Protect Human Rights Workers in Colombia

Target: Juan Manuel Santos, President of Colombia

Goal: Protect Colombian human rights workers from paramilitaries and launch thorough investigations into incidents of  intimidation and harassment of activists.

In recent months, human rights workers for the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission have faced escalating violence from paramilitary groups–violence that has culminated in attempted murder. Sign the petition and demand that the Colombian government do everything in its power to protect its citizens from paramilitary threats.

Colombia is not known as a haven for human rights; paramilitary forces use violence and threats to control many Colombians. Often, paramilitary groups take control of lands traditionally occupied by “Afro-descendent and Indigenous communities” and force the occupants into growing African palm, a highly lucrative crop. The Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission has been working with affected communities in an effort to oust paramilitary forces. Faiver Chimonja, who is currently working on one of the Commission’s cases, managed to barely evade an assassination attempt by unexpectedly switching his travel plans, while Manuel Garzón, a lawyer for the Commission, was followed out of his office by a man who threatened him to “stay quiet with what you are doing.”

The case the activists are working on concerns two businessmen in the African palm industry who were acting in concert with paramilitary groups. A  judge recently sentenced both men to over ten years in prison, but according to a witness neither one has any intention of serving time or complying with the order to return the land to the communities Garzón was representing. The witness went on to say that the paramilitary groups plan to kill both community leaders and members of the Inter-Church Peace and Justice Commission should the businessmen be convicted.

It is the responsibility of a government to protect its law-abiding citizens from dangerous vigilante groups. Sign the petition and call on President Juan Manuel Santos to offer protection to community members and their allies and to pursue a full and fair investigation into paramilitary activities.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear President Santos,

Across Colombia, many citizens live in fear of paramilitary groups. But for the citizens of the Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó River Basin communities and activists at the Inter-Church Peace and Justice Commission, the situation is dire: paramilitary groups have already attempted to kill one man, have directly threatened another, and have sworn to “massacre” anyone who stands in the way of their plans. I urge you to take a stand and protect law-abiding Colombians from the violent actions of dangerous vigilantes.

Human rights activist Faiver Chimonja narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in August 2013–he happened to change his travel plans. Meanwhile, lawyer Manuel Garzón was followed from his office in Bogotá by a man who threatened him to “stay quiet with what you are doing.” Both men are members of the Inter-Church Peace and Justice Commission and are working with the leaders of the Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó River Basin communities to stave off paramilitary groups with interests in the African palm industry. In fact, Garzón was the lawyer representing the communities in a case against two businessmen with links to both the African palm industry and paramilitary groups, which accounts for the threats he has received. According to a witness, the businessmen have no plans to serve their jail time or return the land they’ve stolen from the communities, and the paramilitary groups have pledged to “massacre” both community leaders and members of the Inter-Church Peace and Justice Commission.

I urge you to do your duty and protect the citizens you were elected to serve. Launch a full, transparent, and impartial investigation into the attempted murder of Faiver Chimonja and the threats against Manuel Garzón, and offer community leaders and members of the Inter-Church Peace and Justice Commission every possible protection.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: SMORENO2007 v

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