The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Brenda Bowser Soder
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Test Case for Inter-American Human Rights Commission Could End Widespread Criminalization of Activism in Colombia

Colombian Activist, Victim of Arbitrary Detention, Seeks Urgent Precautionary Measures


A test case filed yesterday with the Inter-American Commission on
Human Rights (IACHR) could mark a turning point in efforts to end the
criminalization of Colombian human rights defenders, according to Human
Rights First, an international human rights organization.

Principe Gabriel Gonzalez Arango, a student activist and member of
the Colombian Political Prisoners Solidarity Committee, has formally
lodged a petition with the IACHR, stating that his human rights were
violated given his arbitrary detention and the ongoing malicious
terrorism proceedings against him. Gonzalez also requested urgent
precautionary measures from the IACHR to avoid a return to arbitrary

"This petition gives the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights a
historic opportunity to overturn years of arbitrary detention and
unjust persecution against Gonzalez," said Human Rights First's Andrew
Hudson. "The Commission should send a strong message that it will not
tolerate abuse of the Colombian judicial system to intimidate and
silence human rights defenders. It should also adopt urgent measures to
ensure that Gonzalez's fundamental rights are not further trampled
while his case is pending"

The petition before the IACHR highlights the need for Colombia's
Supreme Court to admit Gonzalez's appeal and quash the erroneous
terrorism conviction against him. The case was filed on Gonzalez's
behalf by Human Rights First and the International Human Rights Clinic
of the George Washington University Law School.

The groups note that the precedential value of this case is
enormous, and a strong decision by the Commission would help dozens of
other Colombian activists who are victims of baseless criminal
prosecutions. "Gonzalez's case is just the tip of the iceberg.
Throughout Colombia, human rights defenders are subject to trumped-up
charges intended to persecute them" said Hudson.

Gonzalez was detained in Bucaramanga for more than one year starting
in 2006. He remained incarcerated while awaiting trial on charges of
rebellion and of being in charge of an urban militia force linked to
the FARC guerrilla group. At trial, a judge acquitted him of all
charges, finding that they were baseless and should never have been
initiated. Inexplicably, the acquittal was appealed, and in March 2009,
after two years of liberty, the Superior Tribunal of Bucaramanga
overturned the lower court's judgment and sentenced Gonzalez to seven
more years in prison for the same false charges. The prosecution relied
on two witnesses: one who was unable to physically identify or even
name Gonzalez before he was detained, and the other who admitted to
providing statements under duress from prosecutors.

In June 2009, Gonzalez appealed to Colombia's Supreme Court arguing
that his conviction was void for two reasons. First, it violated his
right to defense by failing to inform him that a preliminary
investigation against him was underway. Second, for error of reasoning
by accepting contradictory and incoherent witness evidence from
ex-combatants receiving re-integration benefits from the state. A
decision from the Supreme Court about whether to accept the appeal is
expected any day.

In October 2009, Human Rights First awarded Gonzalez its prestigious annual human rights award in recognition of his outstanding promotion of human rights.

A range of international entities have expressed concern about
Gonzalez's prosecution, including the UN High Commissioner for Human
Rights, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the UN Special
Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, and the United States Department
of State.

According to Human Rights First, Gonzalez's case is emblematic of many others. In February 2009, the group released In the Dock and Under the Gun: Baseless Prosecutions of Human Rights Defenders in Colombia,
a comprehensive report that, for the first time, documented the
widespread use of trumped-up charges to silence Colombian human rights

Further information:

More information on Gonzalez and his case

Gonzalez's testimony before US Congress in October 2009

Video about Gonzalez's case

Huffington Post article on Gonzalez

Information about human rights defenders in Colombia

Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C. Human Rights First believes that building respect for human rights and the rule of law will help ensure the dignity to which every individual is entitled and will stem tyranny, extremism, intolerance, and violence.