WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
13 Sep 2011 | | News

Take Action to Protect Human Rights Defenders in Colombia

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) wishes to bring to your attention the following recent cases. We also urge you to please contact the US and Colombian authorities listed below in order to act to protect human rights defenders, free those unjustly detained, and seek investigations that lead to justice for those murdered and recipients of death threats.

Murder of Catholic Priest (Chocó)

On September 12, it was revealed that Gualberto Antonio Oviedo Arrieta, a Catholic priest in Capurganá (Chocó) was murdered. The priest, who was dedicated to helping the poor, was killed by machete. He is the sixth Catholic priest to be murdered in 2011. Details of the motives behind the murder are still not known.

Wrongfully Convicted Human Rights Defender Principe Gabriel González (Santander)

On September 7, Human Rights First called upon President Santos to pardon wrongfully convicted human rights defender Principe Gabriel González. Mr. González is a prominent defender with the Regional Coordination for the Political Prisoners Solidarity Committee who was detained in 2006 on baseless charges. He was acquitted and admonished of charges in 2007, but this decision was overturned in March 2009. Convicted of unsubstantiated charges of rebellion and links to guerillas, Mr. González is vulnerable to reprisals by paramilitaries in Pamplona jail.

Detention of Afro-Colombian Leader Elmer Rodallega (Buenaventura)

On September 7, Elmer Valencia Rodallega was detained by SIJIN (Criminal Investigation Unit) agents in Buenaventura and accused of terrorism. Elmer forms part of the Community Council of Lower Naya, is a member of the Movement of Victims of State-Sponsored Crimes (MOVICE), and is a beneficiary of precautionary measures of protection from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Elmer supports Manuel Garces, Mayoral Candidate for López de Micay. The SIJIN accused Elmer of being behind death threats received by Mr. Garces and told him that if he pled guilty for this he would receive a reduced jail sentence.

Previously in June, the SIJIN detained Elmer and Julio Francisco Angulo, and accused them of having placed a grenade and death threat against Mr. Garces. They were released once it was determined that these charges were false. The detention of Elmer appears to be an attempt to silence his efforts at working for truth, justice, and reparations for Naya’s victims.

New Threat Received by Human Rights Defenders (Bogotá)

On September 5, human rights defenders Gerardo Vega, Ana Teresa Bernal, and Luis Emil Sanabria of REDEPAZ, in addition to Carmen Palencia and Jesus Mario Orozco of the Association for Land and Life, received death threats from the Uraba Antioqueño Bloc of the Black Eagles. These defenders and organizations appear to be under threat due to their activities related to victims’ rights and land restitution.

Incidents Involving Ingrid Vergara of MOVICE (Sucre)

On September 4, two unknown men on a blue motorcycle spent the day circling the home of Ingrid Vergara, the technical secretary of MOVICE’s Sucre chapter. That night when Ms. Vergara was away from her home with her two children, her sister informed her that these men returned and positioned themselves in Ms. Vergara’s stairway. Ms. Vergara’s efforts to contact the Ministry of the Interior and Justice failed due to the fact that this entity just changed their emergency contacts. On September 5, these men also loitered around Ms. Vergara’s home.

Catholic Priest Murdered (Antioquia)

On September 1, Father José Reinel Restrepo Idárraga was murdered in Marmato, Antioquia. Father Restrepo was an outspoken critic of a Canadian-based open-pit gold mining venture in Marmato which was featured in a recent report by Al-Jazeera. The details surrounding Father Restrepo’s murder are unclear. His murder is particularly worrisome as opposition to mining projects is increasingly dangerous in Colombia.

Ruling Against Winston Gallego (Antioquia)

On August 31, human rights defender Winston Gallego of the Sumapaz Foundation was sentenced for rebellion in Medellín. Human rights organizations are contesting this ruling because the evidence used charge Mr. Gallego for links to the guerillas is based upon witnesses linked to military intelligence whose testimonies could not be corroborated. There is great concern that such witnesses are being utilized to discredit human rights defenders by making false accusations that lead to their arrests and thus neutralizes their human rights activities.

Disappearance of IDP Leader (Nariño)

On August 30, Angel Silvio Ceron Vacca, member of the Association for Displaced Persons of Rios de Agua Viva (Tangua, Nariño) and the National Coordination of Displaced Persons (CND), disappeared. Mr. Vacca was previously abducted by paramilitaries in 2006 and has received threats against his life from these groups in recent months.

IDP Murdered by Paramilitaries (Cauca)

On August 28, paramilitaries murdered William Sinisterra, an internally displaced person originally from Timbiquí in Guapi (Cauca). Mr. Sinisterra was shot and killed while walking with his nine year old daughter. There are rumors that Mr. Sinisterra worked as a motorist for paramilitaries at some point and that he fell out of favor with them when he began to participate in the Working Table for Prevention, which is organized by the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office. Mr. Sinisterra temporarily fled Guapi to Buenaventura due to safety reasons, but he was forced back to Guapi due to his familial responsibility for seven children.

Threats against Human Rights and Afro-Colombian Groups (Valle del Cauca, Cauca and Bogotá)

Human rights defenders connected with the organizations the Black Communities’ Process (PCN), MOVICE, NOMADESC, Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (CSPP), and others received several death threats in recent weeks. Most of the threats have targeted members and offices of the organizations in Valle del Cauca and Cauca in southwestern Colombia. Some of the threats have specifically named the national representatives of these organizations. These human rights defenders are intimidated for their participation in contentious cases that range from defending the victims of extrajudicial executions by the military to protecting the territorial rights of Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities.

Over the last two months, PCN staff was repeatedly targeted for their high profile activism against illegal mining in the Afro-Colombian territories of La Toma (Cauca) and elsewhere. A text message death threat recently sent to PCN stated: “S.O.B. we are here to disappear the opponents of development” (“HP yegamos para desapareser a los opositores al desarroyo”). On September 7, a group calling itself the Armed Movement Grandchildren of Quintin Lame issued a threat against members of PCN (Jose Santos, Yair Caicedo, Yiber Ocoró, Anibal Vega, Arma
ndo and Caracas Carabali), as well as various entities of the Colombian government and presidents of rural farmer associations in Cauca. This threat warns those threatened that they are considered to be military objectives and subject to harm for their activities related to land rights.

Despite repeated calls to national and international authorities, none of the perpetrators of the threats have been brought to justice and very few for of those threatened receive comprehensive protective measures from the state.

Paramilitary and Military Abuses in Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó (Chocó) Lead to Murder and Displacement

Paramilitaries upped their presence in Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó (Chocó) in April 2011. The 17th Brigade of the Colombian Army has done little to interrupt these illegal paramilitary operations, and there are troublesome reports that the 17th Brigade is colluding with these paramilitaries and turning a blind eye to the trafficking of coca through checkpoints.

On August 28, two members of the Community Council of Bella Flor Remacho in Jiguamiandó, Eder Agamez Sánchez and Eduar Agamez Sánches’s murdered bodies were found. At least four families became forcibly displaced due to armed confrontations taking place in these areas. Another three land rights leaders were threatened by paramilitaries and there are reports of intimidation of Community Council members by the 17th Brigade. It is positive that the first conviction was passed down earlier this week against Luis Alberto Flórez (representative of the Association of Small Producers of Palm) for links to the illegal usurpation of lands from Afro-Colombians in Urabá. However, further action is needed to guarantee that the other oil palm industrialists and cattle ranchers are brought to justice and that the victims and human rights organizations that accompany them are protected. The authorities have yet to design and implement an Integral Protection Plan in consultation with the communities despite repeated calls to do so.

Ex-President Accuses Journalists of Terrorism (Bogotá)
On August 22, ex-Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez publicly accused journalists Claudia Julieta Duque (Colombia) and Juan Forero, of the Washington Post, of being sympathizers of terrorism and accomplices of leftist guerrillas. This false accusation came the day after the Washington Post published an article on the DAS intelligence agency scandal that alleges that President Uribe was potentially involved in criminal activity and questions U.S. financial support for the DAS. On September 7, U.S. Congressional representatives James McGovern (MA) and Jan Schakowsky (IL) sent Hilary Clinton, Leon Panetta, Eric Holder and General David Patraeus a letter urging them to make clear to former President Uribe that statements that endanger the lives of journalists are unacceptable. They also called on US authorities to provide the U.S. Congress a report on U.S. assistance to the DAS prior to the debate on the U.S.-Colombia FTA. We demand that Colombian authorities provide protection for all victims, lawyers, witnesses, organizations and journalists linked to the DAS investigations.   

Plot to Assassinate Ivan Cepeda Revealed

On August 24, Congressman Ivan Cepeda and founder of MOVICE revealed that he received a letter from Wilmer Vergara Garzón, an inmate at a prison in Valledupar. The letter indicated that Mr. Vergara had been tasked with murdering Representative Cepeda. Mr. Vergara indicated that two guards with the last names González and Pulido had given him a pocket knife on May 22 for this purpose and that his “payment” for the crime would be to get special privileges in jail.

One Year Anniversary of Human Rights Defender David Ravelo’s Detention

September 13 marks the one year anniversary of the detention of human rights defender Mr. David Ravelo Crespo. Mr. Ravelo works with Regional Corporation for the Defense of Human Rights (CREDHOS) and MOVICE. He is on trial for trumped up murder charges. The charges are based upon testimony provided by demobilized paramilitaries, one of whom was linked to a plot to kill Mr. Ravelo.


At a time when the U.S. Congress is gearing up for a vote on the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, it is unacceptable that murders, threats, displacements, and false charges against human rights defenders continue to take place. Please call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to speak to your Congressional Representative. Urge him/her to take bold action against further violence, guarantee justice in these cases, and to not support a free trade agreement with a country where human rights abuses are rampant.

Sample Text:

For members of the U.S. Congress:

“My name is X. I am outraged by reports of murders of Catholic Priests, threats, detentions of Afro-Colombian leaders and wrongful convictions of human rights defenders in Colombia. Please guarantee the safety of Afro-Colombians and human rights defenders and not allow these situations remain in impunity. Do not support an FTA with a country where Afro-Colombians and human rights are being killed, wrongfully detained and threatened.”

Write or call U.S. and Colombian Officials:

Call the U.S. State Department switchboard at 202-647-4000 and ask to be connected to the Colombia Desk of the Western Hemisphere Bureau or the Latin America Desk of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

Contact U.S. Ambassador Michael McKinley in Bogotá by emailing him at [email protected] or calling (571) 315-2208

Contact Colombian Ambassador to the U.S. Gabriel Silva by emailing him at [email protected] or calling (202) 387-8338

For the Afro-Colombian cases, contact Oscar Gamboa, Afro-Colombian Advisor to the Colombian Vice President’s Office, email [email protected]

Sample text for Colombian and U.S. authorities:

“My name is X. I am outraged by reports of murders of Catholic Priests, threats, detentions of Afro-Colombian leaders and wrongful convictions of human rights defenders in Colombia. Please guarantee the safety of Afro-Colombians and human rights defenders and not allow these situations remain in impunity. Please investigate and bring to justice the perpetrators in the cases of Naya, Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó, La Toma and threats against MOVICE and others. Also take steps to free wrongfully convicted human rights defenders.”

We appreciate you taking the time out for human rights and justice in Colombia. If you receive any responses please forward them to Anthony Dest of WOLA at [email protected]

September 13, 2011