Religious, human rights and civil society organizations address the President of Colombia on his Statements about International Human Rights Organizations in San José de Apartadó.

June 17, 2004

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

Dear President Uribe:

We are representatives of religious, human rights, and civil society organizations writing to express our concern regarding recent statements in which you questioned the legitimacy of the work of international human rights organizations in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó.

We energetically condemn the bombing of a discotheque on May 22, 2004 in Apartadó, which, as an attack against the civilian population, constitutes a grave breach of International Humanitarian Law. We support your government's efforts to investigate and prosecute such crimes.

We would like to affirm our support for Peace Brigades International (PBI) and the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and their valuable work promoting human rights in Colombia. The presence of these organizations has helped to protect the rights of civilians in various communities, including the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó. In San José de Apartadó, the civilian population has endured massacres, forced disappearances and other human rights violations. The vulnerability of this community prompted the Inter-American Court on Human Rights to issue Provisional Measures that compel the Colombian state to protect the community and "the persons who offer services to the community."

However, in your speech at a security meeting in Apartadó on May 27, 2004, you declared that international organizations are obstructing justice: "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." You further 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." It is our understanding that the international organizations with a presence in San José-Fellowship of Reconciliation, Navarra Nuevo Futuro and Peace Brigades International-strictly abide by Colombian laws.

Following these statements, in San José de Apartadó on June 2, several agents from DAS accompanied by a large group of soldiers entered the community and presented the volunteers from Peace Brigades International with a written order for a meeting. While the purpose of the meeting was purportedly to conduct an "administrative check," the two PBI volunteers who attended the meeting at the DAS office were subjected to interrogation-like questioning. They were further told to sign a legal document called a "voluntary deposition" ("version libre"), which is often the first step in a criminal investigation.

PBI subsequently met with the Colombian Vice-President Francisco Santos to ask for a rectification of the May 27th statements as well as to express concern regarding the incidents with the DAS. The Director of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia, Michael Frühling, accompanied PBI in this meeting.

A similar incident occurred in August 21, 2003, when then-Commander of the Colombian Armed Forces, General Jorge Enrique Mora, convened a press conference in which international organizations, including PBI and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), were accused of being tacitly complicit with the activities of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in another community in Urabá. Following these statements, the Colombian Human Rights Ombudsman (Defensoría del Pueblo) found this that accusation "did not correspond to reality and, on the contrary, could put the community at risk."

Such comments are in direct contravention of Recommendation 32 of the 60th Session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights: "The Commission reiterates its particular concern regarding the climate of hostility that has been generated regarding the work of human rights defenders, and calls upon the Government of Colombia to take steps to enforce Ministry of Defence Directive 09 of July 2003, whereby public servants are instructed to respect human rights defenders and the work of their organizations. It calls on the Government of Colombia to ensure that no generalized public statements are made which might serve to endanger the rights of people involved in the defence of human rights..."

Given these concerns, we respectfully ask you to make a public declaration in support of international organizations working in the region of Urabá. We would greatly appreciate it if you could ensure that the "carta de aval" (letter of support), which has been granted to Peace Brigades International since it first began its work in Colombia in 1994, be reaffirmed in writing by Vice President Santos. In addition, it would be important for clear directives to be sent to all civilian and military officials in the region of Urabá 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 UNHCR and the Colombian Human Rights Ombudsman. Finally, it is essential that Sentence T 327 of the Constitutional Court issued on April 15, 2004 be applied, which requires the full implementation of the Provisional Measures granted to San José by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights that oblige the state, among other requirements, to "continue allowing participation of the beneficiaries of the provisional measures or their representatives in the planning and implementation of these measures."

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



U.S. based Organizations
Atossa Soltani, Executive Director, Amazon Watch - Alexandra Arriaga, Director for Government Relations, Amnesty International-USA - Mary E. Lord, Assistant General Secretary for Peace and Conflict Resolution, American Friends Service Committee - Bishop Thomas J. Gumbelton, Auxiliary Bishop, Archdiocese of Detroit, Michigan - Rev. Jim Lowder, Interim Executive Director, Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America - Sister Janet Korn RSM, Social Justice Awareness Coordinator, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Rochester - Adam Isacson, Director of Programs, Center for International Policy - Gary Cozette, Director, Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America, Ruth Goring, Co-Director, Chicagoans for a Peaceful Colombia - Cristina Espinel and Barbara Gerlach, Co-Chairs, Colombia Human Rights Committee - Jack Laun, President, Colombia Support Network - Matthew Wade, S.M., Associate Director, Conference of Major Superiors of Men - Meaghan Sheehan, Coordinator, Committee on US/Latin American Relations (CUSLAR), Cornell University - Janet Chisholm, Chair of the National Executive Council - Jackie Lynn, Executive Director, Episcopal Peace Fellowship - The Very Rev. Richard A. Bower, Executive Director, Fundación Cristosal, San Salvador - Kirsten Moller, Executive Director, Global Exchange - Jeff S. Vogt, Assistant General Counsel, International Labor Rights Fund - Alan Forsberg, Board Chair - Glen Gersmehl, National Coordinator, Lutheran Peace Fellowship - Sarah Ford, Director, Office of Public Policy, Lutheran World Relief - Dale Sorensen, Director, Marin Interfaith Taskforce on the Americas - Marie Dennis, Director, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns - Saul Murcia, Co-Director Latin America/Caribbean, Mennonite Central Committee - Blase Bonpane, Director, Office of the Americas - Rev. Elenora Giddings Ivory, Director, Washington Office, Presbyterian Church (USA) - Rick Ufford-Chase, Melissa Schoerke, Len Bjorkman, Co-Chairs, Presbyterian Peace Fellowship - Jacqueline Baker, Legislative Coordinator, School of the Americas Watch - Rev. Ruth Chavez Wallace, Program Associate, Latin America and the Caribbean, United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada - Daniel Kovalik, Assistant General Counsel, United Steelworkers of America, AFL-CIO/CLC - Rev. William G. Sinkford, President, Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations - Rev. Ann Marie Coleman and Rev. Donald Coleman, Co-Senior Ministers, University Church, Chicago - Neil Jeffery, Executive Director, U.S. Office on Colombia - Ana Maria Murillo, Executive Director, U'wa Defense Project - Kimberly Stanton, Deputy Director, Washington Office on Latin America

Canadian based Organizations
Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada - Richard Renshaw, Acting Director, Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace - Gerry Barr, President-CEO, Canadian Council for International Co-operation - Sharon O'Regan, Deputy Director, Canadian Foundation for the Americas (FOCAL) - Kenneth V. Georgetti, President, Canadian Labour Congress, Deborah Bourque, National President, Canadian Union of Postal Workers - Basil "Buzz" Hargrove, President, CAW-Canada - Viviana Patroni, Director, Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean (CERLAC) - Mary Corkery, Executive Director, KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives - Gail Davidson, Executive Director, Lawyers Rights Watch Canada - Viviane Weitzner, Senior Researcher, The North-South Institute - Nancy Montgomery, President of the Board of Directors, Social Justice Committee

Dr. Francisco Santos, Vicepresidente de la República De Colombia - Dra. Carolina Barco, Ministra de Asuntos Exteriores - José Herran-Lima, Director, South American Division- Foreign Affairs Canada - Lorne Craner, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, United States Department of State

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