House Lawmakers Urge Secretary Kerry to Condemn Violence in Colombia

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA), a senior House Democrat and leading voice on human rights, led a group of 37 House lawmakers in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry expressing deep concern about the escalation of killings and assaults in Colombia on human rights defenders, LGBT and women activists, labor leaders and other social leaders.

In the letter, the lawmakers call on Secretary Kerry to take strong and immediate steps to address the increased violence and support protections for groups under attack.

December 13, 2016

The Honorable John F. Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Secretary Kerry,

We write to express our greatest sense of urgency and extreme concern regarding the escalation of murders, threats and attacks against Colombian human rights defenders, trade unionists, LGBT and women activists, land rights advocates, and community, campesino, Afro-Colombian and Indigenous leaders.

We know that you share our concern. For this reason, we urge you to press and work with the Colombian government to publicly condemn this violence in the strongest possible terms, increase and expand mechanisms designed to prevent such attacks from being carried out, and provide defenders and social leaders protection so that they may continue exercising their invaluable leadership and work. Such actions must be done repeatedly and consistently, in all regions and at all levels of government. We also strongly recommend that protection measures be designed in close consultation with vulnerable communities, individuals and organizations in order to strengthen their effectiveness.

We emphatically condemn these murders and the intimidation of social leaders and activists. They are the very human capital that Colombia requires as it now faces the challenges of implementing the peace accords, promoting development and political participation, and providing guarantees for truth, justice, reparations and an end to violence. Colombia does not need more victims; it needs community, regional and national leaders willing to take on these challenges.

In June, U.S. Ambassador Kevin Whitaker joined the ambassadors from Sweden, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Norway and Canada and denounced the killings of Colombian human rights defenders and pledged to work on behalf of defenders at risk. We strongly encourage you to direct Ambassador Whitaker and this diplomatic group to visit areas where defenders are most threatened and vulnerable, denounce the violence perpetrated against these defenders and activists, and provide mechanisms of protection.

At the same time, we urge you, Mr. Secretary, to work with the appropriate authorities in Colombia to ensure the prompt implementation of point 3.4 of the Peace Accord in its entirety, which includes a fully functioning High Level Commission on Security Guarantees and an active Special Investigation Unit within the Public Prosecutor’s Office, along with point 5.2., which commits the government to establishing policies and strategies of protection for human rights defenders, in particular those who are victims of paramilitary and official authorities. Given the spike in killings and assaults, it is imperative that these mandates are achieved rapidly and vigorously. It is also notable that neither of these points was raised as a matter of controversy by opponents of the accords.

Please know, Mr. Secretary, that we stand ready to provide whatever support we can to protect these defenders and activists and advance their role in building and consolidating a just and lasting peace in Colombia.