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Campaign for the Right to Defend Human Right

Sábado 12 de noviembre de 2011

In Colombia, being a human rights defender is a dangerous, often deadly job. Those working on issues ranging from environmental issues to the rights of women, campesinos, the indigenous and other victims of the armed conflict receive threats to their physical and psychological integrity and that of their families, on a daily basis. And things are getting worse.

In April 2009 we learned that over the last seven years the national intelligence agency (known as DAS), has systematically and without warrant tapped the phones and emails of Colombia’s major human rights groups, journalists, and even Supreme Court judges. DAS is alleged to have collaborated with paramilitaries against them, restricted their international travel, threatened and brought baseless prosecutions against them – all to “neutralize and restrict” defenders’ work.

Colombian officials have widely targeted and persecuted legitimate defenders, calling them a threat to ‘democratic security.’ Officials have continuously discredited defenders in public, accusing them of ties to guerrilla groups or being motivated by political gain. The government has brought baseless criminal charges against them, often based on false information from military and police intelligence files. In the context of an armed conflict this has not only resulted in greater stigmatization of social and non-governmental organizations, but has also increased an environment of hostility characterized by waves of assassinations, forced disappearances, sexual violence, death threats, raids and the theft of sensitive information. Those responsible for violations against defenders are almost never punished and impunity remains the norm.

In response to these continuous and escalating threats, Colombian and international human rights organizations began brainstorming ideas of how they could bring coordinated and sustained pressure on the Colombian government to really address these issues. They thought of the idea of creating a national and international campaign. The aim of the campaign is to bring sustained and coordinated pressure on the Colombian government in order to achieve a positive lasting and significant change for the country’s human rights defenders. At the national level the objective is to raise consciousness of the work of defenders and to counter the lies told about them. Internationally, the aim is to coordinate messages so that those supporting the campaign, while continuing their important individual work, also come together to insist on some key recommendations that would lead to major improvements in the working environment and physical security of human rights defenders in Colombia.

The campaign will address five key areas where change is needed in order to improve guarantees and protection for defenders. These areas are:

Impunity in cases involving defenders. Misuse of State Intelligence against defenders. Systematic stigmatization of defenders by government officials. Unfounded criminal proceedings brought against defenders. Problems with the protection program for defenders at risk. The campaign will be officially launched in Colombia on September 9 to coincide with the UN Special Rapporteur’s visit to Colombia, and advocacy events will be organized in 2009 and 2010, at different times in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.

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Fondo para La Sociedad Civil Colombiana por la Paz, los Derechos Humanos y la democracia.

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