Toronto, August 7, 2018
Honourable Justin Trudeau,
Prime Minister of Canada
Hon. Chrystia Freeland,
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Dear Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Freeland:
We the undersigned, are asking the Canadian government to act and pressure the newly elected Colombian government of President Iván Duque, to protect the lives of social and community leaders who are experiencing an escalation of violence and systemic murder. We also ask the Canadian government to take clear steps to ensure the democratic right to protest.
Since the signing of the final peace agreement between the outgoing government of Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC in November 24, 2016, targeted threats and assassinations of social and community leaders have intensified. According to homicides registered by the Defensoria del Pueblo (Ombudsman), between January 1, 2016 to June 30, 2018 more than 300 community leaders, including peasant, Indigenous, trade union, student, Afro-Colombian, neighbourhood leaders and political opposition activists, have been murdered. In addition, 84 former FARC guerillas and their families, who demobilised, have been murdered.
During the campaign leading up to the May 27, 2018 presidential election, we also witnessed an increase in threats and selective murders targeting activists associated with left and centre-left political parties, including the Colombia Humana movement.
The election of the Duque government imperils the prospect of sustainable peace in Colombia. Duque and his right-wing Centro Democratico (CD) party opposed the peace agreement and has consistently hindered its implementation. For example, the CD attacked the Special Jurisdiction for Peace or JEP. The JEP is the transitional justice system enshrined in the peace agreement. It is intended to investigate and prosecute all actors (state, FARC and civilian) who committed or were complicit in crimes related to the armed conflict. The CD’s opposition to the JEP in the Congress resulted in limiting its investigative scope and excluding the participation of so-called “third-parties”. Effectively, this means that non-state actors, including politicians or businesspeople who supported or financed human rights violations or war crimes are not obligated to testify before the JEP.
Furthermore, the CD temporarily excluded the participation of members of the police and military in the JEP stating that they should have their own transitional justice tribunal separate from the FARC. These measures omit crucial information for the public understanding of the historical record of more than 50 years of internal armed conflict. Worse, it guarantees impunity, for crimes committed by state officials, army, policy and powerful economic elites.
Duque also campaigned on a promise to merge the country’s different courts into one super-court influenced by the Executive branch of government. This decision means the investigation by the Supreme Court against former president Alvaro Uribe Velez may be eliminated, resulting in the exoneration for any crimes that he may have committed.
In addition, the CD opposed the approval of an important law in Congress, the Circunscripciones Especiales para la Paz. This law would have granted victims of the armed conflict and the regions which they inhabit representation in the Colombian Parliament through the creation of designated seats.
President Duque plans to reform the Land Restitution Law, which according to experts would prevent lands violently snatched from tens of thousands of displaced rural communities to be returned to them.
A failure to implement these aspects of the peace agreement could mean a return to war. Endless cycles of armed conflict are detrimental not only to the stability and well-being of the Colombians, but of the hemisphere. Such a failure is a betrayal of the aspirations for peace of Colombians, especially for the victims, who endured decades of armed conflict. It is also a serious breach of the international commitments made by the Colombian State with the signing of the peace agreement.
As Canadian citizens and residents, we urge our Government to assume a firm stance with the Colombian State and its new Government. First, we ask the Canadian government to demand an immediate end to the killings of social and community movement leaders. Second, we ask the Canadian Government to demand that the Colombian government respect and implement all aspects of the peace agreement. Canada must also ensure that development aid funds for community projects that implement various aspects of the peace agreement are monitored for appropriate use.
Behind every murdered leader and activist is a family and community suffering a deep loss. Also lost are the aspirations of thousands of people who dream of living in a more just society.
(Original letter has 47 signatures)