Colombia’s paramilitary successors continue to threaten human rights defenders

León Valencia (Photo: Colprensa)

Paramilitary successor groups have issued fresh threats against Colombian human rights defenders in recent weeks, leading several groups to call on the government to ensure adequate protection of at risk individuals.

Various NGOs and leaders were threatened in a letter signed by the group known as the Rastrojos over their alleged guerrilla sympathies, according to documents posted by the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation.

The letter, delivered as the latest round of peace talks between the government and the FARC got underway in Havana, stated that, “In any place in Colombia, our fight will be from the beginning to the end against our enemies: human rights defenders, FARC, ELN, EPL, and other similar organizations.”

Other prominent groups and leaders threatened include the director of the Consultation for Human Rights and Forced Displacement (CODHES), the president of the labor union General Confederation of Labor (CGT), and members of the NGO Nuevo Arco Iris.

The Peace and Reconciliation Foundation posted a picture of the Rastrojos’ letter to their website and social media, also tweeting that two of their members were mentioned in the letter: “Leaders of various NGOs were victims of threat by Rastrojos, among them [Leon Valencia] and [Ariel Avila][].”

Nuevo Arco Iris also tweeted out their response posted on their website to the Rastrojos’ letter in which they denounce the “constant threats” they face issued a call to solidarity among social and political organizations:

Info stolen from human rights defenders

In addition to the recent threats, members of the Human Rights Observatory of the coalition Coordination Colombia Europe United States (CCEEU) recently had information stolen en route to an event on victims of forced displacement and extrajudicial executions (“false positives”), according to a statement on its website.

FACT SHEET: False Positives

The CCEEU claimed that two assailants on motorcycles carefully appropriated the suitcase and laptop of Alberto Yepes, the Observatory’s coordinator, as well as the cell phones of those accompanying him.

CCEEU says this is the second such occurrence in which Yepes has been a victim of theft during times of participation in public presentations and debates on extrajudicial executions.

Earlier this month, Yepes and other members of CCEEU were threatened in a letter distributed by the Aguilas Negras, also a paramilitary successor group.

MORE: 91 Colombian human rights defenders receive death threat over email

U.S. organizations urge protection of victims, defenders

In a statement released Wednesday, several U.S. organizations urged the Colombian government to do more to protect the human rights defenders and NGOs in the wake of the recent threats and attacks.

It noted the recent murder of Colombian journalist Luis Carlos Cervantes, “whose protection detail had been lifted just two weeks prior despite continued threats from paramilitary successor groups,” according to the statement.

The organizations have urged the Colombian government to “take all necessary precautions to ensure that victims’ representatives, human rights defenders, journalists and Afro-Colombian and indigenous leaders at risk have adequate protection.”

The statement’s signatories include the Latin American Working Group (LAWG), the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), and several church groups.

Last year was labelled the worst period of safety for human rights workers in Colombian history and saw the murder of 37 human rights defenders in less than 6 months, between January and June 2013.

Colombia has seen a drop in the murder of human rights defenders and community leaders compared to 2013, but a recent report by Colombian NGO “Somos Defensores” indicated that death threats are on the rise.

According to the report, the majority of the crimes committed against human rights defenders are committed by paramilitary successor groups and the army.

MORE: 30 Colombian human rights defenders killed in first half of 2014: Report


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