You might get the impression from reading the news that everything is much better in Colombia. But what we hear from the ground is that human rights defenders, land rights leaders, union activists, Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities all remain in danger. And justice is still in peril.
So as Secretary Kerry makes his first trip to Colombia as head of the State Department this Sunday, let’s give him a piece of our minds and make sure peace, human rights and justice are brought to the forefront of his agenda.
With his more inclusive discourse, his focus on the Victims’ Law, and actively pursuing peace negotiations, it’s easy to see why the U.S. government would be so easily carried away by the real positives of Juan Manuel Santos’ presidency. There is real hope for change with the government and guerrillas seated at peace talks in Havana, and our government should actively support these peace talks.
Yet a recently passed constitutional reform severely restricts access to justice for the victims of the false positive scandal. This setback for justice opens the door for human rights violations committed by soldiers to be investigated and tried in military courts, the same courts where justice is everywhere but present. This “reform” could send some of the cases of more than 3,500 civilians who were killed by soldiers, often to up their body counts, back to military courts.
Here at LAWG, we’ve listened to the stories of the families who lost their sons and husbands at the hands of the Colombian military. So we know it is imperative that Secretary Kerry makes it clear to the Colombian government that advances in security must not come at the expense of justice. This “reform” violates the human rights conditions tied to U.S. military aid, and Secretary Kerry must decline to certify that Colombia meets the human rights conditions.
We have a chance to influence the topics of discussion for Secretary Kerry’s upcoming trip. Let’s make sure our government strongly supports peace, but also addresses the empty chair in the peace talks, where victims of violence and civil society have been excluded, with a very limited role in determining the outcome of a negotiation that will shape the world they live in. Let’s make sure our government continues to advocate for protecting human rights defenders, as over 37 have been murdered from January to June of this year. Even as peace negotiations unfold, the displacement crisis continues; threats against labor activists, indigenous and Afro-descendent communities, and land activists persist.
Supporting peace, but not certifying the Colombian government at this time, sends a clear message that peace is essential but human rights and justice cannot be negotiated away in Havana. And while we’re doing what we can to put the pressure on here in DC, our government needs to hear from concerned citizens like you.
Thank you for taking action to support human rights and justice!