Demonstrations were taking place in Bogotá and other Colombian cities on Friday, focussed on the on-going problem of unlawful killings by the security forces.
Over recent years, Colombian and international human rights organizations have sought to bring this problem to national and international attention and to demand action by the authorities.
At least 330 civilians were reported to have been victims of unlawful killings by members of the security forces in 2007. The victims, mostly peasant farmers, were often presented by the military as “guerrillas killed in combat”.
Many of the killings were referred to the military justice system, which usually closed such cases without any serious attempt to hold those responsible accountable.
The demonstrations are organized by the human rights coalition National Movement of Victims of State Crimes (Movimiento Nacional de Víctimas de Crímenes de Estado, MOVICE).
As a result of their work in exposing unlawful killings and the impunity that surrounds these cases, members of Colombian human rights organizations have received death threats and have been publicly criticized by government officials, who suggest their work is part of a guerrilla strategy to discredit the security forces.
A number of Colombian trade unionists and human rights defenders were killed or threatened just before or soon after last year’s 6 March mass demonstrations, also organized by MOVICE. Numerous Colombian human rights organizations also received email threats at the time, reportedly from paramilitary groups.
Colombian President Álvaro Uribe is being urged to make a strong public statement in support of the important and legitimate work of human rights defenders.
“Failing to do so risks giving a green light to those who wish to attack them,” said Marcelo Pollack, from Amnesty International’s Americas Programme.
“The threats and killings that tragically marred last year’s marches must not be repeated. The legitimate right of everyone to peaceful protest must be guaranteed by the Colombian authorities,” said Marcelo Pollack.
Amnesty International has called on the Colombian authorities to guarantee the security of the organizers and the participants in this year’s 6 March demonstrations. The organization has also called on the Colombian authorities to impartially and effectively investigate last year’s killings and threats, as well as all human rights abuses committed against human rights defenders, trade unionists and other activists, and to bring all those responsible to justice.
Colombia’s armed conflict has pitted the security forces and paramilitaries against guerrilla groups for more than 40 years. The civilian population continues to be the main victim of the conflict, with both sides repeatedly failing to respect the right of civilians not to be dragged into the hostilities.
All the warring parties – the security forces, paramilitaries and guerrilla groups – are responsible for systematic and widespread human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law.