For Immediate Release
Brenda Bowser Soder
UN Expert Voices Rights Concerns in Colombia
Colombian activists subject to execution, threats, arbitrary detention
NEW YORK - An independent United Nations expert voiced
serious concerns about "patterns of harassment and persecution" against
Colombian human rights activists after an extensive visit to Colombia
late Friday. These human rights concerns may influence the prospects of
a pending US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA), according to Human
Rights First, a New York-based international human rights organization.
Margaret Sekaggya, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders,
found that activists were subject to the full gamut of human rights
violations including killings, torture, threats and unfounded criminal
proceedings and were targeted "because of their legitimate work in
upholding human rights and fundamental freedoms."
"The Colombian government should end trumped-up criminal charges and
unfounded terrorist smear campaigns against activists, and not remain
deaf to a growing chorus of international concern," said Andrew Hudson,
Senior Associate at Human Rights First. "A vibrant civil society is
critical to strengthening the rule of law in Colombia," he concluded.
The US Trade Representative is currently reviewing comments from
stakeholders about whether the US should sign the FTA with Colombia.
The UN anxieties about Colombia echo those raised by President Obama in
June this year when he expressed concern about extrajudicial killings,
illegal surveillance and the need to "protect both labor and civil
Sekaggya agreed with the goals of a campaign
Human Rights First launched last week with over 200 organizations from
more than 20 nations, urging the Colombian government to end: (1)
impunity for violations against defenders; (2) the misuse of state
intelligence; (3) systematic stigmatization; and (4) unfounded criminal
In her comments Sekaggya recognized the problem of illegal
intelligence gathering by Colombia's intelligence agency and the
reliance on intelligence reports to arbitrarily detain defenders. Human
Rights First documented this problem earlier this year in a report, In the Dock and Under the Gun: Baseless Prosecutions of Human Rights Defenders in Colombia, which, for the first time, documented the widespread use of trumped-up charges to silence Colombian human rights activists.
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