Colombia: Abducted Human Rights Defenders
Colombia: Action must be taken to guarantee the safety of abducted Human Rights Defenders
The work of human rights defenders must be respected by all parties to the conflict, said Amnesty International today in reaction to the abduction of five human rights activists working with the Afro-descendant community of Jiguiamiandó and Curvaradó in the department of Chocó.
The activists, members of the non-governmental organization Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz were allegedly abducted from the hamlets of Pueblo Nuevo and Bella Flor Remacho in the Jiguiamiandó river basin, department of Chocó, on 31 March by armed gunmen. The men reportedly identified themselves as members of the guerrilla group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
Amnesty International calls on the FARC to publicly state whether the five human rights activists have been abducted by their forces. If so they must be released immediately in line with guerrilla forces’ obligations under International Humanitarian Law to put an end to their practice of kidnapping and hostage-taking.
The communities of the Jiguiamiandó and Curvaradó river basins have attempted to assert their right as civilians not to be drawn into the conflict by insisting that armed groups remain outside their areas of habitation which they have denominated "humanitarian refuge zones".
In recent years, despite the heavy presence of the security forces in the area, members of these communities have faced repeated death threats and have been victims of human rights abuses committed by army-backed paramilitary and guerrilla forces in the area.
The abductions have taken place days after Justicia y Paz received a written death threat accusing its members of supporting guerrillas, and days after statements made by high-ranking government officials which in effect call into question the legitimacy of the position taken by these civilian communities to remain outside the conflict.
Members of the XVII Brigade of the Colombian Army, which has jurisdiction over the area where the communities are located, have also reportedly accused activists from Justicia y Paz of collaborating with guerrilla groups. In February 2005, Amnesty International received information that paramilitaries had entered the Jiguiamiandó territory and set up temporary camp opposite the community of Pueblo Nuevo. On 26 March, witnesses reported seeing four-truck loads of army-backed paramilitaries leaving the municipality of Belén de Bajirá in the direction of the Jiguiamiandó river basin. The route taken allegedly took the paramilitaries past a XVII Brigade long-established army post. The soldiers reportedly withdrew from this post shortly before the paramilitaries travelled by. "The situation of the five activists is of serious concern. Whether committed by guerrilla groups or the paramilitary, the Colombian authorities must take concrete measures, deemed appropriate by Justicia y Paz and the communities of Jiguiamiandó and Curvaradó, to secure the safe release of the five activists. But these actions must not jeopardise the security of the five human rights defenders."
The Colombian Government should consult with the communities on action taken to guarantee their safety in line with the Inter-American Court on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States (OAS) Resolution which also called on the Colombian authorities to ensure special protection measures for the Jiguiamiandó and Curvaradó’s "humanitarian refuge zones", and to recognize the population of these communities as "civilians not involved in the armed conflict" ("civiles ajenos al conflicto armado interno").
On 2 April a delegation including representatives of non-governmental human rights organizations, a representative of the office of the Colombia’s Vice-President and of the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman travelled to the area to establish what has happened to the five human rights activists.
Background Information Enrique Chimonja, Edwin Mosquera, Johana López, Mónica Suárez and Fabio Ariza are human rights activists working for the Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz, Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission, accompanying Afro-descendant communities living in the Jiguiamiandó and Curvaradó river basins.
These abductions have taken place days after Justicia y Paz had intervened in the March 2005 hearing of the IACHR of the OAS calling for the safety of the Jiguiamiandó and Curvaradó communities. They were lodging a complaint that indigenous, Afro-descendent and peasant farmer communities were being driven off their land by the actions of the army and their paramilitary allies in the communities of Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó in the department of Chocó.
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