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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Human Rights Violations in Catatumbo


A Report by the Asociaciòn Campesina del Catatumbo,  Dated 1 August 2006

(Translated by Dan Baird, a CSN Translator)

The Asociación Campesina del Catatumbo wishes to inform Colombian and international opinion that:

Members of the 30th Brigade and the 15th Mobile Brigade of the Colombian Army have been responsible for Human Rights violations against the rural population in various parts of the Catatumbo region, north of Santander;

In rural areas where peasants are living  in the municipalities of Convención, Teorama y El Tarra, belonging to the region of High and Central Catatumbo, the Army has carried out  machine-gunning and shelling, putting at risk the lives of the people and causing physical and psychological damage.

Because of the threat and tension caused by the Army¹s behaviour, fear and panic are widespread.

In May JOSÉ TRINIDAD ABRIL, a young boy from the district of Las Palmas in Convención, was held and interrogated by troops for an hour, during which he was subjected to physical and psychological abuse as they questioned him on the whereabouts of local guerrilla commanders.

Soldiers threatened to beat him and throw him on a hole unless he gave him this information. The youth wept in terror as they accused him of being a guerrilla.  He was only saved from the situation by a soldier who recognised him as a civilian  and reminded the others that they had, in fact, earlier passed through the area where he lived.

In a later incident in San Calixto, on 5th June, the Army killed JOSÉ GUVER LÓPEZ and  JOSÉ ORTIZ,  local peasants who they later said were guerillas killed in combat. On this occasion the local council spoke out and condemned the Army¹s claims.

There was a similar incident on 19 July when soldiers  from the 15th Mobile Brigade killed LUIS ANGARITA, a 22-year old peasant, in the El Limón district of Teorama. Local people said on "Radio Catatumbo" that the Army killed him when he was on his way to work as a day laborer. Troops subsequently dressed his body in camouflage clothes and claimed that he had been a subversive working with guerrillas in El Limón ­ an area where there is no guerrilla presence at all.

In another incident, on 24th June in Aserrío,  ANTONIO GUILLIN ORTIZ was subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the Army. He was held from 8am to 2pm, while soldiers struck him on the face and threatened him with their rifles.  They insulted him, accused him of being a guerrilla, and robbed him of 150,000 pesos.

The people of the region wish it known that they are repeatedly accused by the Army of being guerrillas or of helping the guerrillas or of being militia members.  This has reached the point where even the children of Las Palmas district have been accused of subversion.

On houses in areas through which the Army has passed there can now be seen graffiti referring to the paramilitary groups AUI, AUC and Los Rastrojos (The Weeds). Soldiers have even said that they belong to these groups and  announce that after them will come the Águilas Negras (The Black Eagles), a paramilitary group that operates North of Santander.

The people of Catatumbo complain: "We are afraid and live in panic because the Army moves into our houses during the night, forbids us to go out-of-doors or  go to the toilet, or to have lights.  It will soon be that if we take ill, we will have to die shut-up  in our houses.".

All the Councils for Community Action are in fear because of  the various abuses committed by the Army in the region.

Because of these and other actions carried out in this  region, the  ASOCIACIÓN CAMPESINA DEL CATATUMBO asks Brigadier General Miguel Bernabé Lozano Perea and  those in command of  the 30th Brigade and   the 15th Mobile Brigade to educate the troops taking part in these operations on  respect for Human Rights and on the requirements of International Humanitarian Law.

We remind members of these brigades that the primary responsibility for the protection of human rights falls, in accordance with constitutional principles and international treaties and conventions, on the Colombian state.  The Armed Forces, an integral part of that state, are responsible for overseeing the maintenance of commitments undertaken internationally on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.

We also recall that the foremost duty of the State is to prevent violations of Fundamental Rights.  It is its duty to  take all means possible to investigate, judge and punish those who, whether by omission or commission, are responsible for such violations. The State has the duty to take all necessary administrative and political measures to prevent such  crimes being committed in the region of Catatumbo.

In conclusion, we call on the international community through aid agencies, friendly governments and Non Governmental Organisations to guarantee the protection of Peasant Councils in Catatumbo.

Asociación Campesina del Catatumbo

1 August 2006



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