The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) alerted the U.S. Congress to a death threat e-mail it received on May 14, 2010. The threat names some 80 Colombian human rights, Afro-Colombian, Indigenous, internally displaced and labor rights organizations and individuals. The e-mail received by WOLA and a number of other groups threatened that "as so called human rights defenders don't think you can hide behind the offices of the Inspector General or other institutions… we are watching you and you can consider yourselves dead." WOLA works closely with a number of these organizations and is deeply concerned for the safety of its partners.
"The threatened groups are working to guarantee the rights of displaced peoples and ensure that their humanitarian needs are met," said Gimena Sanchez, Senior Associate at WOLA, who was included in the death threat e-mail. "The work of these human rights defenders contradicts the image that the government of Colombia is portraying to the U.S. Congress as having resolved its security and displacement problems," said Sanchez.
The e-mail signed allegedly by the Central Bloc of the Black Eagles paramilitary group states that these organizations are military targets because they are "highlighting policies against the government."
"WOLA was included in the message because of our role in helping Colombian civil society's voices reach U.S. policymakers," said Sanchez. "This is an effort to silence those of us who want rights to be respected in Colombia."
"We will not be deterred from our work," said Sanchez. "In fact, we forwarded the email to Congress."
The organizations listed in the death threat are long time partners of WOLA that work on internal displacement, Afro-Colombian and indigenous issues. These include the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displaced (CODHES), the Institute for Development and Peace Studies (INDEPAZ), the National Association for Internally Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES), the League of Displaced Women-Cartagena, the Association of Cabildos of Northern Cauca (ACIN), the Jose Alvear Lawyers Collective (CCAJAR) and various Afro-Colombian community councils in the Pacific region.
Several of the groups listed recently visited the U.S. in order to raise awareness of human rights violations linked to the violent takeover of land by illegal armed groups. Many of the groups recently met with UN special mechanisms on ethnic minorities, indigenous peoples and extrajudicial executions; U.S. Members of Congress; and high-level U.S. officials to inform them of such abuses. Many of these organizations also recently signed a collective U.S.-Colombian civil society letter in support of House Resolution 1224 in favor of honoring Colombia's Constitutional Court for its orders on Afro-Colombian, Indigenous and women internally displaced persons.
This message is the latest in a series of threats against Colombian civil society groups. On April 10, U.S. NGOs sent a letter to U.S. Ambassador Brownfield alerting him to another threat against 60 organizations. WOLA has also received numerous reports of other threats, sabotage of activities, and baseless prosecutions against its partners. Along with the threats and harassment, at least sixteen Afro-Colombian and indigenous people have been murdered since January.
WOLA appreciates the interest of high-level officials in the State Department in protecting human rights defenders and Ambassador Brownfield's visits to select human rights organizations in Colombia. However, stronger actions are needed to send a message that threats, murders and other forms of sabotage of human rights work are unacceptable. WOLA has now passed along information about the threats to the U.S. Congress and calls on the State Department to decertify Colombia for not meeting the human rights standards set out by Congress.
Gimena Sanchez, Senior Associate,
[email protected]; WOLA (202) 489-1702