Colombia: Open letter to Uribe spells out need for human rights

In an open letter to the new president, the organisation has urged him to develop and implement a comprehensive policy to address the increasingly critical human rights situation in the country.

Amnesty International said:

'The new presidency begins at a time when the human rights crisis in Colombia is spiralling and millions of people across the country suffer the daily consequences of political violence and human rights violations at the hands of both sides to the conflict.

The new president is now faced with a basic choice: he can either take action to confront the human rights crisis or pursue policies that are likely to make it worse.'

In its letter the organisation reiterated its concern over some of Dr Uribe's specific plans. These include:

- plans to create a million-strong civilian militia of informers, which risks dragging the civilian population further into the conflict and consolidating the army-backed paramilitary strategy

- proposals to grant judicial police powers to the armed forces and to allow the military to carry out house searches and arrests without judicial authority, which could facilitate the covering up of human rights violations perpetrated by the security forces or their paramilitary allies

- plans to re-establish the president's faculty to call a state of siege, which could facilitate human rights violations by removing judicial and legislative oversight and disregarding international safeguards on states of exception

Dr Uribe takes office against a backdrop of systematic human rights abuses by paramilitaries in Colombia. On 8 July 2002, for example, Rodrigo Acevedo, human rights officer of the Colombian Electricity Trade Union, was reportedly shot at whilst at work, the second time that Mr Acevedo has been targeted at work in recent months. On 24 June he was insulted and attacked in the street by armed men during his lunch break. Amnesty International is calling on the Colombia authorities to fully investigate the attacks on Mr Acevedo.

Trade unionists have frequently been harassed, tortured and killed by paramilitaries in Colombia. In 2001 alone, according to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, more than 160 trade unionists were murdered. Recent reports indicate that some 89 trade unionists had been killed by army-backed paramilitaries during 2002 up to mid-July.

'Successive Colombian governments have allowed human rights to be sacrificed in the name of security and counter-insurgency strategies. Now is the time to understand that security cannot be achieved at the expense of human rights. Now is the time for the new president to make the right choice for human rights in Colombia,' Amnesty International said.

For up to date information on the human rights situation in Colombia and for the full text of the letter to President Uribe, see:

http://web.amnesty.org/web/content.nsf/pages/gbr_colombia

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