Urgent Action: Colombia, June 2015

Colombian partner under surveillance

Berenice Celeyta, Director, NOMADESC

Berenice Celeita, Director, NOMADESC

CoDev is concerned for the safety of the director of our Colombian partner organization NOMADESC. Berenice Celeita was under surveillance by unidentified individuals after returning from a visit to Canada and the USA to expose human rights violations in Colombia.

From the evening of June 20th until the early hours of June 21st, a vehicle was parked outside the home of human rights defender Berenice Celeita (sometimes spelled Celeyta) in Bogotá. From her window she saw that the two occupants sitting at the front of the vehicle were taking photographs of her house and she saw a camera flash firing.

Berenice had just returned from a tour to Canada and the USA during which she exposed human rights violations in Colombia that have been on-going throughout the course of Colombia’s long-running internal armed conflict. She focused on the growing violence in the port city of Buenaventura and the importance of bringing to justice international economic interests that have benefitted and played a role in human rights abuses in Colombia.

Berenice called the local police to report the incident and the vehicle immediately drove away.

In the past, human rights defenders who have been under surveillance, including by the security forces, have subsequently been physically attacked.

Berenice Celeita is the director of the Research and Social Action Association (Asociación para la Investigación y Acción Social, NOMADESC). 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 join CoDev in sending a letter to Colombian President Juan Manual Santos to let him know that Canadians are concerned about Berenice’s safety and asking him to take action to ensure Berenice’s safety and well-being.

*For further information please see original urgent action posted by Amnesty International.

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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.

BERENICE CELEITA – 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, was awarded the Robert F Kennedy Human Rights award. In 2004, Celeita 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 their responsibility in the assassination plan. Celeita has travelled to Canada on several occasions to meet with Canadian partners.

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, situations such as this latest one, are not taken lightly and international response is critical. Even with the on-going violence and human rights violations in Colombia, Canada signed a free trade agreement with Colombia which entered into force in 2011. Thank you for taking action and helping to protect human rights in Colombia