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Letter to Colombian president expressing concern over protection of human rights defenders

Letter to the Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos expressing concern over protection of human rights defenders

29 January 2015

Dr Juan Manuel Santos Calderón
President of the Republic of Colombia

Your Excellency,

It is with great concern that the World Council of Churches (WCC) has been informed of a serious death threat to human rights defenders and partners in Colombia. On 14 January 2015, we received a complaint from Church leaders in Colombia regarding threats launched at them by a paramilitary group, the Aguilas Negras.

More particularly on 11 January 2015, 39 human rights activists, renowned for their long time commitment and work on victims’ rights, land restitution and support and promotion of the peace process, were individually named in a list issued by the Aguilas Negras, which was posted online and reported by Journal El Heraldo. The paramilitary group explicitly stated that those individuals are considered "military objectives", stating their intention to eliminate them.

Among the human rights activists mentioned, are also a number of prominent Colombian Church leaders. More particularly, Agustin Jimenez from the Menonite Church Teusaquillo, Father Fernando Sanchez from the Anglican Church in the Caribbean Coast, Jairo Barriga, German Zarate and Milton Mejia from the Presbyterian Church and Father Fernando Gary Martinez from the Roman Catholic Church.

The Church representatives appearing in this list are highly respected members of the international ecumenical movement with whom WCC member churches have worked over the years. They are known for their outstanding Christian commitment and courageous witness in the struggle for life, peace, justice and human dignity in Colombia.

The WCC has a long history of accompaniment with the churches and people in Colombia in their struggle for an end to the armed conflict. Over the years it has organized solidarity visits in the country and its governing bodies issued a number of public statements denouncing the human rights violations, calling for an end to the armed conflict and applauding the steps towards peace talks. It has also actively supported ecumenical responses to the conflict and human rights situation in Colombia. It is therefore very disturbing for us to see that Church leaders and activists engaged in the promotion and protection of human rights and in the peace process have become targets of this blatant violence.

It is our strong belief that such threats seriously impede the work of human rights defenders in Colombia by creating a widespread climate of fear. It is for this reason, your Excellency, that the World Council of Churches would like to call on the Colombian government to take all necessary measures to effectively protect the life and physical integrity of the Church leaders mentioned above as well as of all other human rights defenders under threat; to carry out an independent and impartial investigation into the authors of these threats with due trial and appropriate penalties; to be mindful of its obligations with respect to the security and protection of those working for the defence of human rights, and in the light of this, to take the immediate and effective measures necessary to ensure that these Church leaders and human rights advocates can continue their work of defending human rights and human dignity, without danger and stigmatization.

Sincerely yours,

Georges Lemopoulos,
WCC acting general secretary