Montreal, January 28 2009
Att. Jennifer Henderson
Canadian Ambassy in Colombia
Copy : James Lambert, Director General for Latin America and the Caribbean, Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Colombia: Defamation against a Canadian NGO
Since 2000, forcibly displaced afro-colombian and mestizo communities from the Lower Atrato region have been carrying out a gradual return to their collective territory. Regrouped in Humanitarian Zones recognized by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), these communities are involved in civil resistance and receive support from a Colombian NGO, Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz (JyP), and international accompaniment by Peace Brigades International (PBI) and Projet Accompagnement Solidarité Colombie (PASC), a Canadian NGO present in the region since 2003. In accordance with International Humanitarian Law, Humanitarian Zones allow communities to exert their right to be designated as a civil population living within an armed conflict zone. The communities called for international accompaniment in the absence of guaranties for the return of the displaced, absence which evidences itself in threats to the right to life and physical integrity of the peasant leaders and Colombian human rights defenders. International physical presence within the communities is an asserted mechanism of protection against legal and illegal armed incursions and threats. This year, threats against defenders have grown in intensity, while a campaign of defamation and stigmatization currently targets the legitimacy of the work of national and international NGOs in the region.
Articles published in national daily newspapers (El Colombiano and El Tiempo) in September and December of 2009, presented a defamatory discourse where the NGOs present in the region, namely Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz (JyP), Peace Brigades International (PBI) and Projet Accompagnement Solidarité Colombie (PASC), were accused of manipulating the communities and being directly associated with the FARC-EP, a Colombian guerrilla organization . Raúl E. Tamayo Gaviria, “Audífonos para el gobierno”, El Colombiano, December 19th 2009 et Jose Obdulio Gaviria, “Manuel Moya y Graciano Blandón”, El Tiempo, December 22nd 2009. ]]This type of accusation is highly worrying in the context of a low intensity conflict where the criminalization strategy consists of associating NGOs with extreme-left, armed struggle, transforming human rights defenders and international observers into targets. These attacks against the legitimacy of human rights defence work exists in a general climate of defamation fuelled by public declarations by members of the Colombian government.
In its annual report on human rights, filed in March 2009, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) for Colombia identified human rights defenders as a vulnerable group. For the OHCHR, the increase of threats and attacks against their life 1 is directly attributable to the stigmatization they face.
« In the current context of polarization and confrontation between government officials and members of the NGO community, threats and stigmatization directed at human rights defenders, opposition leaders and social activists have intensified. (…) It is worrying to find that some senior government officials have not stopped publicly stigmatizing human rights defenders and trade unionists as sympathetic to guerrilla groups. »
«The challenge of minimizing the risks to the life and safety of human rights defenders still stands, most notably owing to the stigmatization of their legitimate work.» [ [Annual report on Human rights situation in Colombia, March 2009, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights for Colombia. ]]
The Canadian organizations who are signatories of this document express their concerns regarding the defamatory campaign against human rights defenders in Colombia, and they assert their support to the international accompaniment work carried out by PASC with Afro-Colombian and mestizo communities of the Lower Atrato region and with the Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz. We believe that the severity of the accusations professed against international NGOs, including a Canadian organization, justifies the highest degree of attention from the Canadian Embassy in Colombia.
Comité pour les droits humains en Amérique latine (CDHAL)
Comité régional d'éducation pour le développement international de Lanaudière, CREDIL
Développement et paix
Droit et démocratie
Ligue des droits et libertés
Solidarité Laurentides Amérique centrale (SLAM)
Solidarité Nord-Sud des Bois-Francs
- « OHCHR Colombia recorded a significant number of attacks in 2008 against human rights defenders and trade unionists (...)These involved murder, as well as damage to property, break-ins, theft of information and threats. »