Urgent Action: Increasing Death Threats in Colombia
New Round of Death Threats against Union Leaders and Human Rights Defenders in Colombia
CoDevelopment Canada’s Colombian partner NOMADESC has informed us of a new round of death threats against numerous human rights defenders and union leaders in the Valle de Cauca region by the paramilitary group Gaitanistas Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC). This is the latest incident in a recent increase in human rights abuses in Colombia.
On April 11th 2016, a series of envelopes containing threatening messages from the paramilitary group Gaitanistas Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) were discovered at the Colombian Labour Central (CUT), Solidarity Committee with Political Prisoners (CSPP) and NOMADESC main offices.
The envelopes were slipped underneath the doors of the above-mentioned organizations and were addressed to Martha Giraldo, technical secretary of MOVICE in Valle (National Movement of State Crime Victims); Jose Milciades Sanchez of SINTRAUNICOL (National Union of University Workers and Employees of Colombia); Walter Agredo of CSPP (Solidarity Committee with Political Prisoners) and Wilson Sáenz of the CUT-Valle (Colombian Labour Central).
The messages declare the following people military targets, and warn that anyone accompanying them will be gunned down: Walter Agredo, Rodrigo Vargas, Hernán Arciniegas, Wilson Sáenz, Julián Lozano, José Milciades Sánchez, Martha Giraldo, Ariel Díaz, Edison Méndez, Carlos Murcia, Ismael Hurtado, Henry Domínguez, Jorge Iván Vélez, Albert Quintero and Antonio Gutiérrez, as well as making reference to the Congress of the People. Mr. Sáenz, Mr. Lozano, Mr. Milciades Sánchez and Mr. Velez were all subjects of a death threat in December 2015.
Please join CoDev in calling on the Colombian government to ensure the safety of the threatened activists and to investigate and dismantle the paramilitary groups operating in Colombia.
In 2003 the Colombian government began a formal process to demobilize the paramilitary group the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia. The process came under significant criticism; only a small fraction of the 30,000 supposedly demobilized paramilitaries were convicted of human rights-related crimes, and according to reports from organizations including Amnesty International, paramilitary groups continued to operate under new names. In recent months human rights organizations including NOMADESC have reported increased threats and assassinations of activists by paramilitary groups in regions throughout Colombia.
NOMADESC stresses that these latest threats are part of an ongoing strategy by these re-constituted paramilitary groups to assassinate and intimidate social movement leaders. NOMADESC notes that the human rights group Somos Defensores (We Are Defenders) has registered 113 threats against human rights defenders in Colombia since the beginning of 2016. Of those, 81 were death threats, and 19 people have been assassinated.
At this important moment in the peace process, such widespread paramilitary actions are particularly troubling. There is concern for the safety of both demobilized combatants and communities in conflict zones, particularly in regions where there is a struggle for control over illegal activities and where communities are defending against forcible displacements.