Urgent Action: Colombia – Oct 2012

Colombian Human Rights Lawyer, Mariano Jose Guerra, threatened for work with displaced people

While our Colombian partners continue to face constant attacks on their rights this current action request is no longer applicable. We have left a copy of the content of the letter below so that you can read over it if you wish. Thank you to everyone who took action to support human rights defenders in Colombia. We will continue to keep you informed of their work. Please sign up for our e-bulletin to keep informed.

Mariano Jose Guerra speaking at CoDev IS workshop, Oct 2009

CoDev partner, Mariano Jose Guerra, human rights lawyer and former trade union leader in Medellin, Colombia received a death threat on Sunday, September 23. This latest threat against Mariano Jose is connected to his work with victims groups and indigenous communities in Urabá, a highly contested region of Antioquia.

Mariano has told us that he will continue his work assisting displaced communities to claim land that was taken from them. This work is carried out within the 2011 Victims and Land Restitution law that Colombian President Santos brought forward to ostensibly address the serious problem of displacement and stolen land. (An estimated 5.4 million people were violently displaced in Colombia between 2000 and 2011. An estimated 6.6 to 8 million hectares of land were seized or abandoned between 1980 and 2010.) Unfortunately, community leaders working on land issues have increasingly become targets for illegal armed groups. More than 45 human rights defenders and community leaders, many of whom were working on land issues, were killed in 2011.

Mariano Jose has asked that we send letters protesting this latest threat and supporting his work and the right of displaced communities to seek restitution to the Colombian authorities.

TO: Sr. Angelino Garzón, Vicepresidente de la República, Bogotá, D.C.

CC: Sr. Fernando Carrillo Flórez, Ministro del Interior, Colombia; Dra. María Paulina Riveros Dueñas, Directora Programa de Derechos Humanos del Ministerio del Interior, Colombia; Dr. Jorge Armando Otálora Gómez, Defensor del Pueblo, Colombia; Dra. Clemencia Forero-Ucros, Colombian Ambassador to Canada; Mr. Tim Martin, Canadian Ambassador to Colombia

Dear Mr. Vice-President,

I am writing to express my deep concern over the recent death threat received by human rights lawyer and member of Retorno y Vida, MARIANO JOSE GUERRA DIAZ in Medellin. His bodyguard received a threatening call on Sunday, September 23 which declared “Bueno, se lo vamos a quitar, porque se está metiendo mucho en Urabá”.

Mariano Jose Guerra has been working with displaced and indigenous communities in Antioquia who are victims of the internal armed conflict. As such, he has brought various cases to regional and national authorities for justice and reparations on behalf of those communities. Some of those cases involve communities seeking the return of their land under the Victims and Land Restitution Law (Ley de Victimas y de Restitución de Tierra, Law 1448). Working within this legal framework has made Mariano Jose Guerra a target of illegal armed groups. Unfortunately, we know that Mariano Jose Guerra is not alone. According to the Defensoría del Pueblo, 71 people working for land restitution in Colombia were killed between 2006 and 2011.

We ask that you and the government of Colombian government take immediate steps to improve the security of human rights defenders, especially those who are working on land issues. Specifically:

1. That the life and physical integrity of Mariano Jose Guerra be guaranteed and that he be free to continue his work with victims and communities in Antioquia;

2. That the Colombian government look for ways to insure the safety of each person who brings forward an application under the Victims and Land Restitution Law and that each case be dealt with quickly and fairly.

Sincerely,

Additional Background

Mariano Jose Guerra has played an important role in strengthening solidarity between Colombia and Canada and is well-known to CoDev and several Canadian unions including PSAC, CUPE and the BCGEU. He has travelled to Canada several times, most recently in 2009 when he was a special guest at the CUPE National Convention in Montreal, presented to the BCGEU Regional Conference in Kamloops and to the CoDev International Solidarity workshop for union activists.

On Sunday, September 23, 2012, Mariano Jose’s bodyguard and driver received a phone call asking if he was the driver for Mariano Jose. When he indicated that he was, the caller said: “We are going to get rid of him because he is meddling too much in Uraba”. (“Bueno, se lo vamos a quitar, porque se está metiendo mucho en Urabá”).

Since leaving Colombia’s Judicial Branch where he was a prosecution lawyer as well as a leader in the union, Mariano Jose has been working with victims’ groups and indigenous and peasant communities in the province of Antioquia to defend their rights. Most recently, he has been working with communities who are applying to have their land returned to them under the Victims and Land Restitution Law brought in by President Manual Santos in 2011. Although still early on in the process, the law has not yet proven to be an effective mechanism for land return. Unfortunately, though, it has become another excuse to harass and attack human rights defenders and community leaders such as Mariano Jose. According the Colombian government’s Human Rights Ombuds Office, (Defensoría del Pueblo) 71 people working for land restitution were killed between 2006 and 2011.