Human Rights Watch condemned the August 29 bomb attack against the offices of the Popular Training Institute (Instituto Popular de Capacitación, IPC), a well-known non-governmental organization based in Medellín, Colombia, that works on issues involving human rights, development and peace.

Local sources report that a bomb was detonated near an outside door at IPC's offices about 1 a.m. The offices are located in the city's Prado Centro neighborhood. Official reports indicate that the shock wave destroyed much of the office. A taxi driver who happened to be passing when the bomb exploded was treated and released from a nearby hospital.

Unknown individuals also detonated bombs outside the offices of a Medellín labor union. A bomb placed at the doorway of the regional headquarters of Colombia's main oil workers' union, the Workers' Union (Unión Sindical Obrera, USO) was deactivated before it exploded. In the cities of Bogotá, Cali, Barranquilla, and Barrancabermeja, police have recorded several bomb attacks on banks and other civilian offices which they have attributed to guerrilla groups.

"It's clear that the defense of human rights and international humanitarian law is seen by some in Colombia as a criminal act, which we reject categorically," said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch. "These attacks must be aggressively investigated and those responsible should be punished."

The most recent Human Rights Watch report on Colombia, "War Without Quarter: Colombia and International Humanitarian Law," detailed dozens of cases of the use of bombs against civilians or civilian institutions, a serious violation of the laws of war.

Vivanco noted that in January, paramilitaries acting on the orders of Carlos Castaño kidnapped four IPC employees, but eventually released them all, thanks in part to international pressure.

"Human rights defenders face an emergency in Colombia," Vivanco said. "The government must protect their work, but it is assuming this responsibility too slowly. The authorities must mobilize quickly now, to guarantee the lives and well being of human rights defenders."