EXTERNAL AI Index: AMR 23/02/98
UA 08/98 Fear for safety 8 January 1998
COLOMBIAMario Humberto Calixto, human rights activist
Members of Comité de Derechos Humanos de Sabana de Torres
At 6pm on 23 December 1997 two armed men attempted to abduct Mario Humberto
Calixto at gunpoint from his home in the town of Sabana de Torres, department
of Santander. He narrowly escaped and remains in hiding. There is serious concern
for his safety as well as for the safety of other members of the Comité de
Derechos Humanos de Sabana de Torres, the local human rights group of which
Mario Humberto Calixto is president.
The two assailants entered the house holding pistols demanding to speak to
Mario Humberto Calixto. They were prevented from abducting or killing him by
the presence of two foreign volunteers from Peace Brigades International (PBI),
an international organization which provides accompaniment to human rights
activists to help guarantee their safety. The PBI volunteers managed to put
themselves between Mario Humberto Calixto and the two armed men, enabling him
to escape from the back of the house.
According to reports, Mario Humberto Calixto received repeated death threats
from paramilitary groups active in the region after the Comité de Derechos
Humanos de Sabana de Torres published a report in November 1997 on the human
rights violations in the area. Members of a paramilitary group are reported
to have said: “A Mario le vamos a matar. Si no es en estos días, en diciembre”
(“We’re going to kill Mario. If not in the next few days, in December”). On
22 November a vehicle carrying five people suspected of involvement in recent
extrajudicial killings in the area was seen repeatedly passing Mario Humberto
There is serious concern for the safety of other members the Comité de Derechos
Humanos de Sabana de Torres who remain in the region.
Recent months have seen the armed conflict intensify between armed opposition
groups and the military and their paramilitary allies. Members of the civilian
population have been the principle victims in the escalating violence. According
to reports, since July 1997 14 people have “disappeared” in the municipality
of Sabana de Torres, 10 of whose bodies have subsequently been discovered.
Many members of the rural population of the municipality have been forced to
seek safety in Sabana de Torres town.
In recent years Amnesty International has received numerous reports of human
rights violations against the civilian population of Sabana de Torres committed
by paramilitary groups operating with the support of the armed forces. The
civilian population has lodged numerous official complaints denouncing the
close links between the armed forces and paramilitary groups. Guerrilla groups
have also been responsible for frequent abuses of human rights in the area,
including deliberate and arbitrary killings.
Despite repeated government pledges to protect human rights, members of the
Colombian and security forces together with their paramilitary allies continue
to commit serious abuses with virtual impunity. President Ernesto Samper
Pizano has repeatedly promised to improve the human rights situation. His