Secretary, to work with the appropriate authorities in Colombia to ensure the prompt implementation of point 3.4 of the Peace Accord in its entirety, which includes an active and fully functioning High Level Commission on Security Guarantees and robust Special Investigation Unit within the Public Prosecutor’s Office, along with point 5.2., which commits the government to establishing policies and strategies of protection for human rights defenders, in particular those who are victims of paramilitary and official authorities. Given the spike in killings and assaults, it is imperative that these mandates are implemented rapidly and vigorously. It is also notable that neither of these points was raised as a matter of controversy by opponents of the accords.
Please know, Mr. Secretary, that we stand ready to provide whatever support we can to protect these defenders and activists and advance their role in building and consolidating a just and lasting peace in Colombia.
Members of Congress