Wednesday, May 12, 2010

US NGOs to Colombian Presidential Candidates: What Steps Will You Take to Guarantee Human Rights?

Washington, May 12, 2010- In an open letter released to Colombia’s presidential and vice-presidential candidates earlier today, the Washington Office on Latin America, US Office on Colombia, Latin America Working Group Education Fund and the Center for International Policy urged the candidates to outline their strategy for building a new Colombia that respects human rights and works towards a politically negotiated solution to the country’s internal armed conflict.

"Colombia's next president has a historic opportunity to say, never again: Never again will its armed forces commit systematic abuses like the 'false positive' scandal," remarked Lisa Haugaard, executive director of the Latin America Working Group. "Those involved in ordering and carrying out these abuses must be brought to justice for once and for all."

The four US-based groups asked Colombia's candidates to outline what steps they will take to end the internal armed conflict. "Colombia's conflict has killed more than 30,000 people--both combatants and non-combatants--over the past eight years. Before the conflict claims another 30,000, Colombia's next president must seize the initiative and take steps toward a negotiated solution," said CIP Associate Abigail Poe.

According to the four signatory organizations, which have years of experience working on Colombia issues, the future President can lead the nation in building a more just and inclusive society that promotes and respects the rights of all of its citizens. They can do this by combating impunity, supporting human rights defenders, guaranteeing the rights of victims, addressing internal displacement, dismantling existent paramilitary structures, and protecting the territorial rights of Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities.

"The next President can no longer ignore the over 4 million Colombians who suffer daily due to internal displacement," said WOLA Senior Associate Gimena Sanchez. In 2009, 280,000 new persons were internally displaced. Currently, thirty four indigenous groups are at risk of physically disappearing and becoming culturally extinct due in large part to violence and internal displacement. "The next administration cannot allow 34 indigenous groups to become extinct or massacres and brazen abuses of Afro-Colombians to continue to take place."

"The new Colombian administration must make the protection of Colombia's human rights defenders a top priority and should embrace opposition voices," underscored Kelly Nicholls, executive director from the US Office on Colombia. "The systematic threats, attacks, and harassments against human rights defenders must become no more than a shameful memory from the past."

Please find the full letters in English and Spanish

For further information please contact:

Gimena Sanchez, WOLA, (202) 797-2171 ext. 205
Lisa Haugaard, LAWG, (202) 546-7010
Kelly Nicholls, USOC, (202) 232-8090
Abigail Poe, CIP, (202) 232-3317