Lisa Haugaard, Latin America Working Group, 202-546-7010
Camilo Ramirez, Center for Constitutional Rights, 212-614-6463
November 21, 2011 – Twenty-seven non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from across Canada, the United States and Mexico have signed statements and sent letters of support for the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective (CCAJAR) and the Inter-American Human Rights System in response to troubling statements questioning the credibility of CCAJAR and the Inter-American system made by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and other high-ranking Colombian officials.
The Colombian government made these statements after a woman recanted her previous testimony that her husband and sons had been killed in the 1997 massacre in the village of Mapiripán. CCAJAR had represented the woman, along with several other victims’ family members, in a case brought before the Inter-American Human Rights Court, which ruled in 2005, based upon evidence provided by the Colombian government, that the Colombian State held responsibility for the massacre and should conduct a thorough investigation to determine the identity of all the victims and pay them reparations. As the Inter-American Court wrote in its decision, “it is the State’s obligation to properly investigate the human rights violations that have occurred in Colombia, which have cost the lives of thousands of Colombians and have taken place with the proven acquiescence or participation of agents of the State.”
All of the statements and letters of support from the different North American organizations highlight their extreme concern over the declarations made by Colombian government officials against CCAJAR. For example, in its November 16th letter to President Santos, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) identified problematic statements from the President himself, in which he attempts to discredit the Collective. CCR highlights how these statements are “outrageous to anyone who is familiar with the brave and committed work of CCAJAR for truth and justice on behalf of human rights victims.” Such statements continue to make Colombia a dangerous place for human rights defenders, given regular threats, illegal surveillance and infiltration to which human rights defenders are subject in Colombia.
Equally concerning to North American organizations are Colombian government statements that seek to undermine the Inter-American Human Rights System. As the CCR points out in its letter, the Inter-American System has been an invaluable resource for the many victims of grave human rights abuses. “Indeed,” writes the CCR, “the crisis of impunity for human rights violations in many countries, including Colombia, is often what necessitates victims turning to the Inter-American System.”
The November 21st NGO statement also makes reference to several other emblematic cases of human rights violations allegedly involving the Colombian military that are slated to be presented at the Inter-American System or reviewed by Colombian courts, as well as a proposed law that would remove human rights cases involving members of the military from civilian jurisdiction. The NGOs express their concern that these recent statements by Colombian government officials set a dangerous precedent for due process in these cases.
Letters and Statements from North American NGOs
“North American NGOs and Human Rights Experts Condemn Colombia’s Attack on Inter-American System,” signed by 25 NGOs, 21 November 2011.
Open Letter to President Santos Re: Statements by the Colombian government Regarding Mapiripán Massacre Case, Center for Constitutional Rights, 16 November 2011.
Open Letter to President Santos Re: Statements by the Colombian Government Regarding Mapiripán Massacre, National Lawyers Committee on Human Rights, 21 November 2011.
“LWB Canada Troubled by Public Attacks against Its Partners in Colombia,” Lawyers Without Borders Canada, 18 November 2011.