Letter to President Chavez from Colombian NGO’s

(Translated by Thomas Kolar, a CSN volunteer translator )

January 17, 2008; Bogota
Hugo Chavez Frias
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
Mr. President
We, the civic leaders for peace and the humanitarian organizations for human rights of Colombia that subscribe to this communication, want to express to you and your government our most profound thanks for your humanitarian acts that permitted the unilateral liberation of Consuelo Gonzalez and Clara Rojas and the reunion in freedom of the child Emmanuel.
The indefinite prolongation of the armed conflict and its sad humanitarian consequences for citizens and their human rights demand that many forces work to achieve its termination and the consolidation of peace and democracy in our country. In addition, the peace of Colombia is vital for Latin America and the Caribbean in order to advance regional integration. Thus, we value your participation and the success of your work. The successful liberation of the hostages raises the question of your position on the political recognition of the guerrillas of Colombia. We recognize the necessity of politicizing the armed conflict because a negotiated solution requires political interlocutors with the capacity to negotiate and propose solutions.
A political and negotiated solution is necessary because we are convinced that in Colombia war does not provide a viable way out of this conflict as long as arms are seen as a certain alternative for success. But while we work to advance in this direction it is necessary to regulate actions by the standards of the Geneva Conventions(Article 3 and Protocol II  to these Conventions). The first step in this direction is the liberation of all hostages and the definitive suspension of kidnapping on the part of the guerrillas, since the taking of hostages for political or economic reasons is prohibited by international humanitarian law which the guerrillas must observe whether or not there is a cessation of hostilities by the Colombian state or any other state. Of course, such a recognition is indispensable to advance unilateral acts or humanitarian accords. But, kidnapping is not the only thing. In Colombia, there persist other practices that infringe, not only on international humanitarian rights and law, but also on human rights, many of which qualify as terrorist acts, that compromise to a greater or lesser degree all the actors in the war. Forced displacement, for example, that has brought suffering to about 4 million in the last twenty years. Forced disappearance, extrajudicial executions of civilians disguised as “terrorists killed in combat”, the use of antipersonnel mines, bombardments, aerial attacks, and the use of arms with indiscriminate effect such as cylinder bombs in civilian zones, also the recruitment of young boys and girls; all these form part of the humanitarian and human rights crisis under which Colombia suffers in the midst of this conflict. Thousands of persons are found in mass graves in which have been hidden the victims of the paramilitaries that continue to operate in much of the nation. Almost fifty congressmen are under arrest or being investigated for supporting these actions.
Of course these are terrorist actions that affect the civilian population and violate humanitarian principles. All those responsible ought to be judged and punished for crimes of war and inhumanity. But to call the guerrillas terrorists and not do the same for the paramilitaries or the state is a simplistic form of understanding a conflict with profound historical, social, political, and economic roots and, thus, reducing it to a war of “antiterrorism” eliminates the possibility of dialogue. Rather than declaring the ELN or the FARC to be terrorists or of reclaiming their status as belligerent forces it is necessary at this time for them to have political recognition so as to advance political solutions and to construct respect for international humanitarian law and for human rights.
We, who assist the victims and the hardships of our civil society that wishes to live in peace, reiterate that in Colombia we do not want any international support in this chronic war and prolonged suffering, nor do we want more arms or military assistance, nor do we want support in the armed fight and we are convinced that to polarize more our Colombian society will never contribute to ending the armed conflict.
Mr. President, we thank you for your support to the humanitarian cause of liberating all persons kidnapped and your offer of contributing to finding political solutions for peace in our country. We offer good wishes that your negotiation will successfully restore normal relations between the governments of Colombia and Venezuela(the return of your ambassador to Colombia would be a good step toward thawing relations), and a full observance of the sovereignty and self determination and of an atmosphere of respect and solidarity between our two brotherly peoples.
With our respect and consideration,
The Permanent Assembly of Civil Society for Peace, Office for Human Rights and Displacement CODHES, The Association for the Promotion of Social Alternatives MINGA, The Institute for Studies of Development and Peace INDEPAZ, The Democratic Cultural Foundation, The Corporation for Citizenship, Peaceful Planet.

Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI  53701-1505
phone:  (608) 257-8753
fax:  (608) 255-6621
e-mail:  csn@igc.org

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