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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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On Tuesday, July 24, former Colombian president and influential Senator Álvaro Uribe announced his resignation from the Senate, following the Supreme Court’s announcement that he will be called to testify in an ongoing investigation into his possible involvement in witness tampering and bribery.

The Court stated that it would investigate Uribe and fellow Democratic Center Senator Álvaro Prada for the crimes of “bribery and procedural fraud” that the accusation claims took place this year and were related to other, previous allegations of witness tampering.

The case originates from an earlier attempt to investigate allegations brought forth by Senator Iván Cepeda, which claim that Uribe previously founded a death squad in his home province of Antioquia prior to becoming president in 2002.

Cepeda published a book concerning this matter and was accused by Uribe of witness tampering, claiming that the witnesses received money for their interviews that contributed to the book.

In February of this year, the Supreme Court dismissed the case against Cepeda and opened one against Uribe, claiming it was he who was at fault for allegations of witness tampering. On Tuesday, the Court issued a statement saying that these alleged activities continued after the ruling.

“As a reaction to that ruling and apparently with his consent, persons allied to the ex-president Uribe began new acts of witness manipulation,” the statement read.

Following the news of the resignation, which Uribe announced himself via his official Twitter page, claiming he felt “morally impeded” to remain in his position as Senator while the investigation proceeded, president-elect Ivan Duque expressed solidarity with Uribe and his family and asserted his belief that Uribe’s honor and innocence would prevail.

Jorge Restrepo, a Colombian economist and head of a think tank that monitors the nation’s conflict, identified Uribe’s resignation as “a seismic shift in Colombian politics.”

According to Pedro Medellín, a political scientist and columnist for Colombian newspapers, Uribe’s resignation and the issue of the investigation overall will affect the Democratic Center Party and their influence as a political coalition.

Uribe’s resignation could also offer a chance for Duque to govern outside of his mentor’s influence, allowing him to follow a more independent path. According to Adam Isacson, who works with the Washington Office on Latin America, “Duque is way more moderate than most of his party, including Uribe. Having Uribe out of the picture makes Duque less dependent on hard-liners in order to govern.”

Isacson also said that with Uribe out of the picture, “it makes it harder for Uribe and Duque’s party to move the new president’s legislative agenda through the Senate. Nobody else in that party’s bloc is enough of a political heavyweight to do the necessary arm-twisting.”

Without Uribe in the Senate, it will be interesting to see how Duque governs once he takes office on August 7. Despite his continued support for and allegiance to Uribe as a personal friend and mentor, Duque may now feel more confident in approaching his legislative agenda from a more moderate standpoint.

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JUSTAPAZ, a peacebuilding organization of the Mennonite Church of Colombia, learned recently that the illegal armed group “Aguilas Negras [Black Eagles]” has included them on a list of social leaders, human rights defenders, organizations and journalists they threaten to kill. Please ask the authorized representative of your congregation to sign the letter of support they have prepared, which they will use in advocating with the Colombian government to investigate and judge those responsible for the death threats and provide protection for their staff and the communities they accompany. You can sign onto the letter by sending an email to justapaz@justapaz.org.

JUSTAPAZ’s statement and the sign-on letter follow:

JUSTAPAZ CHRISTIAN MENNONITE ASSOCIATION FOR JUSTICE, PEACE AND NONVIOLENT ACTION
STATEMENT ON RECENT DEATH THREAT
A Call for Hope, for the Caring of Life and Continued Peacebuilding
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

JUSTAPAZ is an organization of the Mennonite Church of Colombia, with more than 26 years’ experience accompanying Christian churches, community organizations and victims of the armed conflict, strengthening nonviolent community peacebuilding processes, on which human rights and peace with justice are built.

We are pained by the increase in threats, aggressions, and systematic assassinations of social leaders from different regions of the country. Our prayer and commitment is, and will continue to be, with churches, victims of armed conflict, women, youth, conscientious objectors, and all who dream and long for a country reconciled and at peace. With hope, we proclaim that neither death, nor threats, nor wars can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:37).

In this biblical spirit and in solidarity with peacebuilders in Colombia, we write to let the public know that on Saturday, July 14, 2018, we learned of a communiqué in which an illegal armed group, self-identified as “Águilas Negras”, threatened to kill a group of social leaders, human rights defenders, organizations and journalists. JUSTAPAZ was included in the list.

Responding to this threat, which seeks to sow fear and dismantle citizen efforts to overcome the wounds caused by the armed conflict, we, as JUSTAPAZ:

  • CALL ON all illegal armed groups to cease all intimidating activity, to respect life and the dignity of every human being because we are all children of God. Life is sacred and we must care for it and defend human rights, peaceful coexistence and the well-being of all Colombian citizens. Therefore, we reject the use of any type of violence or intolerance that limits broad peacebuilding efforts.
  • WE BELIEVE that peace is the fruit of social justice (Isaiah 32:17). We need to overcome social exclusion, strengthen a culture of democracy and embrace the path of reconciliation, grounded in dialogue and in the peaceful solution of social conflicts. From our experience of faith, peacebuilding demands healing wounds, restoring lives and making a diverse participatory nation, founded on the respect for human dignity possible.
  • WE URGENTLY CALL FOR PRAYERS FOR PEACE IN COLOMBIA AND FOR ACTION on behalf of those of us who seek truth, justice, holistic reparations for victims and non-repetition of acts of violence. It is time for dialogue, for full implementation of the peace accords and to continue building social, cultural, political and environmental agreements to build true peace in all the regions of Colombia.
  • WE REAFFIRM THAT JUSTAPAZ, as an entity of the Mennonite Church of Colombia, has a pacifist calling inspired by the gospel of peace (Matthew 5:9), and we join the millions of citizens throughout the different regions of Colombia that promote human rights, citizen participation and the democratic values that inspire and give meaning to nation-building.

We encourage churches, faith-based communities, human rights defenders and social organizations to not falter and to join efforts for peacebuilding in our country. Please consider signing-on to the attached sign-on letter that will be used in advocacy efforts in Colombia.

Sincerely,
CHRISTIAN MENNONITE ASSOCIATION FOR JUSTICE, PEACE AND NONVIOLENT ACTION – JUSTAPAZ
Bogotá, Colombia
July 17, 2018.

 

Sign-On Letter for Churches and Faith-based Organizations in Response to Death Threats Against JUSTAPAZ

As churches and organizations from around the world, we know of and support the work of JUSTAPAZ. As an organization of the Mennonite Church of Colombia, JUSTAPAZ has acted to promote peacebuilding in the midst of armed conflict for many years in Colombia. JUSTAPAZ is characterized by applying principles of nonviolence, justice and holistic peace in Colombia.

On Saturday, July 14, 2018, we learned of a communiqué in which an illegal armed group, selfidentified as “Águilas Negras”, threatened to kill a group of social leaders, human rights defenders, organizations and journalists. JUSTAPAZ was included in the list.

Responding to these threats and as part of the international community:

WE EXPRESS our solidarity, support and accompaniment of JUSTAPAZ in face of this threat.

WE REJECT all forms of violence that could affect the staff of JUSTAPAZ and the communities that
they accompany in different regions of Colombia.

WE DEMAND that the government of Colombia act with celerity and efficacy in investigating and
judging those responsible for the death threats against JUSTAPAZ. Additionally, we demand they
provide appropriate protective measures for the staff of JUSTAPAZ and the communities they
accompany, with the goal of guaranteeing the continuity of the human rights and peacebuilding
efforts they accompany, as a faith-based organization in Colombia.

Signed,

**Please indicate your willingness to sign-on by emailing us at: justapaz@justapaz.org

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