Will Canada go ahead with its secretly-negotiated Free Trade Agreement with Colombia while paramilitaries reaffirm their control in the country and the Colombian president publicly attacks human rights defense organizations?
Practicing political accompaniment with peasant communities displaced from their territory by the paramilitary structure of the Colombian state, our organization, Colombia Accompaniment and Solidarity Project (PASC), has always opposed the negotiation of a free trade agreement with Colombia, which will cause the multiplication of forced displacements of populations such as those precipitated by Canadian mining companies in a country that counts already three million internal refugees. Now that a Free Trade Agreement, negotiated in secret, has recently been passed, we are very concerned by the support Canada is giving to the Uribe government that, while paramilitaries re-establish control of the land, allows them to act in total impunity and instead publicly denounces national and international organizations that work to promote human rights.
The Red de Hermandad y Solidaridad Colombia (RedHer), a network that brings together Colombian human rights organizations with 35 European and North American organizations, including PASC, that practice international accompaniment in Colombia, has become a target of paramilitaries and the state.
On October 2nd, the German researcher Christine Friederike Muller, a member of the RedHer, was arrested while accompanying sugar cane workers in a mobilization in Valle del Cauca, and deported the same day.
On October 6th, a written death threat signed by the “Aguilas Negras bloque Disidente AUC” was sent to the Red de Hermandad y Solidaridad con Colombia. The paramilitaries declared all the member organizations of the RedHer [naming each by name] as military targets – including our Canadian organization, Colombia Accompaniment and Solidarity Project (PASC). The threat states further that if these organizations do not desist they will suffer the same fate as the recent victims of paramilitarism. The letter was followed by a list of 38 members of social organizations assassinated in recent months.
On October 13th, three French journalists, members of the RedHer, Damien Fellous, Julien Dubois, and Joris Prot were arrested while reporting on a mobilization of sugar cane workers in Valle del Cauca. Two of the journalists were deported the next day.
On October 18th, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe stated in a televised speech that the French journalists should have been incarcerated on Colombian soil: “these foreign gentlemen should be in prison, we should not have deported them. We should have sent them to justice and thrown them in prison because they are provoking violence”. The Colombian government is trying by any means necessary to discredit organizations that demand human rights in Colombia: “Here, in Colombia, they apologize for crimes” and abroad, “they misrepresent the truth”, he accused (in his speech, reported in the French journal Le Parisien, AFP, October 19, 2008).
This onslaught of accusations and attacks against international accompaniment comes at a critical moment when paramilitary presence is growing in power by the multiplication of extra-judicial assassinations, disappearances, death threats and, in many regions of the country, exactions against witnesses of paramilitary crimes that multiply at the same rate as armed confrontations that target civilian populations.
This renewed outbreak of the strategy of elimination of the opposition is tangible on the ground. The Justicia y Paz Commission, with whom we carry out our accompaniment in displaced communities in Lower Atrato, Choco, received direct threats. Their accompaniers on the ground have all received death threats on their personal cell phones and one of them was detained by paramilitaries. On October 14th, the paramilitaries attacked and killed Walberto Hoyos, a peasant acting as a witness in numerous trials against paramilitary attacks implicating local police authorities, despite the fact that the Interamerican Court of Human Rights issued an injunction to the Colombian government to ensure his personal protection. Walberto Hoyos had an armed body guard from D.A.S. to oversee his security, he was nonetheless assassinated by paramilitary agents, who, we were able to establish, circulate freely in the region in spite of the massive presence of police and army personnel.
The violence and repression has taken place in the context of negotiations and the implementation of Free Trade Agreements between Colombia and Canada, the United States and other countries. The Canadian government and Canadian companies are also responsible for the situation in Colombia. As Canadian citizens, it is troubling to note that our government supports and interacts with a government that has been denounced internationally for its violations of human rights, particularly towards indigenous populations. It is equally revolting to know that Canadian companies, notably in the mining sector, invest in projects in Colombia that have devastating social and environmental impacts.
We demand the Canadian government acts so that President Uribe puts an end to the violence. We demand equally that the Harper government revisits its position on the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia.
LETTER TOO YOUR DEPUTY
found your on deputy here: your deputy
Dear Sir or Madame;
We write to you today to express our profound concern and bring to your attention various facts in the hopes that you take a position that can make a difference.
For many months Canada has been in negotiations for a bilateral trade accord with Colombia. Mr. Harper visited his Colombian counterpart in 2007, congratulating him for his efforts in promoting human rights. This compliment has had a disastrous effect. The measures undertaken by the Colombian government have neither fully satisfied the recommendations of numerous United Nations organizations nor the Interamerican Court of Human Rights; in fact for many months, international human rights organizations report a worsening of violations and the complacency of the Colombian state, when it is not outright complicity, without mentioning the context of impunity that governs over the so-called peace process.
In recent weeks, the exceptional multiplication of cases has motivated the European Deputies to submit a declaration, on October 22nd, 2008, denouncing the most recent violations against Indigenous communities of Cauca and the deportation of international observers from Europe. In facthttp://www.hrw.org/americas]], on October 2nd, The German researcher Christine Friederike Muller was arrested and deported while accompanying a human rights defender in Valle de Cauca. On October 6th, a written death threat signed “Aguilas Negras bloque Disidente AUC”1 : the paramilitaries declared all organizations of the RedHer [naming each of them] as military objectives – including the Canadian organization, Colombia Accompaniment and Solidarity Project (PASC). On October 13th, three French journalists, Damien Fellous, Julien Dubois and Joris Prot were arrested while making a report on the mobilization of sugar cane workers in Valle de Cauca. Two of the three were deported the following day.
On October 18th, the Colombian president Alvaro Uribe stated in a televised speech that the French journalists should have been incarcerated on Colombian soil: “These foreign gentlemen should be in prison, we should not have deported them, better to send them to justice and throw them in prison because they are provoking violence.” 2. The Colombian government is trying by any means necessary to discredit the work of human rights organizations in Colombia. Mister Uribe has attacked José Miguel Vivanco, Regional Director of the Americas for Human Rights Watch, calling him “a defender and accomplice of the FARC”, in a televised speech broadcast on November 2nd on the Uno TV network.
This wave of accusations and threats to accompaniment and international observation comes at a critical moment when the paramilitaries have reaffirmed their power by multiplying extrajudicial assassinations, disappearances and written death threats and, in many regions of the country, exactions against witnesses of paramilitary crimes is multiplying at the same rhythm of the armed confrontations targeted at civilian populations.
The violence and repression takes place within the context of negotiations and the implantation of free trade agreements between Colombia and Canada, the United States and other countries. As Canadian citizens, it is troubling that our government engages with and supports a government that has been denounced internationally and shows no will to end the human rights violations.
We demand that the Canadian government acts in regards to President Uribe to put an end to the violence. We demand equally that the Harper government revisits its position on the free trade agreement with the Colombian government, in light of the social situation that prevails in Colombia.
We hope to count on your support so that Canada takes a position that stands up to its international profile in regards to human rights.
Waiting for an action on your part,
- AUC is the acronym for “United Autonomous Defenders of Colombia”, a paramilitary organization that allegedly has been demobilized.]] was sent to the Red de Hermandad y Solidaridad con Colombia – RedHer T[[he Red de Hermandad y Solidaridad Colombia, a network bringing together Colombian human rights organizations and 35 organizations of Europe and the Americas, including a Canadian organization, who practice international accompaniment in Colombia.
- Uribe’s speech was reported in the French journal Le Parisien, AFP, October 19th, 2008