On September 1, one of Colombia’s main television news programs broadcast a report alleging that, as part of the FARC guerrillas’ “international support network,” the prominent human-rights group MINGA had been helping FARC and ELN members gain asylum in Canada.
“Since 2001, Canada has become the largest recipient of Colombian refugees. In addition, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), among them ‘MINGA,’ have been responsible for helping FARC and ELN members emigrate to Canada,” read text splashed onto the screen by the “CM&” news program.
This claim is beyond ridiculous, it is false and it is dangerous for MINGA’s employees. We say this as one of dozens of Colombia-focused organizations that have worked closely with MINGA, and admired their brave work, for many years.
When MINGA’s director contacted the news program, she was told that the Canada asylum allegation came from an intelligence report that “government security agencies” had distributed to the news media [PDF excerpt].
It is already dangerous enough to be a human-rights defender in Colombia. Denouncing government human-rights abuse, as MINGA does, is risky – but the risk multiplies many times if an “official” source claims that the group or individual doing the denouncing is somehow allied with an illegal armed group. For cowardly and unnamed Colombian security-force officials to be distributing false reports tying human rights workers to terrorist groups is terrifying and outrageous. It demands a strong international response.
Here is a translation of a letter MINGA sent to the Colombian government’s Inspector-General (Procurador), Edgardo Maya. It demands rectification of the allegations broadcast on September 1, and repeats a years-old recommendation that Colombia’s security forces, with the Inspector-General’s participation, clear false claims about human-rights defenders from the security forces’ intelligence files. It is more than past time for that recommendation to be met.
BogotÃ¡, September 4, 2008
EDGARDO MAYA VILLAZÃ“N
INSPECTOR-GENERAL OF THE NATION
Re: Intelligence Report affects integrity of Human Rights Defenders in Colombia.
Dear Mr. Inspector-General:
Accept a respectful greeting from our peace and human rights organizations.
On September 1, the “CM&” news program, in its 9:30 PM broadcast, published a news piece entitled “The government launches offensive against the FARC’s International Front,” in which reference is made to the supposed collaboration of human rights NGOs, among them MINGA, in Colombian guerrillas’ emigration to Canada.
Afterward, and in response to our request for rectification, the news program indicated on its web page, on September 3, that the information against MINGA propagated on September 1 is based on an intelligence report from state security agencies, recently distributed to the media.
This information, coming from the national government, affects not just the good name of this human rights organization, but puts at grave risk the physical and moral integrity of human rights defenders, of MINGA’s employees and, in general, of the national human rights and peace movement.
Worse, this information constitutes an open attack against the legal and legitimate work that human-rights organizations carry out in Colombia, while directly contravening the recommendation of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:
“The High Commissioner encourages the Government to promote legislation that adequately regulates the use of military intelligence archives, including applicable procedures for their annual review by the Inspector-General. The Defense Minister is urged to cooperate with the Inspector-General to identify criteria, parameters and other relevant aspects to be utilized, with the goal of excluding from their registries erroneous or tendentious information about human rights defenders and organizers.”
as well as the declarations of governments that repeatedly ask the Colombian government to provide effective security guarantees for human rights organizations in Colombia, among them the cleansing of intelligence archives, which have served as a basis for past murders, attacks and forced disappearances against human rights defenders.
It must be emphasized that these pronouncements are taking place at a moment when the government and the central platforms of human rights and peace organizations are discussing, with the international community’s observation, conditions and guarantees for civil society’s participation in the process of developing a National Action Plan for Human Rights and IHL. That makes this new stigmatization a clear declaration from the government that it refuses to accept the role of human rights defenders and peace workers, and that it will not offer the full security guarantees necessary for us to carry out this labor.
Mr. Inspector-General, the government, the international community, the UN system and human rights organizations have signaled that you should have the responsibility for carrying out the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ recommendation, with reference to the cleansing of intelligence files. As a result, we urgently ask that you begin an exhaustive disciplinary investigation about the intelligence report that was distributed by the state security organisms, which unfairly affects the work and the good name of MINGA, and that you ensure that the same thing does not happen to other human rights and peace organizations.
At the same time, whe ask you to convene, as soon as possible, a meeting with the presence of the defense minister, the interior minister, the foreign minister, the vice-president, the director-general of the police, the director of the DAS (presidential security division), the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ representative, delegates of the human rights and peace organziations andÂ MINGA, to establish mechanisms that allow us to overcome the stigmatization that intelligence reports inflict on the legitimate work of human rights and peace workers, to publicly rectify the information that was distributed, and to repair the damage caused to MINGA.
Gloria InÃ©s FlÃ³rez Schneider
Director, Association for Alternative Social Promotion – MINGA
ALIANZA DE ORGANIZACIONES SOCIALES Y AFINES
COORDINACIÃ“N COLOMBIA EUROPA ESTADOS UNIDOS
PLATAFORMA COLOMBIANA DE DERECHOS HUMANOS, DEMOCRACIA Y DESARROLLO.
CONFLUENCIA POR LA DEMOCRACIA Y CONTRA LA GUERRA.
ASAMBLEA PERMANENTE DE LA SOCIEDAD CIVIL POR LA PAZ.
C.C. Dra. Patricia Linares, Procuradora Delegada para la PrevenciÃ³n en Materia Derechos Humanos y Asuntos Etnicos.
Dr. Volmar Antonio PÃ©rez, Defensor del Pueblo
Dr. Fabio Valencia Cossio, Ministro del Interior y de Justicia
Dr. Francisco Santos, Vicepresidente de la RepÃºblica
Dr. Juan Manuel Santos, Ministro de la Defensa
Dr. Jaime BermÃºdez, Ministro de Relaciones Exteriores
Alto Comisionado de las Naciones Unidas para los Derechos Humanos