Successes in Colombia: One Year Anniversary of HRF Report

ColombiaIssue Twenty: May 10, 2010

Approximately one year 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. Last year, to coincide with the report's six month anniversary, we sent you a newsletter detailing the successes stemming from the report. Since then, with your help, we have achieved further results in Colombia, which we detail below.

Results of Report and Your Advocacy

Jorge Molano Protection for Human Rights Lawyer Jorge Molano

Prominent Colombian human rights lawyer Jorge Molano was harassed and intimidated by unidentified men on three occasions in the last week of November, 2009. Following our urgent alert, he was granted protection measures to prevent attacks against him.

New Conditions on U.S. Aid to Colombia to Protect Defenders

Our congressional advocacy, including testifying before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in October 2009, resulted in the incorporation of a new condition in the 2010 Foreign Operations Appropriations Law, signed by President Obama in December, 2009. For the first time, the law includes a condition on U.S. aid to Colombia to respect the rights of human rights defenders. We actively engaged the Department of State to uphold that commitment, and suspend U.S. assistance to two Colombian military intelligence units responsible for specious intelligence gathering against defenders.

Mixed Results in Gabriel González' Case

For many years you have taken action to end the baseless prosecution of activist Gabriel Gonzalez, whose unjust detention has become symbolic of this widespread problem in Colombia. In October, 2009, we presented Gabriel with our annual human rights award. Thanks to your help he was finally granted a visa to come to the United States to receive the award, no mean feat given that he was officially convicted of terrorism. While in the US we ensured that Gabriel testified before Congress and met with senior US government officials. Unfortunately, despite our advocacy, at the highest levels of the US and Colombian governments, the Colombian Supreme Court denied the admissibility of Gonzalez's appeal. In response, we obtained an outstanding LA Times Editorial on the case and lodged his case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in December 2009. We hope that the Commission will declare his conviction in violation of international law. We also raised the case before the UN Human Rights Council, and are helping to prepare a new appeal in the Colombian courts. We are confident of success in the end, but we will need your continued support.

Colombian Government Implements Report's Recommendations

The Colombia government responded formally to the report on several occasions over the last six months, citing various ways in which it had addressed our recommendations:

  • The Colombian Prosecutor General reviewed all 32 cases featured in the report and provided a public update of the status of each case. It also stated that as a result of the report it now applied a "different methodology," with heightened standards of impartiality, in criminal investigations when defenders where involved, recognizing the heightened risks they face.
  • The Inspector-General's office, in collaboration with USAID developed guidelines for the intervention of judicial inspectors, as we had suggested.
  • The Colombian defense ministry issued a national directive emphasizing that the armed forces are to protect human rights defenders.

Leading Colombian Journalist Acquitted

Alfredo Molano, a prominent Colombian journalist was cleared of charges of criminal defamation and slander. Molano faced the prospect of jail for publishing an article about a wealthy and well connected Colombian family. Molano's acquittal sends a clear message about the importance to uphold freedom of expression. Molano's case was featured in our Baseless Prosecutions report.

UN Adopts HRF Recommendations on Combating Persecution of Defenders

Early in March, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders presented her report on Colombia to the UN Human Rights Council. The Report criticized the widespread persecution of Colombian activists, and adopted many of Human Rights First's recommendations, especially those combating the baseless prosecutions of defenders. Through an event at, and address to, the UN Human Rights Council, we urged Colombia to implement the Rapporteur’s recommendations.

Our Insider Advocacy Influences US Foreign Policy to Colombia

Our insider advocacy with the State department was effective in ensuring that successive high level US officials, from the Deputy Secretary of State down, raised the protection of human rights defenders as a priority in their trips to Colombia in 2010. As a result of our private discussions, USAID decided to focus its financial support to the Colombian Inspector General on ensuring that Colombian judicial inspectors intervene consistently to close specious investigations of defenders; one of our central recommendations.

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