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Defending Human Rights

Human rights defenders, community leaders, government investigators, and journalists continued to face threats, attacks, and death throughout the year. Four human rights defenders were killed and three "disappeared" during the first ten months of 2000.

Threats were particularly acute in the oil-refining city of Barrancabermeja, long the home of a vibrant and broad-based human rights movement. On July 11, Elizabeth Cañas-whose son and brother were seized by paramilitaries in 1998 and have yet to be found-was shot and killed in Barrancabermeja. Cañas was a member of the Association of Family Members of the Detained and Disappeared (Asociación de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos-Colombia, ASFADDES). By September, dozens of human rights defenders and trade unionists had received death threats. Almost all appeared to be the work of paramilitary groups who vowed to "sip coffee" in guerrilla-controlled neighborhoods by year's end.

Angel Quintero and Claudia Patricia Monsalve, also ASFADDES members, were "disappeared" in Medellín, Antioquia, on October 6. Indigenous activist Jairo Bedoya Hoyos, a member of the Antioquia Indigenous Organization (Organización Indígena de Antioquia, OIA) who worked on human rights issues, was also "disappeared" on March 2.

The Regional Corporation for the Defense of Human Rights (Corporación Regional para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos, CREDHOS) received over a dozen telephone death threats in August and September. Its members were featured on a death list circulated in Barrancabermeja in September; a trade unionist on a separate list was murdered in July, a lawyer remained in critical condition after an attack, and another lawyer had fled Colombia.

Demetrio Playonero, a displaced person and human rights leader, was murdered, apparently by paramilitaries, on March 31. After shooting him in the head in front of his wife at his farm outside Yondó, Antioquia, the gunmen breakfasted, then stole the farm's cattle. In May, Jesús Ramiro Zapata, the only remaining member of the Segovia Human Rights Committee, was killed near Segovia.

Government prosecutor Margarita María Pulgarín Trujillo, part of a team investigating cases linking paramilitaries to the army and regional drug traffickers, was murdered in Medellín on April 3, apparently because of her work. Several of her colleagues had already fled Colombia because of death threats from a gang of hired killers known as "La Terraza," close allies of Carlos Castaño. Although several members of "La Terraza" were either dead or under arrest by October 2000, the group remained active and able to instill terror in those it threatened.

Civilian groups, including human rights organizations, also faced attack from the FARC, which in October 2000 characterized them as "paid killers [for the Colombian military]." In a statement on why they failed to honor an invitation to an October 2000 peace meeting in San José, Costa Rica, sponsored by a broad coalition of human rights, peace, and community groups, the FARC dismissed the effort as organized by "the enemies of Colombia and its people." In such ways, the guerrillas contributed to a general atmosphere of fear and intolerance that endangered human rights defenders.

Government efforts to protect threatened defenders continued to be slow, inadequate, and often irrelevant. Even as government offices provided bullet-proof glass to threatened offices and distributed bullet-proof vests, defenders continued to be murdered by experienced killers who often benefitted from impunity. Cases involving the murder of human rights defenders-among them the 1996 killing of Josué Giraldo Cardona; the 1997 killings of Mario Calderón, Elsa Alvarado, and Carlos Alvarado; the 1998 killings of Jesús Valle Jaramillo and EduardoUmaña Mendoza; and the 1999 killing of Julio González and Everardo de Jesús Puerta-remained either under investigation or with only the material authors of the crimes identified or under arrest. In all cases, the people who planned and paid for the killings remained at large.

Members of the Colombian military continued to accuse government investigators, agencies, and nongovernmental organizations of having been infiltrated by opposition guerrillas, and questioned the legitimacy of investigations. The Colombian Armed Forces General Command maintained on its official web site a text that directly accused Human Rights Watch and the U.S. embassy's human rights officer of forming part of a "strange and shameful alliance" with a criminal drug trafficking cartel. After the February 2000 release of Human Rights Watch's report, "The Ties That Bind: Colombia and Military-Paramilitary Links," Gen. Fernando Tapias, Colombia's commander-in-chief, and army General Mora, echoed this rhetoric by suggesting that Human Rights Watch was in the pay of drug traffickers.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2000

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