The European human rights, development, solidarity and churches organisations, which make up part of the International Office for Human Rights – Action Colombia (OIDHACO), consider the consolidation of the commercial agreement between the European Union and Colombia, officially initialled in Madrid on May 18, a step in the wrong direction, which ignores the calls we have made in partnership with many sectors of civil society in Colombia and Europe. While the free trade agreement (FTA) is being finalised, human rights defenders continue being targets for assassination in various departments in Colombia. At the same time, there is evidence that the Colombian intelligence service, the Administrative Department for Security (DAS), has been spying on European citizens, representatives of the United Nations, the European Union and the national governments of those same countries who think they are contributing to human rights by approving the FTA with Colombia.
By initialling now the commercial agreement, the European Union is missing the opportunity to influence Colombian human rights policy. The inclusion of a democratic clause does not signify that the European Union wants to intervene in the permanent human rights crisis in Colombia. Instead, it only permits reaction to the worsening of this serious situation and sends the message that the situation as it is, is acceptable.
Over the same days that the commercial agreement was being initialled, new assassinations were occurring in Colombia, which demonstrates the lack of guarantees and the ineffectiveness of the existing measures for protection of human rights defenders and their work.
We condemn the recent assassinations of human rights defenders and a trade unionist
On May 17, the Colombian trade unionist, Francisco Antonio ABELLO REBOLLO was assassinated while defending the human rights of the workers at an oil palm plantation in the department of Magdalena. On May 18, the acclaimed human rights defender Rogelio MARTINEZ MERCADO, who led the return process of the numerous families displaced by paramilitary groups from their farm named ‘La Alemania’, was assassinated in the department of Sucre in Colombia. Rogelio Martinez Mercado was a member of the National Movement for Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE) – Sucre, which has received more than 50 attacks since 2006.
On May 23, Alexander QUINTERO, coordinator of the association for victims of the massacre at the River Naya, which occurred in April 2001, was shot by assassins in the municipality of Santander de Quilichao, Cauca. Quintero coordinated the process for truth, justice and reparations for victims of forced displacement and promoted the return of the displaced and the restitution of their lands.
The Administrative Department of Security (DAS): Persecution and surveillance in the
heart of Europe
Within the parameters of the Colombian judicial authorities’ investigations into the systematic policy of illegal persecution which affected of thousands of Colombians, the press recently revealed that Colombian intelligence service activities transcended national borders. The so-called Operation Europe created various networks of espionage in charge of watching, filming and recording presumed enemies or critics to the Colombian government. This operation identified as targets for its illegal activities the human rights sub-committee of the European Parliament, the European judicial authorities, the United Nations Office for Human Rights and some European governments. The strategy orientated towards smearing, sabotaging and promoting a judicial war against critical voices and included infiltration of seminars, meetings and workshop forums organised by civil society.
As the Administrative Department for Security (DAS) is under the direction and control of the President of the Republic, it is difficult to believe that the President was unaware of the existence of this systematic policy of illegal persecution and that DAS acted autonomously. At the moment three officials of the presidential office are under investigation for their presumed participation in the scandal. However, to date there have been no public apologies or resignations.
In light of these facts we ask the European Union to:
1. Make a public announcement about the assassinations of Martinez, Abello and Quintero, and demand that the Colombian government adopts as a matter of priority the recommendations – to date not completed- put forward by the international campaign: ‘Colombia: human rights defenders under threat’ developed by a collective of 275 organisations in 26 countries.
2. Publicly condemn the practices of DAS, investigate their activities in Europe, and establish if they were supported by any of the intelligence services of European member states.
3. Suspend all procedures for the approval of the free trade treaty (TLC) being finalised with Colombia, and put human rights above economic interests in relation to this same country.