Human Rights Defender Security Update
On Wednesday, September 17, Inter-Church Commission on Justice and Peace Co-Director Danilo Rueda was followed for 25 minutes in Bogota by men on motorcycles who made provocative gestures at Mr. Rueda’s car. This is the second such incident in the past week. On September 16, Alberto Yepes and Adriana Pestana of the Colombia-Europe-United States Coordination group, an umbrella group of 240 human rights organizations, were assaulted and robbed. The men on motorcycles stole a computer and cell phones with sensitive information. This robbery comes 10 days after a death threat was circulated listing Yepes’ name as a “military objective.” The same threat listed over 90 human rights defenders, among them Afro-Colombian activists activists Jairo Caicedo (AFRODES), Father Emigdio Cuesta (Conferencia Nacional Afro-Colombiana), Juan Carabali (Mesa Organizaciones Afro-Colombianas), Virgelina Chara (Asomujer y Trabajo) and Orlando Pantoja (COCOCAUCA). Days earlier on September 2, labor rights leaders in the Valle del Cauca región received a death threat from the Rastrojos paramilitary Group. Indigenous leaders, too, have suffered in this latest wave of violence, as the ELN guerrilla group assassinated two indigenous leaders in the Choco department, who they claimed to be “informants of the state.” WOLA joins the United Nations in condemning this unconscionable act.
These latest acts of violence are particularly concerning given recent reports that there is insufficient financing for protection measures for human and labor rights leaders in Colombia. WOLA strongly condemns the attacks, and encourages the United States to assist Colombia in finding the funds necessary to provide protection to these leaders at this critical time in Colombia’s history. Political gestures, too, can save lives; the Vice President of Colombia should publicly condemn all of these latest threats and attacks, and direct the Attorney General to investigate the incidents.