Letter to the President of Colombia on his Statements on the work of Int. human rights organizations in San José de Apartadó.

June 28, 2004

The Honorable Alvaro Uribe Velez
President of Colombia
Palacio de Narino
Carrera 8, No. 7-26
Bogotá, Colombia

Dear President Uribe:

We are writing to express our serious concerns about recent statements that you made questioning the legitimate work of international human rights organizations in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó. We are familiar with and support the important work conducted by such organizations as Peace Brigades International and the Fellowship of Reconciliation in protecting and promoting human rights in Colombia.

Through their presence, these organizations have helped to protect the rights of civilians in many communities, including San José de Apartadó, which has suffered numerous massacres, forced disappearances and other human rights violations. In recognition of the vulnerability of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights has on three occasions issued Provisional Measures that call on Colombia to protect the community and "the persons who offer services to the community."

On April 15, 2004, the Constitutional Court of Colombia ruled that those Provisional Measures are constitutional and that the Government of Colombia must ensure their compliance.

We were troubled by the comments you made on May 27, 2004, when you suggested international organizations are obstructing justice by declaring, "I want to remind the foreigners in San José de Apartadó that in Colombia there is not, nor can there be, impunity for either Colombians or for foreigners. If you come here, come here to help our communities, not to obstruct justice." And you stated, "I repeat my respectful submission to the DAS (Department of Administrative Security) and the Police, that if these people obstruct justice again they should be put in jail. And if it's necessary to deport them, they should be deported." (1) Those hostile remarks lie in stark contrast to the actual conduct of the international organizations present in the community-including the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Navarra Nuevo Futuro, and Peace Brigades International-which abide closely by all Colombian laws, while carrying out their humanitarian missions.

Furthermore, we are concerned that on June 2nd, DAS agents and a large contingent of soldiers entered San José de Apartadó to present Peace Brigades International (PBI) volunteers with a written order for a meeting. The stated reason for the meeting was to carry out an "administrative check." However, when the two PBI volunteers arrived at the DAS office they were subjected to interrogation-like questioning and were told to sign a legal document known as a "voluntary deposition" ("version libre") -which is usually the first step in a criminal investigation. Subsequently, PBI met with Vice-President Francisco Santos in an attempt to rectify the declarations made on May 27 and to share its concern over the incidents with the DAS. PBI was accompanied in the meeting by Michael Frühling, the Director of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that international organizations working in the Urabá region have been the target of unfounded allegations. On August 21, 2003, the then Commander of the Colombian Armed Forces, General Jorge Enrique Mora, held a press conference in which international organizations, including Peace Brigades International and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, were accused of turning a blind eye to guerrilla activity of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in another community in Urabá. In response, the Colombian Human Rights Ombudsman stated that this accusation "did not correspond to reality and, on the contrary, could put the community at risk."

We are extremely concerned that these types of comments are calling into question the work of many highly respected international organizations in the region of Uraba. These comments are all the more disheartening in that they directly contradict Presidential Directive 07 (9/9/03) as well as the Ministry of Defense's Directive 09 (7/8/03), which order all civilian and military government officials to "refrain from questioning the legitimacy of human rights organizations and their members; making statements that discredit, persecute, or incite persecution of said organizations; or making public or private declarations that stigmatize the work of these organizations."

Given these concerns, we respectfully ask that you undertake the following actions:

* That you, as President of the Republic, retract your comments and publicly state your support of international human rights organizations working in region.

* Call for a reaffirmation in writing by Vice President Santos of the " carta de aval" (letter of support) which has been granted to Peace Brigades International since the organization first started working in Colombia in 1994.

* Ensure that clear directives are sent to all civilian and militaryofficials in the region of Uraba to support the work of international organizations accompanying the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, and to recognize the important role played by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Colombian Human Rights Ombudsman (Defensoria del Pueblo).

* Implement the April 15, 2004 decision of the Constitutional Court, Sentence T 327, which requires the full implementation of the Provisional Me asures granted to San José de Apartado by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights that oblige the state, among other requirements, to "continue to enable participation of the beneficiaries of the provisional measures or their representatives in the planning and implementation of these measures."

Mr. President, we care very deeply about Colombia and want to help improve the situation in the country for all Colombians. We reject actions that seek to undermine peace, like the bombing attack that occurred on May 22, 2004 in a discotheque in Apartadó, a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law against the civilian population. We strongly believe that the work of international humanitarian organizations like Peace Brigades

International and the Fellowship of Reconciliation is critical to the goal of a brighter future for Colombia and a reduction of such violence. Therefore we urge you to publicly make clear your support for the good work these organizations undertake.

Thank you for your attention to this matter, and we look forward to hearing from you.


Jim McGovern (D-3rd MA) SPONSOR - Jan Schakowsky (D-9th IL) SPONSOR - Aníbal Acevedo-Víla (D-PR) - Thomas Allen (D-1st ME) - Tammy Baldwin (D-2nd WI) - Chris Bell (D-25th TX) - Sherrod Brown (D-13th OH) - Michael Capuano (D-8th MA) - Wm. Lacy Clay (D-1st MO) - John Conyers (D-14th MI) - Elijah Cummings (D-7th MD) - Danny Davis (D-7th IL) - Peter DeFazio (D-4th OR) - William Delahunt (D-10th MA) - Rosa DeLauro (D-3rd CT) - Rahm Emanuel (D-5th IL) - Elliot Engel (D-17th NY) - Anna Eshoo (D-14th CA) - Lane Evans (D-17th IL) - Sam Farr (D-17th CA) - Chaka Fattah (D-2nd PA) - Bob Filner (D-51st CA) - James Greenwood (R-8th PA) - Raul Grijalva (D-7th AZ) - Luis Gutierrez (D-4th IL) - Maurice Hinchey (D-22nd NY) - Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-DE) - Dennis Kucinich (D-10th OH) - James Langevin (D-2nd RI) - Barbara Lee (D-9th CA) - Nita Lowey (D-18th NY) - Carolyn Maloney (D-14th NY) - Edward Markey (D-7th MA) - Karen McCarthy (D-5th MO) - Betty McCollum (D-4th MN) - Michael McNulty (D-21st NY) - Marty Meehan (D-5th MA) - Gregory Meeks (D-6th NY) - Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-37th CA) - George Miller (D-7th CA) - Dennis Moore (D-3rd KS) - Richard Neal (D-2nd MA) - James Oberstar (D-8th MN) - John Olver (D-1st MA) - Donald Payne (D-10th NJ) - Joseph Pitts (R-16th PA) - Bobby Rush (D-1st IL) - Martin Olav Sabo (D-5th MN) - Loretta Sanchez (D-47th CA) - Bernie Sanders (Independent VT) - José Serrano (D-16th NY) - Chris Shays (R-4th CT) - Ike Skelton (D-4th MO) - Pete Stark (D-13th CA) - John Tierney (D-6th MA) - Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-11th OH) - Mark Udall (D-2nd CO) - Chris Van Hollen (D-8th MD) - Nydia M. Velazquez (D-12 NY) - Henry Waxman (D-30th CA) - Lynn Woolsey (D-6th CA) - David Wu (D-1st OR).


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