Colombia: Human rights must be centre stage in election campaign

Respect for human rights should be a top priority for all the presidential candidates in Colombia, Amnesty International said today as it sent an open letter to all those standing in the 30 May presidential poll.

In the letter, which is also being made public today, Amnesty International outlines its key human rights concerns and asks the presidential candidates to clearly set out the policies which they will pursue and the specific measures they will implement to ensure full respect for human rights.

Susan Lee, Amnesty International’s Americas Director, said:

“Although the candidates briefly referred to human rights in a questionnaire published last week by the Colombian weekly Semana, it is still frankly shocking that, in a country where human rights are routinely abused by those participating in the 45-year old internal armed conflict, the issue has not been given the priority it deserves.”

In an effort to push the issue of human rights up the electoral agenda, the National and International Campaign for the Right to Defend Human Rights and Medios para la Paz have invited the vice-presidential candidates to participate in a debate on human rights in Bogotá, Colombia, on 5 May.

Susan Lee said:

“This event is an important opportunity for the candidates to debate human rights and to make firm commitments in response to the questions posed both by Amnesty International in its open letter, as well as by those participating in the event. As such, we sincerely hope and strongly urge the vice-presidential candidates to demonstrate their unequivocal commitment to ending the human rights crisis by participating.”

In its letter the organisation condemns the failure to protect civilians, displayed by all of the parties involved in the conflict; the guerrilla, paramilitary and security forces. Amnesty International also highlights how impunity, more than any other factor, has been responsible for prolonging the human rights crisis.

Susan Lee said:

“Every year, hundreds of thousands of civilians are forced to flee their homes because of the conflict, while many others are threatened, killed, disappeared or kidnapped. The situation faced by Indigenous Peoples, and Afro-descendant and peasant farmer communities, as well as by human rights defenders, is especially precarious. We simply need to know what the new president will do about it”

Despite some advances in some high-profile criminal investigations into human rights abuses, impunity remains the norm and most perpetrators have never been identified, let alone investigated by the courts.

Susan Lee concluded:

“The sad truth is that the vast majority of human rights abusers continue to simply get away with it, while many of those involved in key investigations where some progress is being made, such as lawyers, public prosecutors, judges and witnesses, are routinely threatened or killed. The new government must be clear about what it will do to ensure that the victims and their families receive the justice they deserve”.

“We hope that all the candidates will send out a clear message that, if elected, they will have the political determination to put an end to many decades of human rights abuses and to overcome the endemic and shameful impunity that has ensured that such abuses continue to this day.”

For further information, read the open letter here: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR23/013/2010/en

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