EXTERNAL (for general distribution) AI Index: AMR 23/28/94
UA 108/94 Fear for Safety 17 March 1994
COLOMBIA Dr Rafael BARRIOS MENDIVIL, human rights lawyer
Amnesty International is seriously concerned for the safety of Dr Rafael Barrios
Mendívil who has decided to return to Colombia to continue his work as a human
rights lawyer. He left the country in October 1993 after death threats were
made against him because of his work in the defence of human rights. The fear
for Dr Barrios' safety is heightened by the fact that members of the Colombian
armed and security forces continue to commit human rights abuses with virtual
impunity, and despite investigations, no one has been brought to justice for
issuing the threats against him.
Dr Barrios is President of the human rights lawyers' association Corporación
Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo which offers legal assistance to
victims of human rights violations. He has worked on many important cases
in which members of the security forces have been implicated as perpetrators
of abuses. One of these cases concerned the massacre of at least 20 Paez indians
on 16 December 1991 by members of the Colombian police force. Two other lawyers
working on behalf of the Paez indians were killed, apparently as a result of
their work on the case. Dr Barrios too began to receive anonymous phone calls,
threatening him with death if he continued to work on the massacre investigation.
On 31 August 1993, Amnesty International issued an Urgent Action on behalf
of Dr Barrios as there was serious concern for his safety. In addition to
threats, he was being followed by vehicles believed to belong to the army.
The Colombian authorities were urged to investigate the threats and harassment
and to take all possible measures to guarantee his safety. (See UA 297/93,
AMR 23/51/93). Although Amnesty International was informed that the Colombian
authorities had initiated investigations into the threats against Dr. Barrios,
no results of these were made public, and no one has been brought to justice.
Dr Barrios continued to be threatened and in October decided to leave Colombia
for a place of safety.
Despite the danger, Dr. Rafael Barrios has now decided to return. In an
interview with Amnesty International before leaving, he stated:
"As soon as I go back to Colombia in March and resume my human rights activities,
the threats will recommence. But we cannot allow the security forces to have
their own way and to force us to abandon our work in defence of human rights...
I am not a martyr nor a hero, but there is no way I can give in."
"En cuanto regrese a Colombia en marzo y vuelva a mis actividades de derechos
humanos, las amenazas comenzarán otra vez. Pero no podemos permitir que las
fuerzas de seguridad se salgan con la suya y nos hagan abandonar nuestra labor
de defensa de los derechos humanos... Yo no soy ni un mártir ni un héroe,
pero de ninguna manera puedo darme for vencido".
In recent years widespread and systematic human rights violations have occurred
in Colombia, including extrajudicial executions, "disappearance", torture and
arbitrary arrest. President César Gaviria Trujillo has repeatedly pledged his
government's commitment to protect human rights. However, members of the