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ACTION ALERT: US Funding Colombia Repression?

April 27, 2010
Andrew Hudson / Human Rights First

Exposing links between local politicians and paramilitary death-squads: does this sound like grounds for arrest to you? In Colombia it can be. Colombian activist Carmelo Agamez has been in prison for over a year on bogus charges -- targeted with trumped-up charges designed to stigmatize and silence human rights defenders.


(April 26, 2010) -- Exposing links between local politicians and paramilitary death-squads: does this sound like grounds for arrest to you? In Colombia it can be.

Colombian activist Carmelo Agamez has been in prison for over a year on bogus charges. Both the Colombian Attorney General and a court have found that his rights were violated -- but the prosecution just won't stop. Agamez and other activists are being targeted with trumped-up charges designed to stigmatize and silence human rights defenders.

Get angry! We can have an impact by pressuring the US State Department to tell Colombia to give human rights defenders like Agamez due process of law.

Last year, the US government gave $40 million in human rights and rule of law aid to Colombia which came with conditions that the Colombian government stop persecuting human rights defenders. Congress set those conditions last December after years of advocacy on our part.

Just last week I was in DC with Agamez's daughter. We urged US officials to pressure the Colombian government to stop this unjust practice. But things aren't yet moving--and that's why we need your help.

Help us put pressure on the State Department to raise the issue with the Colombian government -- to make good on its promise to human rights defenders!

Last year I went to Colombia and visited activists like Agamez who were stuck in jail, as well as others who were suffering harassment and baseless prosecutions. We issued a report detailing the abuses, and have relentlessly advocated for change. We have seen progress: conditioning US aid to Colombia on its human rights record was a step forward.

The government has released dozens of activists who can now continue their work. But there are still victims like Agamez who suffer persecution who need our help.

Unfortunately the Colombian government has not held up its part of the bargain. Sign our petition to the State Department asking that it enforce US conditions to aid -- and protect human rights activists unjustly detained.

Agamez deserves the due process anyone is entitled to--help us ensure that he and other activists courageously fighting for human rights struggles are guaranteed these basic rights.

Human Rights First, 333 Seventh Avenue, 13th Floor, New York, NY 10001-5004

Stand Up for Colombian Human Rights Activists:
Urge the State Department to Enforce Conditions in U.S. Aid to Colombia

Human Rights First

Colombian human rights activists are routinely targeted by prosecutors using trumped-up charges to stigmatize and silence them. Read more about defenders in Colombia.

Human Rights First documented these abuses in a report last year--and we've seen progress: dozens of activists have been released and Congress passed an appropriations law that put a condition on US aid requiring the Colombian government not to persecute human rights defenders.

Colombia is not holding up on its end of the bargain.

Sign our petition to the State Department asking that it enforce US conditions to aid –- and protect human rights activists unjustly detained or harassed.

We are concerned about the Colombian government’s treatment of human rights activists -- particularly the unjust detention of Carmelo Agamez -- which violates the new condition on US foreign aid to Colombia that requires the Colombian government to respect the rights of activists. We urge you to encourage the Colombian Prosecutor General to close the baseless prosecution of Agamez.

Agamez has spent over one year in jail in Sincelejo, based on the testimony of witnesses he helped put in jail. He has still not faced trial. He is being detained on charges of conspiring with paramilitaries -- charges which are implausible given that he has spent his career exposing links between paramilitary leaders and corrupt local politicians.

In 2006, he was even included in a paramilitary "death list" and received numerous death threats. Prosecutors in the case will not even say when Agamez supposedly met with paramilitaries, denying him the ability to provide an alibi and infringing on his due process rights.

Colombian officials agree that his prosecution is problematic. Last year, the Superior Tribunal of Sucre found that the prosecutor violated Agamez's rights by failing to inform him promptly of the charges against him. The Attorney General also issued a resolution in which he ordered a criminal investigation of the prosecutor, Rodolfo Martinez Mendoza, for alleged corruption in connection with his baseless prosecution of Agamez. Mendoza is currently in prison.

Despite high level governmental recognition of numerous violations of his rights, to date Agamez remains in prison without any scheduled trial. His case is one of the many examples of a state policy of harassment designed to silence the voices of Colombian civil society.

Agamez's treatment by the Colombian state breaches the condition contained in section 7046(b)(1)(B)(iv) the 2010 Foreign Operations Appropriations Law, which requires the Colombian government to respect the rights of human rights defenders. According to the law, a proportion of US aid to Colombia shall be released only if:

“The Government of Colombia is respecting the rights of human rights defenders, journalists, trade unionists, political opposition and religious leaders, and indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, and the Colombian Armed Forces are implementing procedures to distinguish between civilians, including displaced persons, and combatants in their operations.”

Through its foreign assistance laws, the U.S. should encourage the Colombian government to end its judicial persecution of human rights defenders. The baseless prosecution and unjust detention of Carmelo Agamez is clear evidence that the Colombian government is not respecting the rights of defenders and demonstrates that section 7046(b)(1)(B)(iv) is being violated.

Until the government of Colombia takes concrete action to end the baseless prosecution of human rights defenders, I urge you not to certify that Colombia is meeting the human rights standards required by U.S. appropriations law. I also urge you to encourage the Colombian Prosecutor General to grant Agamez’s request to close the criminal investigation against him.

Thank you for your attention in this urgent matter.

Human Rights Defenders in Colombia

Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for human rights activists. Amid decades of internal armed conflict between the army, guerrilla forces and paramilitary units, dozens of human rights defenders, including labor rights activists, and community and religious leaders are murdered every year. In few if any of these cases are those responsible brought to justice.

According to the reports of credible Colombian human rights organizations and U.N. monitors, the majority of these attacks are carried out by paramilitaries.

In the past many paramilitary units were under the direction of, or acted in close association with, the government’s regular armed forces. Those paramilitaries have now supposedly demobilized but there structure remains intact as evidenced by their continual threats and attacks against human rights defenders.

Government Stigmatization
Regular disparaging comments made by President Álvaro Uribe and other government officials needlessly exacerbate the already enormous risks faced by human rights defenders. Human rights organizations often comment on the failures of government policy vis-à-vis security and human rights.

In response, President Uribe and other administration officials have branded them as terrorist sympathizers and have insinuated that illicit connections exist between human rights NGOs and illegal armed groups. Irresponsible comments by government officials in Colombia put the lives of human rights defenders at even greater risk and threaten to undermine the value and credibility of their work.

Human Rights First has called on President Uribe to stop making such derogatory comments not least because attacks against human rights defenders frequently follow such comments. Colombian human rights defenders should be supported and recognized as an essential tool in establishing lasting security and stability.

Baseless Criminal Charges
Human rights defenders in Colombia play a legitimate and essential role in protecting basic rights and strengthening democratic institutions. Yet they are frequently subjected to spurious criminal charges such as rebellion, alleging that they are members of guerilla organizations, or slander and libel for exposing human rights violations. These charges are often politically motivated and seek to discredit and stigmatize human rights defenders, thereby deterring them from performing their important work.

Human Rights First works closely with human rights defenders such as Iván Cepeda Castro and Principe Gabriel González who have been subjected to baseless criminal charges which rely on witness evidence and/or government reports which lack impartiality and credibility.

Latest News
HRF Urges Human Rights Council to Protect Human Rights Defenders

Senior Associate, Andrew Hudson, addressed the Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 11, 2010 urging it to better protect human rights defenders at risk around the world. He also urged the Colombian government to adopt the Council's recommendations on how to stop the persecution of defenders.

HRF Oral Statement to Council
UN Highlights Persecution of Colombian Activists
The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders released a new report criticizing the widespread persecution of Colombian activists. The report cited Human Rights First and adopted many of our recommendations, especially those combating the baseless prosecutions of Colombian defenders.

3/5/2010 Sisma Mujer
Stop Paramilitary Death Threats to Colombian Women's Rights Leaders
On January 27, 2010, Sisma Mujer, a leading Colombian women's rights group received startling death threats from a right-wing paramilitary death squad. Urge the Colombian authorities to investigate these recent threats and to prosecute those responsible while providing adequate protection for the members of Sisma Mujer.

Colombian Activist Again Imperiled by Baseless Charges
Colombian activist and Human Rights First award winner Gabriel Gonzalez is facing 7 years in prison on trumped-up charges. Take action to urge members of the U.S. government to stand up for him once again and make sure that real justice - affirming his innocence and letting his work on behalf of political prisoners in Colombia - be done.

Groundbreaking Changes in US Aid to Colombia and Guatemala
New appropriations law has unprecedented funding to protect human rights sctivists in Colombia and Guatemala.

Test Case for Inter-American Human Rights Commission to End Widespread Criminalization of Activism in Colombia
A test case filed yesterday with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights could mark a turning point in efforts to end the criminalization of Colombian human rights defenders. Gabriel Gonzalez, a Colombian Activist and victim of arbitrary detention has sought urgent precautionary measures from the Commission.

Demand End to Harassment of Colombian Human Rights Lawyer
Jorge Molano, a prominent Colombian human rights lawyer, was harassed and intimidated by unidentified men on three occasions in the last week of November. Take action now to urge Colombian officials to increase Jorge Molano's security measures to prevent any attacks against him and to investigate the recent harassment.

US Government Provides Assistance to Colombian Military Units that Violate Human Rights
In a joint letter, Human Rights First and the Fellowship of Reconciliation urged the State department to suspend US assistance to two Colombian military intelligence units responsible for specious intelligence gathering, arbitrary detention and trumped-up criminal charges against Colombian human rights defenders.

12/3/2009 Carmelo Agamez
Media Coverage of Carmelo Agamez's Case
Various materials regarding the unjust detention of Colombian human rights defender Carmelo Agamez.

11/30/2009 Carmelo Agamez
Unjustly Detained Colombian Human Rights Activist to Face Trial
Human Rights First condemns decision to try Carmelo Agamez for consorting with paramilitaries. Agamez has been unjustly detained for almost a year on trumped-up charges and should be released immediately.




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