Criminal Investigations Used by the Fourth Army Brigade to Persecute Human Rights Organizations in Colombia

(Translated by Rolf Schoeneborn, a CSN volunteer translator)


Friday, May 15, 2009

We, the signatories of this declaration, want to inform the national and international communities of the following:

We strongly protest that security forces and the Prosecutor General (la Fiscalía) endeavor to initiate criminal proceedings based on shallow and brazen intelligence reports, which evidently serve to criminalize the attempts to exercise fundamental rights, such as freedom of opinion, freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and freedom of assembly.

One of these criminal proceedings was based upon prior investigations initiated by the seventy fourth public prosecutor’s office, attached to the Fourth Army Brigade on December 29, 2006. These wrongful proceedings were based on the law 600 of the year 2000, which allows the prosecution to limit the constitutional rights of the accused without the benefit of a supervisory judge (juez de garantías), whose task it is to ensure that constitutional rights are not violated.

The prosecution bound over for trial duly identified members of various social and student organizations, unions, and NGOs based upon these previous investigations. However, these persons were never so informed and thus were prevented to defend themselves in a meaningful way and question the incriminating evidence compiled by military intelligence.

The voluntary appearance of various students of the University of Antioquia before the prosecutor brought to light that there had been previous investigations that were to criminalize the legitimate right to defend Human Rights and to criminalize peaceful political opposition against governmental policies. It was now possible to show that the evidence presented had been found wanting in other criminal proceedings, where the attempt had also been made to prosecute organizations, deemed subversive, and not only students and workers of the University of Antioquia, but also members of the staff and board, as well as members of social and community organizations of Medellín.

The defense of various persons who are to be tried after formal questioning have solicited the supervisory judges to determine the nature of the trial procedures in the preliminary hearings, given the fact that the events in dispute took place after January first 2006, which would mean that the provisions of the Antiterrorist law 906 (2004) would apply, which call for an evidentiary hearing before the investigative judge (juez de conocimiento) so that the opposing parties are on an equal footing and the defendants see the government’s charges.  This was NOT the case involving the office of the public prosecutor, attached to the Fourth Army Brigade.

As a result of this petition, the proceedings initiated by the seventy fourth public prosecutor’s office must be found null and void, which would entitle all persons and organizations that have been linked to subversive organizations to have access to a proper defense in case of trial proceedings.

The organizations that signed this petition promote and defend civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights of the communities and victims in accordance with common national and international standards.  This has not only caused the governing elites to stigmatize us, but also the security forces and the public prosecutors.

In support of our assertion, it suffices to recall what president Alvaro Uribe had to say on the 100th anniversary of the Colombian Superior War College (Escuela Superior de Guerra de Colombia), casting aspersions on reports of extrajudicial killings in the country. He said,

‘We must also condemn a group of lawyers paid for by international organizations with an ideological bias prohibiting them from impartially examining the performance of our legal system, and that they do it with hatred and ideological prejudice. A group of lawyers that have been asked to make false claims against our security forces.’

This further attempt to carry out criminal investigations with regard to legitimate actions by social and community organizations, trade unions, victims, and human rights organizations has to be seen as evidence that not only the defense of human rights is being criminalized, but also freedom of opinion and political opposition.  This is done in order to make these groups seem both illegal and illegitimate.

We quote here what has already been said in other contexts, ‘states commit human rights violations by defamation and criminalization, preventing thereby freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, nonviolent protests, due process, and judicial guarantees, which in turn causes reversals regarding democratic processes in general, causes destruction of the social fabric, forced displacement, denigration and destruction of NGOs that defend and bolster human rights, and puts the lives and physical integrity of leading social activists and human rights defenders at risk.’

The Colombian office of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights (UNHCHR) has come to the same conclusion, made public in various reports on the situation of human rights defenders and social activists in the country, among them the report ‘Human Rights First’ issued by Mr. Antonio Menéndez de Zubillaga, coordinator in charge of legal questions in the Colombian UNHCHR office.

‘Since 2003 this office has been informed of an increasing number of cases of arbitrary and illegal detention of individuals belonging to these groups. This office has shown that in numerous cases the state uses its legal authority to investigate and punish criminal offenses and misuses this authority as a means of harassment. In many cases individuals are charged with crimes against a legitimate government and violations of the public order without any solid evidence. As a result, these individuals are unjustly detained for up to two years.

‘When there is a judicial review of these cases or the individuals in question file appeals, they are often released without further charges. Members of NGOs, social and trade union activists are also arbitrarily detained and charged with insurrection. Furthermore, some of these persons, upon being arrested, could count on cautionary measures requested by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and were placed in a protection program run by the Department of the Interior.

‘The situation of human rights defenders has also become rather critical because of public statements made by key figures in the government who have been raising very ambiguous and random questions about their work.’

Therefore, we ask all national and international social and human rights organizations to declare themselves in solidarity with the organizations and persons that are being persecuted and call on the national government and the judiciary that their human rights be guaranteed and respected, especially their freedom of association and freedom of opinion and speech.

We also demand that the judiciary and supervisory organs of the government strictly enforce the recommendations made by the United Nations that the life, security, and wellbeing of social activists and defenders of human rights be ensured, and that the Attorney General (Procuraduría General de la Nación) keep his commitment to review the military and police archives. Furthermore, we demand that those state agents be punished who by acts of commission or omission put the work done by human rights defenders at risk.

We likewise call on the judiciary and supervisory organs, and especially on the Prosecutor General, to intensify appropriate investigations and disciplinary controls in order to improve the protection of human rights defenders and trade union members. This includes cases that stigmatize the work of such people.  Impunity must no longer be tolerated. In particular the High Commission urges the government and the attorney general to initiate and support investigations of public figures in a decisive manner.

We emphatically insist once again that the Colombian judiciary needs to preserve its impartiality, fairness, and independence. The involvement of the military in criminal investigations when it lacks any kind of mandate comparable to that of the judicial police affects the evaluation of evidence. Therefore we urge that all district public prosecutor offices attached to military and police garrisons be closed because their activities and involvement have led to grave violations of due process and the right of those accused to defend themselves.

Medellín, May 11, 2009

Colectivo de Derechos Humanos Semillas de Libertad

Corporación Juridica Libertad

Fundación Sumapaz

Asociación Campesina de Antioquia

Asociación de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos (ASFADDES Sec. Medellín)

Comité Permanente por la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos ‘Hector Abad Gómez’

Christianos y Christianas por la Justicia y la Paz

Grupo de Trabajo Estudiantil Contracorriente

Comité de Derechos Humanos Gustavo Marulanda

Red Juvenil de Medellín

Corporación Itagui Nueve Gente

Corporacíón Cultural Colombo Cubana de Amistad con los Pueblos

Escuela Nacional Sindical

Comité de Derechos Humanos ADIDA

Movimiento Nacional de Victimas de Crimenes de Estado

Corporación para la Paz y el Desarrollo Social – CORPADES

Polo Democrático Alternativo, subdirectiva Antioquia

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