to Secretary of State Colin Powell from 19 members of the U.S. Congress,
September 23, 2003
your trip to Bogota, Colombia last year, you remarked upon the
Colombian government's national security strategy as a "comprehensive
plan to build a healthy democracy." We strongly concur with
the goal of fostering a "healthy democracy" in Colombia
today. We are alarmed, however, by a recent speech by Colombian
President Alvaro Uribe which would weaken, not strengthen, his
country's democratic values.
on September 8th before the assembled armed forces' leadership
at the inauguration ceremony for the new head of the air force,
President Uribe devoted a major portion of his address to accusing
members of the human rights community in Colombia of acting in
the service of terrorism. He suggested that some human rights
defenders were "spokespeople for terrorists" and called
others "traffickers for human rights." He called upon
these human rights defenders to "take off their masks"
and end "this cowardice of hiding their ideas behind human
rights." President Uribe pointedly did not mention specific
human rights groups and also referred generally to "NGOs";
thus, his remarks put at risk the entire community of human rights,
humanitarian and service organizations in Colombia.
between some members of the military and paramilitary forces have
been extensively documented by the State Department and the Office
of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Bogota,
as well as by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Moreover,
paramilitary forces have specifically targeted, threatened and
killed human rights defenders and community and labor union activists.
Thus, this broad accusation associating human rights defenders
with terrorists before the assembled armed forces' leadership
can be read as an endorsement of the view that human rights defenders
are entitled to less protection from paramilitary aggression--
and could be heard by some as a green light for collaboration
with paramilitary abuses.
Uribe's remarks cast a chill over the already tense climate for
human rights defenders in Colombia. Many already are living in
exile; others continue to carry out their critical work despite
regular threats, in some cases with bodyguards, metal detectors
and other protective measures the United States has helped to
finance. These activists merit and need protection from the government;
they do not deserve to be placed in further peril.
urge you to make a strong public statement dissociating the United
States from President Uribe's remarks, indicating strong US concern
with these statements, and asking him to protect, by his words
and by his actions, human rights defenders and the broader nongovernmental
community in Colombia.
we all know, a "healthy democracy" includes civil society,
dissent and public debate.