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Letter to President Pastrana: Continue Protection for Judge Sánchez
(Washington, D.C., November 22, 2000)

President Andrés Pastrana Arango
República de Colombia
Palacio de Nariño
Santafé de Bogotá, COLOMBIA

Your Excellency:

I am writing to urge you to continue measures adopted by three Colombian presidents to protect Dr. Consuelo Sánchez Durán, currently the Colombian consul in Washington, D.C. I am convinced that her life would be put at serious risk if these measures were discontinued, and that it is the government's responsibility to ensure that she and her family remain protected.

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As you are aware, Dr. Sánchez was a judge who investigated the murder of El Espectador director Guillermo Cano, which took place on December 17, 1986. Although another judge had suspended the investigation for purported lack of evidence, once Judge Sánchez took charge, she collected valuable information linking the murder to Pablo Escobar, at the time the head of the Medellín Cartel.

Her work prompted immediate and serious threats from Escobar and "The Extraditables," the drug traffickers who worked with him. In one message, "The Extraditables" asserted that if Judge Sánchez charged Escobar, she would "commit an error that would stain your life and would plague you until your dying day. You are perfectly aware that we are capable of executing [you] any place on the planet... be aware that if you call Mr. Pablo Escobar to trial, you will be without forbears or descendants in your genealogical tree." The threat went on to name numerous government employees already murdered on Escobar's orders.

At the time, the government took measures to protect Judge Sánchez, which included moving her to the Club Militar and assigning her an armored car. Despite these threats, however, Judge Sánchez ordered Escobar arrested on August 26, 1988.

Judge Sánchez showed uncommon courage and dedication to the cause of justice in doing so. Indeed, she became an international symbol of the risks Colombians take to combat drug trafficking and was praised by many, including members of the U.S. Congress.

Due to the explicit threat against Judge Sánchez, she retired as a judge four days after issuing the order, and was moved by the Colombian government to the post of Colombian consul in the city of Detroit, Michigan, for her safety. In 1989, however, her residence in Detroit was made public, prompting another move to Washington, D.C. There, Sánchez has served as consul since 1989.

Far from concluded, the case she began by ordering Escobar's arrest remains active and continues to place Sánchez in danger. After the Colombian government chose to protect. Sánchez with a move to the United States, several others connected to the case, including two judges, were murdered on Escobar's orders.

The 1993 death of Pablo Escobar did not significantly improve Sánchez's security since several of his associates, including two others linked to Cano's murder, remain alive. Both President Gaviria and President Samper renewed Sánchez's security measures and kept her as consul in Washington.

In 1997, one of the intellectual authors of Cano's murder was arrested and later convicted of the crime. Subsequently, she received credible information from Colombia indicating that she and her family remain in danger.

In cases where public servants have received direct, credible, and continuing threats against their lives because they have fulfilled their duties, we believe it is incumbent upon the government to take the necessary measures to protect them. Certainly, this is an unusual case, given the ability of drug traffickers to carry out threats anywhere in Colombia and long after the principals involved are dead. However, this case merits exceptional treatment in accordance with the government's own commitment to uphold the law and protect human rights.

Currently, many human rights defenders, government investigators, and journalists are under threat because of their work. In some cases, the government has taken measures to protect threatened individuals, including allowing public servants to work outside the country. Given the seriousness of the threat against Sánchez and her family, we urge you to continue the measures adopted to ensure their safety.



José Miguel Vivanco
Executive Director
Americas Division

cc: Guillermo Fernández de Soto, Minister of Foreign Relations
Luis Alberto Moreno, Ambassador