Colombia Robinson voices concern over rise in harassment of rights advocates

“I have seen for myself the commitment and courage of Colombian human rights defenders, who despite horrific violence and ongoing turmoil continue to work tirelessly to build peace and respect for fundamental freedoms in the country,” the High Commissioner said in a statement. She also called on the Government to comply with a key UN rights document, officially known as the UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.Mrs. Robinson’s statement cited repeatedly death threats against the executive and members of the Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo (José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Group), as well as accusations aimed at disparaging the orgnization’s work and questioning its commitment to human rights.Human rights defenders in the town of Barrancabermeja, the scene of serious rights abuses in the past, have also come under renewed threat, in particular the Organización Femenina Popular (Popular Women’s Organization) and its president, Yolanda Becerra. One of the members, Diofanol Sierra Vargas, was murdered in Barrancabermeja on 8 April of this year.According to reports, most of these acts of violence and intimidation are the work of paramilitary groups. The High Commissioner stressed, however, that she was particularly worried that public servants, and especially members of the security forces, have been repeatedly quoted as making unsubstantiated statements undermining the work of human rights organizations and their members.”This contributes to a climate in which criminals feel they can threaten and attack human rights defenders with impunity,” Mrs. Robinson said.

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