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Miami Herald

Colombia Rights Defenders say They're Under Constant Attack

A congressional hearing in Washington focused on the persecution of human rights defenders in Colombia.

Sibylla Brodzinksy

Human rights defenders in Colombia are under constant attack for their
work, facing murder, death threats, illegal surveillance, arbitrary
detentions and prosecutions, activists told a congressional panel in
Washington on Tuesday.

Speaking before the House Human Rights Commission, Colombian activist
Gabriel Gonzalez recounted how he spent more than a year in jail on
charges of being a member of the country's leftist guerrillas. A judge
threw out the charges as baseless, but the ruling was overturned and he
could face another seven years in prison on the same accusation.

His is one of dozens of cases, U.S. and Colombian rights groups say,
where human rights defenders are prosecuted based on flimsy charges as
part of an effort to intimidate them.

Sekaggya, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human
rights defenders, who visited Colombia in September, told the panel
that she remained concerned over what she has called a ``pattern of
harassment and persecution against human rights defenders.''

Sekaggya challenged the government of President Alvaro Uribe to ``genuinely address'' their concerns.


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Rights activists and community organizers have long been among the
primary targets of both right-wing paramilitary forces and leftist
rebel armies in Colombia, with more than 60 murdered between 2002 and
2008. Violence has abated greatly with the demobilization of more than
30,000 paramilitary fighters and the routing of guerrillas from major
urban areas.

But last year, 11 rights activists were murdered,
according to the Colombian Commission of Jurists, and in the first nine
months of this year, nine rights defenders have been reported killed.

On Saturday, activist Islena Rey narrowly escaped death when members of
the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, reportedly opened
fire on the small boat she was traveling in after holding meetings with
far-flung communities in Meta province.

And while killings are
down, ``more insidious forms of persecution have emerged,'' says Andrew
Hudson of the New York based Human Rights First.

have shown that rights defenders are routinely subjected to
surveillance and their phone calls and e-mails are illegally
intercepted. The headquarters of rights groups are frequently the
target of mysterious burglaries where only computers and memory sticks
are stolen. And activists are prosecuted based on often flimsy charges.

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