Research: Commentary

Letter to the Director of the National Protection Unit of Colombia's Interior Ministry

March 2, 2015 | Letter


March 2, 2015
Mr. Diego Fernando Mora Arango
National Protection Unit 
Ministry of the Interior 
Bogota, Colombia
Dear Mr. Mora Arango,
On behalf of the signatories below, which include human rights groups, faith-based organizations, academics and trade unions, we wish to dialogue with you on the grave security situation facing human rights defenders, journalists, Afro-Colombian and indigenous activists, religious and labor leaders in your country. The National Protection Unit plays a critical role in protecting human rights defenders in Colombia, and it is essential to overcome the challenges facing the institution and improve its protective coverage. First, we wish to strongly condemn the on-going murders of, attacks and threats against human rights defenders and activists. According to the February 2015 report by Somos Defensores, fifty-five human rights defenders were killed in 2014 and suffered 626 aggressions including 488 death threats. Human rights defenders have survived assassination attempts, were intimidated, harassed and the targets of illegal followings. Media reports also indicate that at least 13 of the victims who visited Havana as part of the peace talks have received death threats. 
Such attacks continue unabated in 2015. The murder of Carlos Alberto Pedraza Salcedo, whose lifeless body was found on January 21 in Cundinamarca, was particularly disturbing. Mr. Pedraza was a key leader of the Congreso de los Pueblos, Cumbre Agraria and the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE). He played a central role in advocating for justice and remembrance in police brutality cases. He was killed by a shot to the head.
In late October 2014, a group of U.S. human rights advocates met with your predecessor Andres Villamizar, where we discussed the UNP’s budget shortfall issues, the corruption scandal, protests by bodyguards of violation of their labor rights and large number of reports by recipients who were experiencing difficulties with the provision of measures. Sadly, we continue to receive information from our partners of serious problems concerning their measures that have yet to be resolved. This is problematic given that death threats against human rights defenders, victims and peace process supporters, labor activists and Afro-Colombians have increased since the middle of last year. In many cases, those targeted are directly and indirectly crucial to the success of Colombia’s peace process so attacks against them undermine the pursuit of peace.
We respectfully urge you to take the following actions:
1) Participate proactively in the Roundtable on Guarantees for Human Rights Defenders and implement the agreements that emerge from that mechanism of dialogue between the Colombian government and Colombia’s human rights defenders and implement relevant agreements. Regular, periodic meetings of the roundtable with your presence and other high-level presence from the Attorney General’s office, the Presidential Advisor for Human Rights, the Ombudsman’s office, the Inspector General’s office, and other relevant agencies is essential to improve protection.
2) Publicly condemn all killings, attacks and threats against human rights defenders,journalists, peace, religious, land, ethnic minority, religious, and labor activists, starting with Carlos Pedraza so as to send clear and consistent messages to perpetrators that such acts will not be tolerated by the Government of Colombia. Immediately act to address the protection shortfalls and problems with measures affecting our partners (see list in addendum). We respectfully ask you to convene meetings with these recipients as soon as possible. Please let us know what advancements will take place regarding these cases since we will be monitoring them closely. 
3) End the UNP’s practice of sub-contracting bodyguards and protection services, as the Roundtable on Guarantees recommended and the previous UNP director agreed to implement. By doing this, the UNP can reduce costs, prevent corruption and improve the labor rights of protection program personnel. This will help the protection program more effective and accountable. Of course, when changing labor contracts it is important that this be done in consultation and agreement with the labor unions concerned. 
4) Develop specialized groups of bodyguards who are trained to protect trade unionists, Afro-Colombians, and women. More ethnic minorities should be hired to serve in areas where those populations are the majority. Again, such initiatives should be consulted with the groups concerned. 
5) Guarantee that proper anti-corruption measures and filters are put in place at the UNP.
6) Advance and implement the decree required for Colombian institutions to provide collective measures for Afro-Colombians and other vulnerable groups as soon as possible in full and continual consultation with the groups to be protected.
7) Use your good offices to encourage the Attorney General’s office to advance on investigation of attacks against human rights defenders, including the threats that are never properly investigated. While this is not under your area of responsibility, you canplay an important role in encouraging other agencies to carry out their duties for a holistic approach to protection.
We look forward to your response. We would be honored to meet with you on your next trip to Washington, DC.
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
Solidarity Center
Latin America Working Group (LAWG)
Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights
Healing Bridges
Colombia Land Rights Monitor
Center for International Policy (CIP)
Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)
Agustin Lao Montes, PhD
Associate Professor, Sociology
Center for Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino Studies Afro-American Studies University of 
Massachusetts at Amherst
Annalise Udall Romoser
Latin America Program Manager, Forest Campaigns
Environmental Investigation Agency
Arturo Escobar
Professor of Anthropology
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Barbara Gerlach
Colombia Liaison
Justice and Witness Ministries
United Church of Christ
Daniel M. Kovalik
Senior Associate General Counsel
United Steelworkers, AFL-CIO
Eunice Mina Escobar
Afro-Colombian Solidarity Network
Rev. Fritz Gutwein
Presbyterian Peace Fellowship
Gail Phares
Witness for Peace
Gary L. Cozette
Program Director
Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America
James Counts Early
Board of Trustees
Institute for Policy Studies
Julia Duranti
Witness for Peace Southeast 
Jessica Heineman-Pieper, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, School of Government, Policy and International Affairs
George Mason University
Joseph Jordan
Afro-Colombian Solidarity Network
Rev. Michael Neuroth
Policy Advocate for International Issues
Justice and Witness Ministries
United Church of Christ
Ofunshi Oba Koso
Minnesota Yoruba Cuba Association
Pedro L. Cortes-Ruiz
PhD Candidate, Howard University 
Rick Ufford-Chase
Presbyterian Peace Fellowship
Ron Garcia-Fogarty
Regional Director
Witness for Peace Southeast
Sandra Vermuyten
Equality and Rights Officer
Public Service International 
Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo
Director of Colombia Programs
Presbyterian Peace Fellowship
Tianna Paschel
Neubauer Family Assistant Professor
University of Chicago
Department of Political Science
CC: Guillermo Rivera, Consejeria Presidencial para los Derechos Humanos
Fernando Cristo, Ministerio del Interior
Luis Carlos Villegas, Colombia Ambassador to the U.S. 
Appendix of Human Rights and Labor Security Situations Requiring Intervention:
Defensores de Derechos Humanos
Acción Comunal del Porvenir en Puerto Gaitán in particular Miguel Briceño
Asociacion de Consejos Comunitarios del Norte del Cauca (ACONC)
Association de Comunidades Indígenas del Norte del Cauca (ACIN) 
Association Nacional para Afro-Colombianos Desplazados (AFRODES) in particular, Erlendy Cuero Bravo, Bernardo Cuero and Marino Cordoba and the collective protection measures for 
over 140 leaders.
Caribe Afirmativo 
Colectivo Jose Alvear Restrepo (CCAJAR)
Colombia Europa-Estados Unidos in particular Alberto Yepes
Comité en Solidaridad con Presos Políticos (FCSPP) in particular Rommel Duran, Jose Humberto Torres, Franklin Castañeda, Leonardo Jaimes, Agustin Jimenez (ahora con la oficina de Senador 
Cepeda) and Gloria Silva
Consejo Comunitario Cerro Teta in particular Jose Nifer Diaz Mina
Consejo Comunitario de La Toma (Cauca) in particular Lisyfrei Ararat, Francia Elena Marquez Mina, Eduar Mina Lopez and Erley Ibarra
Consejo Comunitario Nueva Esperanza del Hoyo (Patía) in particular Jairo Contreras
Consejo Comunitario Mayor de la Opoca (COCOMOPOCA)
Consejo Regional Indigena del Cauca (CRIC)
Comision Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz (CIJP) in particular Danilo Rueda
Consultoría para los Derechos Humanos y Desplazamiento Forzado (CODHES) in particular Marco Romero
DH Colombia in particular Jorge Molano
Espacio Humanitario de la Playita (Buenaventura)
Luis Ernesto Olave Valencia
Minga Conferencia National Afro-Colombiana CNOA Cauca and Unidad de Organizaciones 
Afrocaucanas (UOAFROC)
Movimiento de Víctimas de Crímenes de Estado (MOVICE) in particular MOVICE Valle (Martha Giraldo Villano and Jose Milciades Sanchez Ortiz); Liliana Peña (Magdalena Medio); Diana Montilla (Nariño); MOVICE Atlántico (Maria Cedeño Sarmiento, Nevys Niño, Marta Diaz, Nicolas Castro, Rosario Montoya, Juan Martinez); MOVICE Sucre (Andres Narváez, Gustavo Arrieta, Franklin Manuel Torres, Ingrid Vergara); MOVICE Caldas (Jose Jair Valencia Agudelo, Marco Antonio Rico Restrepo, Cristian Camilo Patino Velásquez, Luz Elena Cano Perez), and Blanca Nubia Diaz and her family (Bogota/Riohacha). 
Organización Afrodescendiente “Centro de Autoreconocimiento Afrocolombiano” (CENAFRO) 
Organización Nacional Indigena (ONIC)
Rostros y Huellas (Buenaventura) in particular Benildo Estupiñan Solis 
Zonas Humanitarias de Jiguamiandó y Curvaradó (Chocó) 
Defensores de Derechos Laborales
Asociacion de Trabajadores Enfermos de Drummond Puerto (ASOTREDP) in particular Anibal Perez
Consejo Nacional Afro-Colombiano (CLAF) in particular Agripina Hurtado
Sindicato de Trabajadores de las Empresas Municipales de Cali (SINTRAEMCALI)
SINTRAINAGRO in particular Jhonsson Torres, Mauricio Ramoz Garcia, Alfondo Viafara and Oscar Delgado, Guillermo Rivera Zapata and Medardo Cuesta
Union Obrera (USO)
Union Portuaria
Union Sindical Emcali (USE) in particular Harold Viafra, Ricardo Montoya, James Agudelo and Luis Lozano
Claudia Julieta Duque
Congressman Ivan Cepeda and his aide Ana Jimena Bautista 
Hollman Morris and Canal Capital staff
Jorge Rojas
Piedad Cordoba
Presbyterian Church 
Guarantee integral protection for all of the victims representatives, LGBT activists and gender sub-commission experts who have and will travel to Havana, Cuba in support of the peace talks.
CIP in the Press