Urgent Action: Colombia September 2013

Colombian partners threatened with death

A piece of paper was slipped under the door of the NOMADESC office in Cali, Colombia on Sunday, September 15 in the middle of a human rights workshop with the Women’s Committee of the Sugar Cane Cutters of Pradera. The note says that the following people will be punished with death: BERENICE CELEYTA and OLGA ARAUJO of NOMADESC; ALFAMIR CASTILLO of the Women’s Committee of the Cane Cutters; and MARTA GIRALDO of MOVICE – Valle de Cauca.  NOMADESC works with communities and social organizations in the southwest region of Colombia including indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, trade unions, women’s groups and student organizations.  They work to defend and promote human rights and as a result, are frequently the target of death threats and attempts on their lives (see below for more information).

CoDev and our Canadian partners have supported the work of NOMADESC since 2003.  Please take a moment to send a letter to Colombian President Juan Manual Santos to let him know that Canadians are concerned about these threats and asking him to take action to insure the safety and well-being of these individuals.

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CoDev Colombian partner, NOMADESC works to defend the rights of Colombian communities and trade unionists through education, accompaniment, advocacy and mobilization. They are an integral part of human rights work in the southwest of the country working directly with indigenous, afro-Colombian and campesinos communities as well as unions, women and youth.

In the midst of the ongoing human rights crisis in Colombia, NOMADESC responds to urgent needs as well as maintaining its critical education and organizing work.  With official peace talks between the Colombian government and the main guerrilla group underway, NOMADESC has worked to make the voices of communities and social movements heard.  They helped to plan and mobilise participation in the National Peace Congress in April 2013, that saw 20,000 Colombians come together to debate how Colombians want to see their country.

Each of the four human rights defenders have been threatened for their work in the past:

ALFAMIR CASTILLO – Alfamir Castillo is the mother of Darvey Mosquera Castillo who was the victim, along with another young man, of extrajudicial execution by the army in 2008. After being killed, his body was dressed in guerrilla fatigues and presented as a casualty of the war against the guerrillas.  This practice, misnamed “false positives”, enabled the armed forces to show results in their fight against the guerrilla and provided individual soldiers and battalions with rewards. More than 3,000 cases of false positives have been reported to the Colombian authorities.

Seven senior military officials were convicted in the death of Mosquera Castillo and several others are still facing charges. Alfamir Castillo and her family have been threatened numerous times during this process as well as having her home watched and her children threatened.  As a member of the Women’s Committee of the Sugar Cane Cutters of Pradera, Alfamir works closely with, and has been supported by, NOMADESC.

MARTA GIRALDO – Marta Giraldo is the daughter of Jose Orlando Giraldo who was assassinated by the Colombian Armed Forces in 2006 in another case of a “false positive”. Marta worked tirelessly to bring her father’s case to justice and in doing so became the target of repeated threats and attacks. On the day a soldier was finally brought to trial for her father’s assassination, Marta Giraldo’s uncle, a witness in the trial was shot in the head.  Despite the threats and attacks, Marta has continued her work for justice for victims, founding the Valle de Cauca chapter of MOVICE (Movement of Victims of State Violence). Marta Giraldo works closely with NOMADESC.

OLGA ARAUJO and BERENICE CELEYTA – Olga Araujo and Berenice Celeyta both work with NOMADESC. Olga was introduced to NOMADESC’s work as a human rights workshop participant several years ago.  She later joined the NOMADESC team and is responsible for the education work with their network of communities.  Berenice is the founder of NOMADESC and a well-known human rights leader in Colombia.  In 1998, She along with three other Colombian human rights defenders were awarded the Robert F Kennedy Human Rights award. In 2004, Celeyta was one of 175 human rights activists and unionists targeted by the Colombian government for assassination in a plan called “Operation Dragon”.  Two colonels and two majors of the Colombian Army were sentenced in June 2013 for responsibility in the assassination plan. Celeyta has travelled to Canada on several occasions to meet with Canadian partners, most recently in March 2013.

Human rights violations against community and social leaders continue to be a major concern in Colombia. Sixty-nine human rights defenders were assassinated in 2012, including 18 trade unionists.  In the midst of this violence, threats such as this latest one, are not taken lightly and international response is critical.  Thank you for taking action and helping to protect human rights in Colombia.