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74 Members of Congress Call on Uribe to Stop Denigrating Human Rights Groups

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The Honorable Alvaro Uribe Velez
President of Colombia
Palacio de Nariño
Carrera 8, No. 7-26
Bogotá, Colombia

Dear President Uribe:

Please let us take this opportunity at the beginning of the New Year to extend our regards and best wishes for 2004. We write in acknowledgment of the difficult ongoing conflict in your country and in appreciation of your efforts to promote security and stability in Colombia. We also recognize the troubling human rights crisis that is the product of such a protracted and bloody conflict. It is in this context that we express our continuing support for the human rights and civil society groups who daily work to protect the innocent and to strengthen democracy in Colombia.

The work of human rights defenders is critical in a democratic society that respects the rights of all people. This work is legitimate and necessary—not just in giving a voice to the victims of human rights violations, but also in supporting and strengthening democratic and judicial institutions. As you are well aware, human rights defenders in Colombia are at great risk because of their work, suffering intimidation, death threats, forced exile, disappearances and even murder. According to international human rights organizations, last year in Colombia, 13 human rights defenders were murdered or disappeared, while countless others lived under the threat of violence. Other members of civil society, such as trade unionists, teachers, journalists, church leaders, lawyers and local elected leaders, experience similar threats and attacks as a result of their work. We write in concern for the safety of these people, a concern heightened by the recent trend in the public debate to discredit their work.

Mr. President, we trust that your government shares our belief in the importance of human rights work and our conviction that democratic governments allow for a plurality of viewpoints, including criticism. Therefore, we encourage you to take actions that will underscore the legitimacy of human rights defenders and other civil society actors and enable them to continue in safety. In particular, we encourage you to engage in meaningful dialogue with human rights groups so that they can voice their concerns and hear serious responses. We also encourage you to consider, commensurate with the March 2003 recommendation by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, the adoption of a Presidential Directive prohibiting the defamation by public officials of human rights groups, with sanctions for its violation, in order to clarify the government’s support for such work.

Thank you for your serious consideration of these suggestions. We look forward to your response and to working with you throughout the coming year.

Sincerely,

The Honorable James P. McGovern (Massachusetts)
The Honorable Christopher Smith (New Jersey)
The Honorable George Miller (California)
The Honorable Maxine Waters (California)
The Honorable Amo Houghton (New York)
The Honorable Martin O. Sabo (Minnesota)
The Honorable Nancy Pelosi (California)
The Honorable Carolyn B. Maloney (New York)
The Honorable Luis V. Gutierrez (Illinois)
The Honorable Nita Lowey (New York)
The Honorable Marcy Kaptur (Ohio)
The Honorable Nick Rahall (West Virginia)
The Honorable Jim Oberstar (Minnesota)
The Honorable Chaka Fattah (Pennsylvania)
The Honorable Bobby Rush (Illinois)
The Honorable Tim Holden (Pennsylvania)
The Honorable John Conyers, Jr. (Michigan)
The Honorable Bob Filner (California)
The Honorable Maurice Hinchey (New York)
The Honorable Eliot L. Engel (New York)
The Honorable Rosa DeLauro (Connecticut)
The Honorable Donald M. Payne (New Jersey)
The Honorable Lane Evans (Illinois)
The Honorable Howard L. Berman (California)
The Honorable Marty Meehan (Massachusetts)
The Honorable Edolphus Towns (New York)
The Honorable Bernie Sanders (Vermont)
The Honorable Richard Neal (Massachusetts)
The Honorable Peter DeFazio (Oregon)
The Honorable William O. Lipinski (Illinois)
The Honorable Jim Leach (Iowa)
The Honorable David Price (North Carolina)
The Honorable Sherrod Brown (Ohio)
The Honorable Alcee L. Hastings (Florida)
The Honorable Dennis J. Kucinich (Ohio)
The Honorable Barbara Lee (California)
The Honorable Mike Honda (California)
The Honorable Gregory W. Meeks (New York)
The Honorable Donna M. Christian-Christensen (Virgin Islands)
The Honorable Rahm Emanuel (Illinois)
The Honorable Raul M. Grijalva (Arizona)
The Honorable Hilda L. Solis (California)
The Honorable Karen McCarthy (Missouri)
The Honorable Trent Franks (Arizona)
The Honorable Danny K. Davis (Illinois)
The Honorable Sam Farr (California)
The Honorable Christopher Shays (Connecticut)
The Honorable William Delahunt (Massachusetts)
The Honorable Rush Holt (New Jersey)
The Honorable Tammy Baldwin (Wisconsin)
The Honorable Tom Lantos (California)
The Honorable Jim McDermott (Washington)
The Honorable Brad Sherman (California)
The Honorable Betty McCollum (Minnesota)
The Honorable John Olver (Massachusetts)
The Honorable Stephanie Tubbs Jones (Ohio)
The Honorable Elijah Cummings (Maryland)
The Honorable Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (Michigan)
The Honorable James R. Langevin (Rhode Island)
The Honorable John Tierney (Massachusetts)
The Honorable Eleanor Holmes Norton (District of Columbia)
The Honorable Jose Serrano (New York)
The Honorable William L. Clay, Jr. (Missouri)
The Honorable Pete Stark (California)
The Honorable Chris Bell (Texas)
The Honorable Robert I. Wexler (Florida)
The Honorable Charles A. Gonzalez (Texas)
The Honorable Jay Inslee (Washington)
The Honorable Jan Schakowsky (Illinois)
The Honorable Dennis Cardoza (California)
The Honorable Shelley Berkley (Nevada)
The Honorable Dennis Moore (Kansas)
The Honorable Lynn Woolsey (California)

The Honorable Ike Skelton (Missouri)