Eleanor Douglas and Jose Giron: The international community must condemn violence before it’s too late.
Colombia already has a reputation as being one of the most violent countries in Latin America but a human rights official from a church-supported agency in Medellin says the violence will get worse unless the international community speaks out.
Last year there were 201 massacres and 3,200 assassinations in Colombia, said Jose Giron, spokesperson for the Institute for People’s Empowerment (IPC), in an interview with the Journal on Parliament Hill in March. “But we haven’t seen the worst of it yet and that’s why were asking the international community to act quickly.”
Mr. Giron, accompanied by Eleanor Douglas, development co-ordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean for the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, also thanked Canadians for their help in gaining the release of four IPC workers, kidnapped Jan. 28 by a paramilitary group headed by Colombian warlord Carlo Castano. The four human rights monitors were released unharmed in February.
“We’re convinced the four were freed because of international solidarity,” said Mr. Giron. “Usually, whoever is kidnapped is assassinated.”
Ms. Douglas, also a member of the IPC board of directors, traveled to Colombia following the kidnapping and told the Journal later that some human rights groups are shutting down their offices because of attacks on human rights workers. She said that at least 16 human rights activists have been assassinated in the country since 1997.
Mr. Giron, who met with State Department officials in Washington before arriving in Canada for talks with representatives of churches and NGOs, proposed a “twinning” arrangement between the organizations and human rights groups in Colombia. Such an agreement could help ensure the safety of human rights workers, he said. “For instance, the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (an IPC partner) would publicly say, ?We are working with the IPC and we are defending their right to exist,'” he said. “While it may not be very evident, the government, the guerrillas and the paramilitary forces are sensitive to international opinion.”
He also asked that Canadians “continue political pressure and continue talking about the defense of human rights in Colombia,” adding, “We’re asking the international community not to wait until it’s too late.”
While in Canada, Mr. Giron met with officials of Development and Peace in Montreal, and other solidarity groups, including the Inter-Church Committee on Human Rights in Latin America in Toronto. A scheduled meeting with David Kilgour, Secretary of State for Latin America and Africa, was canceled to allow the minister to attend a funeral.