|Successes in Colombia: Six Month Anniversary of HRF Report Reveals Real Gains
Issue Nineteen: October 01, 2009
Six months ago Human Rights First launched a groundbreaking report, Baseless Prosecutions of Human Rights Defenders: In the Dock and Under the Gun. The report was the first to document the widespread use of baseless prosecutions to stigmatize and silence Colombian human rights defenders. With your help, it has made a big impact.
More than a dozen Colombian human rights defenders have been released from prison, had arrest warrants suspended or criminal investigations closed. Only one of the defenders featured in the report remains incarcerated, Carmelo Agamez. We have also influenced high level policy-making in both Colombia and the United States.
And we have seen the themes of our report continue to take center stage as leaders tackle this difficult issue. During her recent trip to Colombia, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, expressed her concerns about "patterns of harassment and persecution" of activists, an assessment we had urged her to make. That is why during Sekaggya's time in Colombia, we joined with more than 200 organizations from 20 nations to launch a campaign to better protect Colombian defenders.
The successes generated from this report would not have been possible without your help and participation in action alerts. Yet even as we celebrate this progress, we recognize that our work must continue. Some activists in Colombia continue to suffer ongoing investigations and others have been detained, including Winston Gallego. In the days and months ahead, we will need your continued support to help us address these ongoing concerns.
Again, we thank you for adding your voice to the growing international chorus of alarm about human rights activists in Colombia. We hope to be able to share many more successes with you in the future.
Results of Report and Your Advocacy:
April - Closure of Baseless Investigation of Activists
On April 8, 2009, a Colombian prosecutor closed a criminal investigation targeting renowned human rights activists Elkin Ramirez and Javier Giraldo. The two had been charged with the offence of false complaint for alleging that a military Colonel had engaged in human rights violations. We analyzed in detail the baseless nature of the investigations against Ramirez and Giraldo in our report and called for the investigation to be closed in a 2009 press release and in a statement to the Human Rights Council.
May - Release from Prison of Martin Sandoval
After six months of unjust detention, renowned Colombian human rights defender Martin Sandoval and 12 of his colleagues were released from jail in May 2009. Sandoval, President of the Permanent Committee of Human Rights in Arauca, had been falsely accused of rebellion. We had engaged in extensive advocacy around the case, including writing a letter to the Colombian government calling for his release and including him in the report. Listen to Senior Associate Andrew Hudson discuss his release on the radio.
June - Arrest Warrant Suspended for Gabriel Gonzalez
Over the last few years, you have probably taken action on the case of Gabriel Gonzalez. On June 2, 2009, we helped Gonzalez file a test case appeal with the Colombian Supreme Court against his detention and unjust prosecution. This appeal suspended the arrest warrant against him, allowing Gonzalez to come out of hiding and be reunited with friends and family. We obtained significant media coverage highlighting the importance and precedential value of Gonzalez's case.
June - Release from Prison of Miguel Gonzalez
After 17 months of unjust detention, on June 10, 2009, a judge declared Miguel Gonzalez innocent and released him from prison. Gonzalez is the co-founder of a rural land rights association (ACVC) and had been the subject of a baseless criminal investigation accusing him of terrorism. Senior Associate Andrew Hudson visited him in prison in March 2009. On July 2, 2009, arrest warrants for seven other members of the ACVC were cancelled, a further consequence of our advocacy on their behalf.
June - President Obama Raises Your Concerns in Meeting with President Uribe
In addition to our report advocacy, we recognized that the first official meeting between President Obama and Colombian President Uribe in June 2009 would be a critical moment to influence and reshape US policy to Colombia to prioritize human rights. Over 1,000 of you sent emails to President Obama, which combined with an influential Op Ed in the Boston Globe, quotes in the Washington Post, the Hill and Colombian press shaped the public debate. Privately we were invited to brief President Obama's National Security Council ahead of the meeting. Our advocacy worked: President Obama raised most of our concerns. He stated that the US will work to protect Colombian human rights defenders and expressed serious concerns about specific human rights issues we had urged him to raise - a welcome departure from President Bush's uncritical tone and a signal that the Obama administration's foreign policy to Colombia may prioritize human rights.
July - Colombian Attorney General Investigates Prosecutor and Cites HRF
In July 2009 the Attorney General of Colombia acted decisively in the case of detained activist Carmelo Agamez, and not only reassigned the case to a prosecutor in Bogota but also initiated a criminal investigation against the original prosecutor. Many of you participated in our urgent action about Agamez, and the Colombian Attorney General specifically cited a letter from Human Rights First in his decision to re-assign the prosecutor ("... attending to the request of ... Andrew Hudson and of Human Rights First... I designate a Prosecutor before the Superior Tribunal to proceed with the investigation."). While Agamez remains unjustly detained, with a new prosecutor we are confident he will be released promptly.
July - HRF advocacy shapes Congressional Foreign Operations Appropriations Bills
Congressional advocacy by Human Rights First resulted in the incorporation of the report's recommendations in the Appropriations Bills before both the House and Senate in July 2009. The House bill for the first time included conditions on US aid to Colombia related to the persecution of human rights defenders and included a requirement for the Department of Justice to report to Congress on its efforts to strengthen the Colombian judicial system. The House bill also specifically cited its concerns about the baseless prosecution of defenders in Colombia, demonstrating the influence of our report.
September - Andres Gil Released from Prison
Andres Gil was released from Prison in September almost three months after his colleague and ACVC co-founder, Miguel Gonzalez, was liberated (see above). HRF Senior Associate Andrew Hudson visited Gil in jail earlier this year. Over 1,700 of you took action on his case when our report was launched. He was released when his trial extended past six months with no end in sight. While the trial continues, at least Gil is free for the time being.
September - Two Indigenous Defenders Freed
In July over 1,200 of you took action to express your concern about the detention of Arney Antonio Tapasco Reyes and Felix Antonio Hernandez Alcalde, two Colombian indigenous rights activists. Both Arney and Felix were charged with rebellion in a trial marked with serious procedural flaws. In September, thanks to our advocacy, their appeal was successful. A Colombian court acquitted Arney and Felix of the charges and released them from prison after eight months of unjust detention.