image-title

CRLN is alarmed by the brutal attacks since April 28 by the PNC (Colombian National Police) and ESMAD (Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squad) against protesters in multiple Colombian cities. These most recent national protests follow previous ones in November 2019 and September 2020, this time set off by the proposal by President Duque for a tax increase that would have placed a particular burden on those already suffering from loss of income from the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, people were continuing to demand government implementation of the Peace Accords and an end to systematic assassinations of social leaders.

Between April 28 and May 3, the public security forces have killed 21 people, wounded 208, committed 42 aggressions and abuses against human rights defenders and journalists, engaged in 10 cases of sexual assaults against women, and arbitrarily detained 503, according to the Defend the Life Campaign (Campana para defender la vida). Last night in Cali, there were reports of police opening fire against protesters again and more lives lost and injured.

The United States, which provides funding to Colombian security forces, must speak out against the actions of the Colombian National Police and ESMAD, the Anti-Riot Squad, that used such egregiously excessive force against people. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) has tweeted: “Peaceful protest & freedom of expression must be respected everywhere. U.S. aid to the PNC needs strong human rights protections and conditions. We should apply Leahy Law. No U.S. aid to Colombian ESMAD riot units that engage in gross human rights violations.” Email or call your members of Congress and ask them to call for an end to U.S. aid to any Colombian security forces that have engaged in these actions and send a strong message to Colombia that they must hold their security forces accountable for the harm they have caused..

For more information, see links below:

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/05/colombia-amnistia-denuncia-respuesta-militarizada-represion-policial/

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/05/colombia-amnistia-denuncia-respuesta-militarizada-represion-policial/

Read More
image-title

(Leer en español)

Colombia’s government is moving closer to reinstating a program, suspended in 2015, that would spray herbicides from aircraft over territories where coca is cultivated. Twenty-five U.S. and Colombian organizations have joined on this letter to President Joe Biden urging him to avoid supporting a renewed “fumigation” program, succinctly laying out the reasons why this would be an unfortunate policy mistake. The letter was shared with the White House on March 26.

March 26, 2021

President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
The White House
Washington, DC

Dear President Biden,

We write out of strong concern about the imminent restart of a program that your administration is inheriting from its predecessor: an effort to eradicate coca in Colombia by spraying herbicides from aircraft. We encourage you not to provide funding for this program, which not only failed to achieve past objectives, but sends a message of cruelty and callousness with which the United States should no longer be associated.  It will undermine the peace accords that are a powerful legacy of the Obama-Biden administration.

Aerial fumigation can bring short-term reductions in the number of acres planted with coca. But past experience shows not only that these gains reverse quickly, but that the strategy undermines other U.S. and Colombian security objectives. Recurring to fumigation is like going back in time, ignoring much that we have learned about what does and does not work.

Many of our organizations have published studies documenting the harm that fumigation has done in the past. The December 2020 report of the U.S. government’s bipartisan Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission found that forced eradication brought “enormous costs and dismal results.” Just since the end of February, we have seen strong critiques of forced eradication and fumigation from the International Crisis Group; the Ideas for Peace Foundation, a Colombian business sector think tank; a list of over 200 scholars, and seven UN human rights rapporteurs.

Between 1994 and 2015, a U.S.-backed program supported a fleet of aircraft, and teams of contract pilots and maintenance personnel, that sprayed the herbicide glyphosate over 4.42 million acres of Colombian territory—a land area 3 1/2 times the size of Delaware. In 2015 the Colombian government suspended the spray program, citing public health concerns based on a World Health Organization study finding glyphosate to be “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

For a few years afterward, the Colombian government failed to replace the strategy with anything—neither eradication nor assistance to affected areas. During the late 2010s, Colombia’s coca crop increased to record levels. Nearly all of the increase happened in the exact municipalities and communities where fumigation had been heaviest. After 20 years of constant eradication, farmers continue to face the same on-the-ground reality.

Most Colombian producers of the coca bush are not organized crime-tied criminals or supporters of illegal armed groups. They are families with small plots of land. Estimates of the number of families who make a living off of coca vary from “more than 119,500” to 215,000. If one assumes four people per family, then more than 2 percent of Colombia’s 50 million people depend on coca. Households earn about $1,000 per person per year from the crop, making them by far the lowest-paid link in the cocaine supply chain.

They live in “agricultural frontier” zones where evidence of Colombia’s government is scarce. Paved or maintained roads are nonexistent. The national electric grid is far off. There is no such thing as potable water or land titles. In some areas, even currency is hard to obtain, and stores offer the option of paying for groceries with coca paste. 

These people need to be governed and protected by their state. An aircraft flying anonymously overhead, spraying chemicals on populated areas, is the exact opposite of that. But the program has other important disadvantages:

  • Because it targets poor households in ungoverned areas, chemical fumigation sends a message of cruelty, and associates that message with the United States. Your administration is steadily working to undo the Trump administration’s cruel migratory measures, which imposed suffering on a weak, impoverished population at the U.S.-Mexico border. We ask that you also avoid returning to “deterrence though cruelty” in rural Colombia.
  • Like any eradication without assistance, fumigation further weakens governance and threatens to worsen security in Colombia’s ungoverned territories, where illegal economies and armed groups thrive. Forced eradication, especially when uncoordinated with efforts to physically bring government services into territory, sends families from poverty to extreme poverty, with no official help in sight. This hurts the government’s legitimacy in frontier areas where it badly needs to be built up.
  • After perhaps a short-term drop in cultivation, fumigation is not effective at reducing the coca crop. Past experience shows a high probability of replanting and other means of minimizing lost harvests, in contexts of absent government and few alternative crops.
  • Fumigation goes against what Colombia’s 2016 peace accord promised. That document’s first and fourth chapters offered a blueprint for reducing illicit crops: first by engaging families in substitution programs, and then by carrying out a 15-year “comprehensive rural reform” effort to bring state presence to rural areas. Fumigation was meant to be a last resort, for circumstances when families were refusing opportunities to substitute crops and when manual eradication was viewed as too dangerous. Rushing to fumigate is a slap in the face to brave farmer association leaders who took the risky step of defying traffickers and leading their communities into the fourth chapter’s crop substitution programs.
  • Similarly, fumigation risks large-scale social discord in rural Colombia. In 1996, after the program first got started, much of rural Colombia ground to a halt for weeks or months as mostly peaceful coca-grower protests broke out around the country. Today, farmers are even better organized than they were 25 years ago.
  • Fumigation, meanwhile, may carry risks for human health and the environment. The 2015 WHO document is one of many studies that give us reasonable doubts about the health impacts of spraying high concentrations of glyphosate over populated areas from aircraft. Bayer, the company that purchased glyphosate producer Monsanto, has agreed to settlements with U.S. plaintiffs potentially totaling over $11 billion—another reason for reasonable doubt. While the environmental impacts are less clear, glyphosate’s own labeling warns against spraying near standing water sources, and we are concerned about its use in proximity to rainforest ecosystems. The largest environmental impact, though, is likely to be the way many past farmers have responded after losing crops to fumigation, while remaining in a vacuum of government presence: they move somewhere else and cut down more rainforest to grow coca again.
  • Like all forced eradication unaccompanied by assistance, fumigation is dangerous for the eradicators themselves. In 2013, not long before the program’s suspension, FARC guerrillas shot down two spray planes within the space of two weeks. While planes and their escort helicopters will be more armored than before, the vulnerability remains. Eradication is far safer when it is agreed with communities by a government that is physically present in its own territory.

In March 2020, Donald Trump met with Colombian President Iván Duque and told him, “You’re going to have to spray.” The country’s highest court has required Duque’s government to meet a series of health, environment, consultation, and other requirements. Colombia’s Defense Minister is now predicting that the spraying could restart in April.

This time, U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg has stated, the U.S. role in the program won’t be as extensive. Still, during the Trump administration, the State Department supported maintenance of the spray plane fleet, upgrades to bases, and training of eradication personnel, among other services. State Department reports sent to Congress in late February and early March hailed fumigation’s imminent restart as a sign of progress.

Nonetheless, we reiterate our hope that the Biden administration will turn away from supporting Colombia’s spray program while there is still time. The United States should not support aerial fumigation in Colombia again. Nor does it have to. We know what to do. 

Farmers with land titles hardly ever grow coca. Farmers who live near paved roads hardly ever grow coca. Criminal groups are badly weakened by proximity of a functioning government that is able to resolve disputes and punish lawbreaking.

This is a longer-term project, but Colombia’s 2016 peace accord offered a good blueprint for setting it in motion: a fast-moving, consultative crop substitution program, tied to a slower-moving but comprehensive rural reform program. Though those programs exist and parts of the Duque government are carrying them out diligently, they are underfunded and well behind where they should be as accord implementation enters its fifth year.

It’s not too late to help Colombia jumpstart the model offered by Colombia’s peace accord, which the Obama-Biden administration so effectively supported. We urge you to take that path instead of that of renewed fumigation, which we know to be a dead end.

Sincerely,

  • Amazon Watch
  • Center for International Environmental Law
  • Centro Estudios sobre Seguridad y Drogas, Universidad de los Andes (Colombia)
  • Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America
  • Colombia Human Rights Committee
  • Consultoría para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento (Colombia)
  • Corporación Viso Mutop (Colombia)
  • Drug Policy Alliance
  • Elementa DD.HH. (Colombia/Mexico)
  • Fellowship of Reconciliation: Peace Presence
  • Healing Bridges
  • ILEX Acción Juridica (Colombia)
  • Institute for Policy Studies, Drug Policy Project
  • Institute on Race, Equality, and Human Rights
  • Latin America Working Group
  • Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office
  • Missionary Oblates
  • Oxfam America
  • Oxfam Colombia
  • Presbyterian Church (USA), Office of Public Witness
  • Presbyterian Peace Fellowship
  • Proceso de Comunidades Negras (Colombia)
  • United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
  • Washington Office on Latin America
  • Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective
Read More

Please email your Representative (find your Representative hereand ask them to sign onto a “Dear Colleague” letter initiated by Representatives Jim McGovern and Mark Pocan. You can go to their website and click on the “Contact” tab and then on “Email me” in the dropdown list.

The letter calls on Secretary of State Pompeo to urge Colombian President Duque to protect Colombia’s human rights defenders; to identify and prosecute those who threaten and murder them; dismantle the paramilitary successor networks behind much of the killing; hold accountable Colombian military intelligence officers who conducted mass surveillance of journalists, human rights defenders, political leaders, judges and military whistleblowers with U.S.-supplied equipment; and fully implement the Peace Accords.

CRLN signed onto a letter to the State Department calling for systemic reform of Colombia’s military intelligence unit in response to the mass surveillance scandal referenced above. Click here for a copy of the letter.

Colombia is the most dangerous country for human rights defenders. At least 107 were killed in 2019. During the first month of Colombia’s coronavirus lockdown alone, 23 social leaders were killed. During this “stay at home” period, perpetrators knew exactly where to find social leaders, increasing the danger that they would be assassinated.

You can direct your Representative to contact Cindy Buhl (Rep. McGovern) at cindy.buhl@mail.house.gov or Leslie Zelenko (Rep. Pocan) at leslie.zelenko@mail.house.gov for further information or to sign onto the letter. Ask your Representative to let you know if they sign on.

Please contact shunter-smith@crln.org to let her know that you have sent your message so that we can track our network’s progress on getting signatures for this letter.

Read More

CRLN signed onto a letter to the State Department calling for systemic reform of Colombia’s military intelligence

May 22, 2020

Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Ambassador Michael Kozak                                          U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Ambassador Philip S. Goldberg                                                                                              U.S. Department of State and U.S. Embassy to Colombia, Bogota

 

Dear Ambassador Kozak and Ambassador Goldberg,

We write out of deep concern, which we are confident you share, regarding the revelations that Colombian Army intelligence units compiled detailed dossiers on the personal lives and activities of at least 130 reporters, human rights defenders, politicians, judges, union leaders, and possible military whistleblowers. As you know, the group contained U.S. citizens, including several reporters and a Colombian senator.

This scandal is disturbing in itself and for what it says about Colombia’s inability to reform its military and intelligence services. In 1998, the 20th Military Intelligence Brigade was disbanded due to charges that it had been involved in the 1995 murder of Conservative Senator Álvaro Gómez Hurtado and his aide and, according to the 1997 State Department human rights report, targeted killings and forced disappearances. In 2011, the Administrative Security Department (DAS), Colombia’s main intelligence service, was disbanded due to the massive surveillance, as well as threats against, human rights defenders, opposition politicians, Supreme Court judges, and reporters. In 2014, Semana magazine revealed army intelligence was spying on peace accord negotiators in the so-called Operation Andromeda. In 2019, Semana exposed another surveillance campaign using “Invisible Man” and “Stingray” equipment against Supreme Court justices, opposition politicians, and U.S. and Colombian reporters, including its own journalists. In March 2020, a Twitter list compiled by the Colombian army identified the accounts of journalists, human rights advocates, and Colombia’s Truth Commission and Special Jurisdiction for Peace as “opposition” accounts.

The surveillance is far worse than a massive invasion of privacy. The targeting of political opposition, judicial personnel, human rights defenders, and journalists leads to threats, attacks, and killings. For example, during the 2019 surveillance operation, Semana reporters and their family members received funeral wreaths, prayer cards, and a tombstone. This surveillance and targeting has a chilling effect on the very people and institutions needed to maintain a vibrant democracy. It means that no amount of government protection programs can stop the targeted killing of human rights defenders and social leaders. The persistence of this kind of surveillance suggests that an important segment of Colombia’s military and intelligence services – and of the political class – fail to appreciate the fundamental role of a free press, human rights and other civil society organizations, and peaceful dissent in any vibrant democracy.

We are also deeply concerned to hear that some U.S. intelligence equipment may have been used for these illegal efforts. Semana “confirmed with U.S. embassy sources that the Americans recovered from several military units the tactical monitoring and location equipment that it had lent them.”

As we review this latest manifestation of Colombia’s deeply rooted problem of identifying as enemies and persecuting those who wish to defend human rights, uphold justice, and report the truth, we ask ourselves: What can ensure that this never happens again?

At a minimum, we recommend that the U.S. government:

• Support the creation of an independent group of experts under the auspices of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to investigate and recommend steps to achieve justice and non-repetition.

• Press for a thorough review of military doctrine and training to ensure that it promotes a proper understanding of the role of the military in a democratic society, including the role of human rights defenders, journalists, opposition politicians, and an independent judiciary. While the written doctrine was revised during the Santos Administration, clearly improvements to doctrine are not being followed. The review should seek an accounting for the too-frequent episodes of senior military behavior that contradicts this revised doctrine. Such a review must have input from Colombian human rights defenders and judicial experts, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

• Urge the Colombian government to provide all necessary protection measures, agreed upon with the targeted individuals and organizations, to ensure their physical and psychological integrity, as well as that of those around them. • Urge the Colombian government to purge all intelligence files, whether of state security forces or other organizations, collected on human rights organizations, finally addressing the long-standing demand by human rights organizations, unfulfilled for nearly a quarter century.

• Urge the Colombian government to reveal publicly the full extent of illegal intelligence operations targeting civil society activists, politicians, judges, and journalists, clarifying who was in charge, to whom they reported, what kind of intelligence was carried out, and with what objectives.

• The administration should direct DNI, CIA, NSA and DIA to inform congressional intelligence, armed services and foreign relations and foreign affairs committees of their conclusions on the full extent of illegal Colombian intelligence operations, clarifying who was in charge, to whom they reported, what kind of intelligence was carried out, and with what objectives. The administration should direct the same agencies to inform these congressional committees whether and when the U.S. government learned of these actions by the Colombian military and intelligence services and whether U.S. intelligence agencies cooperated with their counterparts even after learning of those actions.

• Investigate whether recipients of U.S. training and/or equipment participated in ordering or implementing these illegal activities and immediately suspend individuals and units involved from receiving U.S. training and equipment, per the Leahy Law.

• Suspend all U.S. support for Colombia’s military and intelligence services if the Colombian government does not immediately suspend and promptly investigate and prosecute officials who ordered and executed these illegal activities and conduct the thorough review and rewriting of military doctrine and training mentioned above.

If the nation is to realize the vision of so many Colombians to create a truly “post-conflict” society with shared prosperity under the rule of law, then intelligence targeting and surveillance of democratic actors must finally end. Thank you for your efforts to ensure Colombia turns the page for once and for all on these deadly, illegal, and anti-democratic activities.

Sincerely,

Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)

Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America (CRLN)

Colombia Grassroots Support, New Jersey

Colombia Human Rights Committee, Washington DC

Colombian Studies Group, Graduate Center – College University of New York

Colombian Studies Group, The New School International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights

Latin America Working Group (LAWG)

Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA)

Oxfam America

Presbyterian Peace Fellowship

School of the Americas Watch

United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries

Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)

Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective

Read More
image-title

Photo by Anton Darius on Unsplash

 

International Civil Society Organizations Call for the Colombian Government to Investigate Killing of Marco Rivadeneira and to Protect Human Rights Defenders March 25, 2020

 

We are grieved to learn of the death of Marco Rivadeneira, a community leader in Putumayo, Colombia. Rivadeneira was killed on March 19, 2020 by three armed men who entered a meeting where Rivadeneira and other community members were discussing voluntary eradication agreements between farmers and the Colombian government.

Rivadeneira was a human rights defender, a promoter of the peace accords, and a proponent of voluntary coca eradication efforts in his rural community. He was a leader of the Puerto Asis Campesino Association and a representative to the Guarantees Roundtable (a process intended to protect human rights defenders). Rivadeneira was also the representative of his region for the national network of 275 Colombian human rights groups known as the Coordinación Colombia Europa Estados Unidos. Coordinación and its members are close partners of many of our organizations.

This killing “underscores once again the lack of security guarantees for the work of human rights defenders and the lack of political will on the part of the Colombian government to dismantle the criminal structures and paramilitary organizations that continue to attack social leaders and those who defend peace in the countryside,” as Coordinación asserts. The Coordinación urges the government to act decisively to ensure that “enemies of peace” do not use the emergency situation created by the COVID-19 virus to continue to exterminate social leaders.

107 social leaders were assassinated in 2019, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights office in Colombia. One out of three human rights defenders killed in 2019 (documented by Frontline Defenders) was from Colombia. 2020 has started off with a wave of violence against them.

We urge the Colombian government to ensure this crime is effectively investigated and prosecuted and to communicate what steps are being taken to bring the perpetrators to justice. We also urge the Colombian government to provide effective guarantees for human rights defenders, social leaders, and those working to build peace in Colombia. This starts with the vigorous implementation of the 2016 peace accords in Colombia, including convoking the National Commission of Security Guarantees to create and implement a plan to protect communities and social leaders at risk.

We urge the U.S. government to vigorously support peace accord implementation in Colombia. This includes adhering to the drug policy chapter of the accord which mandates working closely with farming communities to voluntarily eradicate and replace coca with government assistance, rather than returning to ineffective and inhumane aerial spraying programs.

Colombia must not lose more leaders like Marco Rivadeneira who have worked so valiantly to bring human rights protections and peace to their communities.

Signed by:

AFL-CIO                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Amazon Watch                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Amnesty International U.S.A.
Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)                                                                                                                                                                                                  Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)                                                                                                                                                                                                                Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America                                                                                                                                                                                      Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW)                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Church World Service                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Colombia Grassroots Support                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        New Jersey Colombia Human Rights Committee                                                                                                                                                                                                              Institute for Policy Studies                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Drug Policy Project International                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Institute on Race, Equality, and Human Rights                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Latin America Working Group (LAWG)                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office                                                                                                                                                                                                Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Movement for Peace in Colombia, New York                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Oxfam                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Presbyterian Peace Fellowship                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights                                                                                                                                                                                                                              United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries                                                                                                                                                                                              Washington Office on Latin America                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective

Read More
image-title

On Monday, June 2, 35 people gathered at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago (LSTC) to share lunch and dialogue with Milton Mejía, General Secretary and President of the Latin American Council of Churches; Atahualpa Hernández, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Colombia; and Nidiria Ruíz Medina, an African-descended community organizer, land defender, and women’s peace activist from the Naya River area in Cauca, Colombia. The event was sponsored by LSTC, CRLN, and McCormick Theological Seminary.

The guests asked those gathered to get involved in advocacy efforts to rally support by the U.S. government for implementation of the Colombian Peace Accords. They also encouraged U.S. church members to restart the Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia, join accompaniment missions to seek to protect human rights defenders, and to find other ways to work for peace and reconciliation in Colombia.

Their message was sobering. While Peace Accords were signed by the Colombian government and the guerilla group FARC in November 2016 and later ratified into law, the government has not complied with its obligations under the Accords. FARC members were supposed to receive housing, education, and jobs to reintegrate them into society, but the current administration is reneging on those promises. In addition, the government was supposed to provide resources to encourage rural people to stop growing coca and start growing other crops. Instead, the U.S. has pushed the Colombian government to restart fumigation of coca crops first, without providing alternative means for families to earn an income and survive.

Finally, and most seriously, human rights violations, including assassinations, have actually increased. Since the peace deal was signed, around 700 activists and community leaders have been killed, and more than 210,000 people displaced from their homes amid the continuing violence. Thousands more have received credible threats against their lives, including Nidiria, who expressed some fear about returning to Colombia after receiving threats a couple of weeks ago.

Nidiria said that much of the violence happens in order to displace people from their lands, either so that large corporations or large landowners can increase their landholdings or so that narcotraffickers can have unimpeded access to their routes. Violence is also used to terrorize the population, so that people will not raise their voices to call for needed changes in social conditions.

The 3 spoke in New York and Washington, DC, before coming to Chicago.

Read More
image-title

On Wednesday, August 1, former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe again took to Twitter with a political announcement, this time reversing his decision to resign from the Colombian Senate.

Just last week Uribe announced via his Twitter page that he would be resigning from the Senate due to the ongoing investigation into allegations of procedural fraud and bribery.

Today he posted with a change of heart, asking Ernesto Macías, President of the Senate and fellow Democratic Center Party member, to “not take into consideration” his letter of resignation.

Uribe stated that it had not occurred to him that his resignation would mean that his case would be heard by a lower court, and his decision to remain in the Senate was spurred by a desire to have his case heard by the country’s highest judicial authorities.

Ever since Uribe announced his resignation last week, different coalitions in the Senate, including some of the opposition, expressed their desire for him to remain in the Senate.

The Democratic Center Party had been particularly strong about their desire for Uribe to remain, with continuous efforts throughout the week to urge Uribe to reconsider his resignation, especially since Uribe’s departure from the Senate would leave their coalition, the majority in the Senate and second largest in the House, without its leader just before the transfer of power to Ivan Duque’s new administration.

With Uribe remaining in the Senate, the new administration will retain its most powerful political ally, which should have a profound impact in aiding the passage of any legislation introduced by Duque and his administration in the coming weeks.

Read More