EU criticized for silence on human rights in Colombia

A network of European organizations have stepped up pressure on the European Union to condemn human rights crimes in Colombia.

The International Office for Human Rights-Action on Colombia (OIDHACO) called for the European parliament to publicly denounce the human rights situation in the country and demand action from Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.

The group cited the murders of 13 labor unionists and human rights defenders in the first three months of 2012.

“These murders show that there are no guarantees for workers defending human rights in Colombia,” said Vincent Vallies, spokesman for OIDHACO, in a statement.

“What else has to happen in Colombia for the EU to condemn the human rights situation?” Vallies asked.

The statement pointed to the killing of Daniel Aguirre, secretary general of Sinalcorteros, a major sugar cane cutters’ union, and the case of Manuel Ruiz, a land rights worker who went missing along with his 15-year-old son.

It also highlighted death threats from the Bloque Capital, part of neo-paramilitary group Aguilas Negras, against organizers of the Patriotic March, held in Bogota last month to celebrate the founding of the new National Patriotic Council political party.

Two organizers of the march, Hernan Diaz Henry Putumayo and Marta Cecilia Guevara, are missing.

The group also criticized President Santos for questioning whether the National Patriotic Council has ties to illegal armed groups.

“These words spoken by the president increased the danger to members and participants of the march,” the statement claimed.

The human rights groups have asked the EU parliament to follow the example of the UK’s Foreign Office, which has underscored human rights abuses in the Andean nation.

Its 2011 Human Rights and Democracy report acknowledged efforts to better the situation in Colombia, but said more work is needed to improve the environment of human rights defenders.

“The security situation for human right defenders… has, if anything, worsened with increasing threats and violence from illegal armed groups that go largely unpunished,” the UK report stated.

The OIDHACO has repeatedly asked the EU to comment on Colombia’s human rights record, including demanding reaction to forced disappearances in the country.

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