NGOs Send Secretary Rice Letter on the San Jose de Apartado Massacre

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The Honorable Condoleezza Rice
U.S. State Department
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary of State Rice,

We, the undersigned non-governmental organizations, write to express our profound concern and deepest condemnation of the recent massacre of eight civilians, including three children, in the hamlets of Mulatos and Resbalosa, a few miles from the peace community of San José de Apartadó, Colombia. In light of allegations of involvement by members of the Colombian military, it is essential that the U.S. government send a strong signal by insisting that an effective investigation be conducted by civilian authorities. The State Department must include this case in its evaluation of Colombian compliance with U.S. human rights conditions, and must refrain from certification until a credible investigation has been completed.

According to information received from the field, between February 21 and 22 Luis Eduardo Guerra, a well-known leader of the San José de Apartadó Peace Community, his eleven-year-old son and his companion were detained by armed men who identified themselves as belonging to the Colombian military. Alfonso Bolivar Tuberquía, a member of the Peace Council of the hamlet in Mulatos, and his family also disappeared. Several local people later discovered blood and human remains in two sites in the area.

On February 25, the Peace Community organized a fact-finding mission to the hamlets of Mulatos and Resbalosa. At the same time, a governmental judicial commission carried out an exhumation of the grave found on the farm of Mr. Tuberquía and found mutilated bodies (three adults and two children, aged six and two years old). In La Resbalosa, members of the community recognized the bodies of Luis Eduardo Guerra and his family. It is shocking that a community which is the recipient of provisional protection measures from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and for which the Colombian Constitutional Court requested effective protection measures in March 2004, would be subjected to such a brutal and cruel attack.
The judicial commission itself came under attack, resulting in the death of one policeman. Police sources allege that the attack on the commission was carried out by the FARC. We vigorously condemn the attack upon judicial authorities and call for a thorough investigation into this incident as well.

In light of the allegations of military involvement in the killing of members of the San Jose de Apartadó community, we ask that your office not certify Colombian compliance with the human rights conditions, until such time as the Colombian government has conducted a transparent, impartial, effective investigation into the massacre, and is proceeding to prosecute those responsible. Given the nature of the crimes, prosecution must take place within the civilian justice system.

In addition, the Department of State should undertake the following actions:

– Direct the U.S. Embassy to release a public statement condemning the massacre, expressing concern for the safety of the residents of the community and calling on the Colombian government to ensure that civilian judicial authorities conduct a full and impartial investigation into the killings of these eight persons;

–Insist that the Colombian Government take effective measures to ensure the safety of the residents of San José de Apartadó community and the Colombian non-governmental organizations who have denounced the crimes. Protective actions should be fully consulted with the community, as required by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights' provisional measures.

-Encourage the U.S. Ambassador to visit the community to express condolences on behalf of the people of the United States for the losses suffered, and to show support for the safety of the community.

Colombian and international human rights organizations have repeatedly opposed the certification of the human rights conditions because of continuing evidence of collaboration between sectors of the armed forces and paramilitaries, and because of evidence of human rights violations directly committed by members of the armed forces. Effective, impartial investigation and prosecution by civilian authorities in this new case is a minimally necessary step, but it should not be considered sufficient to justify compliance. The Department of State should thoroughly review the requirements for vigorous investigation and prosecution, and the severing of ties with paramilitaries, before again certifying compliance.

In closing, we ask that your office inform us as to the actions taken to ensure justice for Luis Eduardo Guerra, his family and colleagues.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Alexandra Arriaga
Director for Government Relations
Amnesty International USA

Joy Olson
Executive Director
Washington Office on Latin America

José Miguel Vivanco

Executive Director for the Americas
Human Rights Watch

James R. Stormes SJ
Secretary, Social and International Ministries
Jesuit Conference

Rev. Elenora Giddings Ivory
Director, Washington Office
Presbyterian Church (USA)

Pat Clark
Executive Director
Fellowship of Reconciliation

Cristina Espinel and Kelleen Corrigan
Colombia Human Rights Committee

Adam Isacson
Program Director
Center for International Policy

Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy
Executive Director
Witness for Peace

Mary Ellen McNish
General Secretary
American Friends Service Committee

Todd Howland
Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights

Kenneth H. Bacon
Refugees International

Patricia Burkhardt
Legislative Officer
Church Women United

Neil Jeffery
Executive Director
U.S. Office on Colombia

Saul Murcia
Co-Director Latin America & Caribbean
Mennonite Central Committee

Shannon Lockhart
Sister Parish, Inc.

Barbara Gerlach
Colombia Liaison
United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries

Kathryn Wolford
Lutheran World Relief

Max L. Gimbel
Director of Research
Guatemala Human Rights Commission

Phil Jones
Church of the Brethren Witness/Washington Office

Gary L. Cozette
Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America

Martha Pierce
Chicago Metropolitan Sanctuary Alliance

Ted Lewis
Human Rights Program Director
Global Exchange

Bob Schwartz
Executive Director
Disarm Education Fund

Tom Bamat
Representative for Colombia
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Marino Córdoba
Executive Director

Pam Bowman
Legislative Coordinator
School of the Americas Watch

Terry Collingsworth
Executive Director
International Labor Rights Fund

Peter Laarman
Executive Director
Progressive Christians Uniting

Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock
Faith Voices for the Common Good

To reply to this letter, respond to: Lisa Haugaard, Executive Director, Latin America Working Group, 424 C Street NE, Washington, DC 20002.

Cc: Ambassador William Burns, Acting Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs
Roger Noriega, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs
Ambassador Michael Kozak, Acting Assistant Secretary of State,
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Danika Walters, Program Officer, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Lisa Bobby Hughes Schreiber, Director, Office of Andean Affairs
Heather Merritt, Colombia Desk Officer