Open letter of the international bureau of FIDH to the president of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos

Press release
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We, the members of the International Bureau of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), all human rights defenders from the five continents, are willing to express our deep concern about the repeated attacks against the members of the Colectivo de Abogados “José Alvear Restrepo” (CCAJAR).

Since November 2011, the CCAJAR is the subject of a campaign aimed at delegitimizing their work, when you called, after the outbreak of the scandal of false testimony in the case of Mapiripán, its members of “devious persons” and “corrupt”. In this regard it is recalled that on May 14 2012 Mariela Contreras, who had given false testimony in the case of Mapiripán, testified before the Human Rights Office confirming that the CCAJAR did not induce her to lie neither to the Fiscalía nor to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Your statements, coupled with those from members of the Armed Forces who affirm that the CCAJAR engages in legal war, and with the announcement of “exemplary sanctions” at the judicial level, claimed by several ministers of your government and by the Attorney General’s Office against CCAJAR, constitute a very serious precedent as far as they reveal the will, from the highest levels of the Colombian State, to stigmatize and discredit the CCAJAR. For over thirty years, the CCAJAR has demonstrated its commitment to representing victims of crimes against humanity and war crimes, and fulfills a vital role in defending human rights and the rule of law in Colombia. In its Annual Report 2011, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expressed its concern regarding your statements, as they “may have a negative impact on the work of Colombian human rights organizations. In recent decades these organizations have pursued their human rights advocacy in situations marked by serious risk to the point that it has cost many human rights defenders’ lives, and has led the Commission to repeatedly request that the Colombian State respect and protect their activity. [1]

Despite repeated demands, neither you nor your ministers have withdrawn these statements, which show a lack of recognition of the work of these human rights defenders and put them in a situation of helplessness and risk. Last week, the Comptroller, whose mandate covers instead state activities but not the civil society, called to various members of the CCAJAR to testify as suspects, in relation to allegations of enrichment in the case of the slaughter of Mapiripán. While we understand that these facts can be investigated, we ask again that you rectify your statements and issue a declaration supporting the legitimate work of NGOs and CCAJAR in protecting and representing the victims. In 2005, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has condemned the Colombian State for the Mapiripan massacre. It is the duty of a democratic state to accept legal proceedings and court decisions, including at the Inter-American level, when State actors violate human rights.

This aggravates the situation of vulnerability of CCAJAR, which has been granted precautionary measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The CCAJAR was also subject to actions of intimidation and violence in March at the bus station near the headquarters of CCAJAR, when a group of people handed out fliers delegitimizing the work of the organization. This is in addition to multiple threats that have come to CCAJAR from paramilitary groups. Finally, there have been serious acts of violence against members of CCAJAR on which our league has directly communicated information to you.

In this situation, we, the members of the International Bureau of FIDH, stating that under no circumstances CCAJAR engages in legal war, request the rectification of your statements and the recognition of the legitimacy of this organization. Also, we urge you to immediately take special protection measures for the members of CCAJAR and their families, and to release the intelligence files relating to human rights defenders.

FIDH welcomed with hope your commitment to stop verbal attacks against human rights defenders and to protect their work in Colombia. We also hope that you will comply with your promise and break with the practices of your predecessor.

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