Human rights must be top priority in Colombia election campaign

Amnesty International has urged Colombia’s presidential election candidates to make human rights a top priority ahead of the 30 May poll.Independent candidate Antanas Mockus and former defence minister Juan Manuel Santos are two of main contenders in the race to succeed current President Álvaro Uribe.”It is shocking that, in a country where human rights are routinely abused by those participating in the 45-year-old internal armed conflict, the issue has not been given the priority it deserves,” said Susan Lee, director of Amnesty International’s Americas programme.In an effort to push the issue of human rights up the electoral agenda two Colombian civil society organizations, the National and International Campaign for the Right to Defend Human Rights and Medios para la Paz have invited vice-presidential candidates to participate in a debate on human rights in Bogotá, Colombia, on 5 May. Amnesty International also condemned the failure of all the parties to the conflict – be they the guerrilla, paramilitary groups or the security forces – to protect civilians from the human rights consequences of the conflict and to respect their right not to be drawn into the hostilities.The current government of President Álvaro Uribe was criticized for its “stubborn and illogical refusal to acknowledge the existence of an armed conflict,” and its denial that “Colombia continues to suffer from serious human rights and humanitarian problems.” “Every year, hundreds of thousands of civilians are forced to flee their homes because of the conflict, while many others are threatened, killed, disappeared or kidnapped,” said Susan Lee.“The situation faced by Indigenous Peoples, and Afro-descendant and peasant farmer communities, as well as by human rights defenders, is especially precarious. We urgently need to know what the new president will do about it.” Despite some advances in some high-profile criminal investigations into human rights abuses, impunity remains the norm and most perpetrators have never been identified, let alone tried and convicted.”The sad truth is that the vast majority of human rights abusers continue to simply get away with it, while many of those involved in key investigations where some progress is being made, such as lawyers, public prosecutors, judges and witnesses, are routinely threatened or killed. “The new government must be clear about what it will do to ensure that the victims and their families receive the justice they deserve.””We hope that all the candidates will send out a clear message that, if elected, they will have the political determination to put an end to many decades of human rights abuses and to overcome the endemic and shameful impunity that has ensured that such abuses continue to this day,” said Susan Lee.If none of the candidates obtains more than 50 percent of the vote in the May poll, a second round will take place in June. The new government would take office in August.