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MCC part of NGO coalition calling for peace in Colombia

Rebecca Bartel and Cathryn Clinton
May 14, 2008

BOGOTA, Colombia-- On March 6, in Bogotá, Colombia, demonstrators called for an end to the violence by state and paramilitary forces, but assassinations of four union leaders, some reported to be associated with this demonstration, occurred between March 4 and March 11.

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) service workers were unofficial observers of the March 6 demonstration and participated in vigils for peace. In addition, MCC was part of a group of 22 international human rights organizations that sent a letter to the Colombian president stating that "a climate of political intolerance that fosters violence" was heightened by statements made by a close advisor to the president.

The attacks on the four union leaders came shortly after comments made by presidential advisor José Obdulio Gaviria, linking organizers of the March 6 demonstration to the country’s largest guerrilla organization, the FARC (Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia).

These four murders brought the number of assassinated union leaders to 24 this year, more than were killed in all of 2007. There has been an overall increase in human rights violations including attacks, harassment and death threats in 2008.

The United States, Canada and Colombia have pushed free trade agendas under the pretext of an improved human rights situation and increased security. Although the talks have stalled in the United States, the issue will probably be debated again under a new administration.

The coalition of NGOs, including MCC, calls on the Colombian president to:
  • Publicly disavow statements by Gaviria and others that linked the protest organizers to guerillas;  
  • Reject the recent wave of attacks and reaffirm his government’s support for the protection of the legitimate work of trade unionists and other human rights defenders; and  
  • Ensure a prompt and impartial investigation into each of the recent attacks, hold those responsible to account, and take decisive action to dismantle paramilitary groups and break their links to state officials.

When asked about observing the demonstration and signing the letter, a local MCC service worker said that they had considered not participating, but given the political context now, it seemed important to demonstrate their solidarity with the victims of this war.

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