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Letter to Manuel Marulanda Vélez, Secretariado General, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia
Release Information About Henry A. Grosch-Garces
(Washington, D.C., November 29, 2000)

Manuel Marulanda Vélez
Secretariado General
Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia

Dear Commander Marulanda:

After receiving no response, I am writing to you publicly and for the second time to urge you to release information immediately about Henry A. Grosch-Garces, taken as a hostage by the 30th Front of the FARC on May 28, 1999, near Buenaventura.

Related Material

HRW Reports on Colombia

HRW Letters & Press Releases on Colombia (en español/in spanish)

According to our information, the FARC seized Grosch at his residence at La Bocana, on Buevaventura's harbor. Mr. Grosch's wife, Beatriz Concha Eastman, and others were present, and later told Human Rights Watch that armed men immediately identified Mr. Grosch, forced him into a boat, and disappeared.

"[Hostages']continued captivity and mistreatment is a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law, and we call for their immediate, unconditional, and safe release."

José Miguel Vivanco
Executive Director
Americas Division

Subsequently, Concha Eastman received several telephone calls at her home and work from a man identifying himself as a representative of the FARC's 30th Front and demanding a ransom of 700 million pesos. The kidnappers also forwarded letters to the family reputedly from Mr. Grosch, pleading for money. In one of the last calls, the kidnappers told Concha Eastman that her husband was seriously ill.

Another hostage who was briefly held with Mr. Grosch confirmed that the captors were members of the FARC. After his release, this hostage told the family that he had seen Mr. Grosch briefly in October 1999, and reported that he appeared moribund. Grosch was a heavy smoker and suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure.

Later reports indicated that Mr. Grosch may have died, but no body has been recovered. If this proves true, we urge you in the strongest possible terms to release this information immediately and return Mr. Grosch's remains to the family.

In public statements, you and other FARC leaders have claimed that you do not take hostages, but rather "retain" civilians in order to charge a tax. However, I would like to point out that there is an international consensus that a hostage-taking occurs when something is demanded in exchange for an individual's release, whether it be money or political concessions, clearly relevant in these cases.

Human Rights Watch defines hostages in accordance with the globally-accepted standards established by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Hostages are "persons who find themselves, willingly or unwillingly, in the power of the enemy and who answer with their freedom or their life for compliance with [the enemy's] orders."

Hostage-taking is prohibited by Article 1(b) of Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions as well as Article 4 (2) (c) of Protocol II. According to the laws of war, hostage-takers seek to influence the behavior of third parties in some way by threatening a hostage with physical harm; the definition relies on the hostage's detention by a party to the conflict and the possibility that the hostage will be exchanged for some concession made by a third party.

In all cases where an individual is taken hostage, combatants are required to treat captives humanely and, when a release is planned, guarantee their well-being during that release. In this case, evidence strongly suggests that the FARC failed to provide adequate medical care to Mr. Grosch, an additional violation of the group's responsibilities under the laws of war.

As we have repeatedly pointed out to FARC leaders, the applicability of the laws of war is not a matter of choice. Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions applies automatically once a situation of armed conflict exists objectively. Protocol II is applicable when opposing forces in an internal conflict are under a responsible command, exercise enough control over territory to mount sustained and coordinated military operations, and are able to implement Protocol II, all of which the conflict in Colombia clearly satisfies.

Human Rights Watch considers that all civilians taken by the FARC and held for ransom or political concessions are hostages. Their continued captivity and mistreatment is a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law, and we call for their immediate, unconditional, and safe release. The FARC should immediately order its members to cease taking hostages or practicing so-called "retentions," a cynical euphemism for arbitrarily depriving non-combatants of their liberty and well-being.



José Miguel Vivanco
Executive Director
Americas Division