Colombia: resolutions on human rights defenders, peace and carceral and political prisoners’ situation

Resolution adopted by FIDH 38th Congress

Presented by: Colectivo de Abogados” José Alvear Restrepo”- CCAJAR-, Comité permanente para la defensa de los derechos humanos –CPDH-, Instituto de servicios legales alternativos-ILSA-, y Organización femenina popular –OFP- (Colombie)

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), meeting at the 38th World Congress in Istanbul, Turkey, held on 23-27 May 2013,


On human rights defenders situation

WHEREAS

Colombia is the world’s most dangerous country for the exercise of human rights defence. Between January 2008 and June 2012, 142 activists were killed. In the past year alone, 69 defenders were victims of extrajudicial executions and 288 were victims of other types of aggression, such as attacks, threats and arbitrary detainment. 22% of the attacks were targeted against female human rights defenders.
The government of Colombia has stated that it protects over 3,500 human rights defenders, but as acknowledged by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in its report on Colombia 2012 (A/HRC/22/17/Add.3*), these measures are inadequate or insufficient. The report also denounces the impunity for attacks and threats aimed at defenders: “The vast majority of investigations into crimes against human rights defenders are in the preliminary stages in the Attorney General’s Office, partly because prosecutors with high caseloads tend to favour less complex cases”.

Acts of intelligence, illegal interception of communications and persecution of human rights defenders persist, and the investigation of criminal activities perpetrated by the Department of National Security (DAS) under the government of Alvaro Uribe Vélez, although resulting in some criminal sanctions applied to middle-level officials, has not led to the prosecution and sanction of the government officials mainly responsible.

FIDH itself, and its members organisation in Colombia, in particular the José Alvear Restrepo Attorneys Group (Colectivo de Abogados” José Alvear Restrepo”- CCAJAR), were victims of systematic persecutions by the DAS. The closure of the DAS did not involve vetting state institutionalism. The abovementioned OHCHR report states: “The DAS closure process continued in 2012. Some of its records were secured at the National Archive. They must be organized and reviewed for use in truth, justice and other accountability processes. The High Commissioner is concerned that approximately 5,000 former DAS employees were transferred to other Government departments with no vetting process.” More serious is that most of them are now part of the Technical Investigation Group (Judicial Police) in the nation’s Office of the Attorney General.

The FIDH Congress manifests its demands addressed to Colombia’s National Attorney General’s Office with regard to the impunity for the attacks on and persecution of human rights defenders in Colombia. It deplores that, as of today, the Attorney General’s Office has given no positive response to the Belgian investigating judge who has opened an investigation on the DAS crimes in Europe, which targeted also FIDH.

The FIDH Congress urges the Colombian government to publicly acknowledge the legitimacy of the defenders’ work, their contribution to democracy, justice and the state of law, and demands that the notion that the military is a victim of a “legal war” be removed from the official language used by the government and the armed forces, while they are jeopardizing victims, human rights defenders and judicial officials who work on court cases in which they find state agents involved in responsibility for the violation of human rights.

Similarly, the Congress urges the Colombian authorities to disallow the constitutional reform approved on 12 December 2012 which extends military criminal law to acts not typical of the service, because it opens a door to impunity for international crimes.
Lastly, the FIDH Congress, meeting in Istanbul from 23-27 May 2013, urges the Colombian State to review open cases and convictions of human rights defenders, and demands the release of DAVID RABELO CRESPO, a human rights defender accused by the antiterrorism prosecutor 22 William Gildardo Pacheco, who was removed in 1992 by the Attorney General’s Office and condemned for his participation as an agent of the national police in the enforced disappearance of a young man in 1991.

RESOLVES

To manifest its demands addressed to the Colombian National Attorney General’s Office regarding the impunity for attacks on and persecution of human rights defenders in Colombia. It deplores that as of today the Attorney General’s Office has given no positive response to the Belgian investigating judge who has opened an investigation of DAS crimes in Europe, of which the FIDH has also been a victim.

To urge the Colombian government to publicly acknowledge the legitimacy of the defenders’ work, their contribution to democracy, justice and the state of law, and demands the removal of the notion that the military is a victim of a “legal war” from the official language used by the government and the armed forces, while they are jeopardizing victims, human rights defenders and judicial officials who work on court cases in which they find state agents involved in the violation of human rights.

To urge the Colombian authorities to disallow the constitutional reform approved on 12 December 2012 which extends military criminal law to acts not typical of the service, because it opens a door to impunity for international crimes.
To enjoin the Colombian State to review open cases and convictions of human rights defenders, and demands the release, among others, of DAVID RABELO CRESPO, a human rights defender accused by antiterrorism prosecutor 22 William Gildardo Pacheco, who was removed in 1992 by the Attorney General’s Office for his participation as an agent for the national police in the enforced disappearance of a young man in 1991.


On peace

WHEREAS

Colombia is a member of the Organisation of American States and is bound by the 1969 Inter‑American Convention on Human Rights,

Given that Colombia ratified the Rome Statute of 1998 which punishes war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, and having received the ultimatum by the International Criminal Court, which has determined to intervene if Colombia do not respect its obligation to condemn such crimes [1],

Whereas the internal armed conflict between the State and armed insurgencies, and which has produced a constant and systematic violation of human rights against its citizens for more than a half century,

Recognizing the implication of Colombia in the commission of a multitude of crimes perpetrated during the last fifty years, such as forced disappearances, land seizures, false positives or crimes of sexual violence,

Emphasising the key role of companies implementing natural resource exploitation and mega energy projects, in the start and the continuation of the ongoing internal armed conflict in Colombia,

Given the persecution of opposition political movements, trade union, peasant, indigenous and student organisations, and human rights defenders, who continue to be stigmatised and prosecuted with the purpose of weakening and eliminating social protests and alternative proposals,

Welcoming the negotiation initiatives tu put an end to this situation of violence, as well as the recent unilateral cease fire announced by the guerilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia,

Hoping for a move toward the bilateral cessation of hostilities, and the early adherence of the National Liberation Army (ELN),

Acknowledging the support of international organisations, such as the Inter‑American Commission for Human Rights, the United Nations, as well as the International Federation for Human Rights, and their support of the processes of peaceful resolution of conflict in Colombia,

Denouncing the shortcomings of the constitutional reforms of the Legal Framework for Peace and the Jurisdiction of Military Criminal Courts, which leave the door open for impunity and favourable treatment of soldiers involved in the commission of international crimes in the event of a peace agreement being successfully negotiated,

Asserting our strong will for these processes to result in a just and sustainable peace agreement which will bring the rule of law and lasting peace to Colombia,

The FIDH World Congress:

Calls on the government of Colombia to comply with the international standards of international criminal law, and to satisfy the requirements and standards of justice imposed by the international community in contexts of transitions,

Urges the government of Colombia to protect the rights of victims and guarantee their access to truth, justice and full reparation, using these requirements as conditions and guidelines for peace talks,

Hopes that the democratic transition moves toward eliminating the practices of persecution and harassment of social protest movements and human rights defenders, such as unfair and malicious prosecutions, in order to achieve a real and effective national reconciliation,

Calls for these negotiations to lead to inclusive and democratic structural changes, as well as economic and environmental reforms to put an end to the implementation of unfair projects of the exploitation of natural resources, disrespectful of the environment, and which help to maintain the situation of violence,

Calls for compliance with the jurisprudence of the Inter‑American Human Rights Court in this matter, in particular on the balance between justice and peace as a result of negotiations and that it not be used as a mechanism for de facto impunity [2], particularly for crimes committed by the Colombian State,

Requires that the Colombian State accurately determines, in statutory laws, the conditions for constitutional reforms that will serve to define the peace process, in such a way that they do not act as a way to legitimate impunity,

Requires that Colombia comply with the democratic requirements of the State of Law, which dictate that perpetrators are brought to justice by a competent, impartial and independent tribunal,

Requests that the Colombian state comply with its fundamental duties of protecting its citizens, implementing efficient guarantees of non‑repetition in order that peace will not only mean the end of war, but the construction of a new sustainable and lasting peace, with real justice,

Demands transparency in negotiations in order to create a forum of expression of civil society, and in particular for the victims who have suffered the causes and effects of a war that continues to ravage Colombia for more than fifty years.


On Carceral situation and political prisoners in Colombia

WHEREAS
Colombia has been undergoing political, social and armed conflict for over 50 years due to structural reasons such as the political, economic and social exclusion, affecting half of the population, and the social inequalities created by the accumulation of land and capital which has led to the rising of armed groups aiming to bring down the constitutional regime, whose members are considered as political prisoners and many of whom are deprived of liberty.

The Colombian State is seeking to discredit the reputation of the rebels in Colombia with the intention of denying the existence of political prisoners, who are currently in jail because they were members of a guerrilla group or because they are the victims of judicial manipulation due to their opposition.

Known legal mechanisms have been implemented -“enemy criminal law” “derecho penal enemigo”-, which consist of bringing persons to trial for their ideas and their opposition to government practices whether or not they belong to a guerrilla group; many have been imprisoned for belonging or supposedly belonging to insurgent groups and are presumed to want to bring down the current constitutional regime.

Through legislative reforms and jurisprudence, the Colombian State is striving to distort political crimes and related offences so that it can claim that there are no political prisoners, so that of the 9,500 political prisoners only 2,117 would be in prison for political crimes such as coup d’Etat, sedition and rebellion, and so that the number of prisoners for related offences such as bearing arms illegally, the use of uniforms or insignias, abduction, abduction for ransom would thus stand at 9,829 [3], this does not include the 9,707 [4] persons imprisoned for conspiracy to commit a crime, a significant number of whom also stand accused of being members of rebel groups which constitutes a failure to recognize that rebellion and conspiracy to commit a crime are mutually exclusive.

In prisons, political prisoners do not have the minimum conditions or treatment needed to protect their dignity, nor do they have any legal benefits; they are not relocated so as to be closer their families, and have no guarantee for their safety: moreover, prisoners are not segregated in accordance with the standards of the National Penitentiary and Jail Institute (Instituto Nacional Penitenciario y Carcelario -INPEC); additionally, wounded persons have been arrested and jailed and have not been given the required level of medical treatment, leading to serious consequences to their health and, in certain cases, death. The same is seen in cases of pathological diseases that prisoners either have on arriving in prison or that they acquire while in prison.

It has been established that persons imprisoned for being part of a rebel group, for thinking differently, for belonging to social or political movements, and for defending human rights are victims of abuse, torture, restrictions, and of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment at the hands of prison guards working for the national penal system INPEC. In many cases guerrilla leaders have been interned in paramilitary prison yards, clearly putting at risk the lives of these political prisoners.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (CICR) has acknowledged that inmates in Colombia continue to live in difficult and crowded conditions, that their numbers have increased and that these factors directly affect their quality of life and detention conditions which, in turn, encroach on fundamental rights such as: minimum vital space, access to healthcare, and the availability of water –which directly affects hygienic conditions for prisoners. [5]

The difficult situation that political prisoners are in is inherent to the structural crisis facing the prison system in Colombia which is rooted in the lack of criminal and penal policies as described by the The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in their report on Colombia 2012, (A/HRC/22/17/Add.3*) which states,

“The prison crisis remains of serious concern, due to acute overcrowding of 50 per cent above capacity, as well as the increase in the number of persons deprived of their liberty as a result of the overuse of custodial sentencing. In many parts of Colombia, the penitentiary system violates the rights of the almost 120,000 people currently incarcerated, and courts have recognized this lack of health care, food, recreation and sports, education and paid work, as well as the poor health conditions”.

Colombia has ratified various international human rights and international humanitarian law instruments, and is bound by the constitution to apply these instruments and the national instruments provided for under the constitution without distinction [6]. .

RESOLVES
To urge the Colombian State, in application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocols which condemns and forbids acts that are a threat to life and to the inviolability and the dignity of the person as a whole. This includes persons who have been imprisoned. The Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, which applies to declared wars or any other form of armed conflict, and Article 3 establish that persons not involved in conflict due to illness, wounds, detention or for any other reason will, in all circumstances, be treated with humanity and without discrimination on the basis of race, colour, religion, or any other similar criterion [7].

Demands that the Colombian State comply with international standards that call for the humane treatment for political prisoners and which forbid any act that causes death or that seriously jeopardizes their health; and that be provided the necessary medical care and other measures to separate prisoners by criteria such as type of offence, age, etc., and all the more so in the case of political prisoners.

Calls on the Colombian government to acknowledge the existence of prisoners of war in Colombia, to place said prisoners in prison yards reserved for them, to ensure the exercise of their fundamental rights inside prisons by guaranteeing the protection of their fundamental rights, and by seeing this as a step towards the building of the much longed for peace sought after peace, with respect for human dignity and acknowledging their role as a political offenders with altruistic aims.

Requests that the Colombian Government consider the report presented by legislators and by the representatives of human rights organisations which contains an assessment of current conditions for the members of guerrilla organisations living prisons, and that a mechanism be created to implement the recommendations [in the report] aimed at improving detention conditions in prisons throughout the country.
Requests the Colombian State to authorise national and international human rights organisations to verify prison conditions [in prisons] and ascertain that prisoners of war receive special and differential treatment.

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