COLOMBIA: Update: Colombia – Continued Serious Threats Against Women Human Rights Defenders In Barrancabermeja

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Front Line Defenders is gravely concerned by reports of further threats issued against women human rights defenders working in the city of Barrancabermeja.

On 13 February 2013 Front Line Defenders issued an urgent appeal regarding threats received by Ms Yolanda Becerra Vega and Ms Gloria Amparo Suárez, members of the Organización Femenina Popular - OFP (Popular Women's Organisation) on 11 February. Since that date a number of other women human rights defenders have been warned that should they not leave the city they and their families will face serious reprisals.

On 23 February 2013, a Manila envelope was left at the home of human rights defender Ms Luz Elsia Almanza Suárez, representative of ASFADDES, an organisation working on the issue of enforced disappearances through reporting and monitoring of cases before the authorities, and providing support to families of victims. ASFADDES is an active member in the Espacio de Trabajadores y Trabajadoras de Derechos Humanos (Space for Human Rights Workers). The envelope contained a note and a bullet, and warned Luz Almanza that she had 12 hours to leave Barrancabermeja. It further stated that her bulletproof vest and two guards would not be capable of protecting her 24 hours a day. The note was signed by the Central Committee of the Anti-Land Restitution Army and warned the human rights defender to “work on taking care of your family before they are crying to you” and “don't think that because you go around with buddies of organisations, that they are going to save you”.

On 22 February 2013, two armed men entered the home of human rights defender Ms Bernardina Bermúdez. The men intimidated the human rights defender and showed her a photo of Ms Lilia Peña, President of the Asociación Regional de Víctimas del Magdalena Medio – ASORVIMM (Magdalena Medio Victim's Association) and her children, and informed her that Lilia Peña was their target. Subsequently, on 23 February 2013, Bernardina Bermúdez and her family received a threatening phone call and upon leaving the house in a taxi, were pursued by a high-powered motorcycle driven by men who threatened the human rights defender. On 21 February 2013, an assassination attempt was reportedly carried out on Ms Nancy Julieth Tarriba, LGBTI rights defender and member of the organisation Gente en Acción (People in Action). The human rights defender subsequently received a threat warning her to leave Barrancabermeja within 24 hours. On 19 February 2013, Ms Yeidy Yeraldin Rojas Chacón, member of the Board of Directors of ASORVIMM, was stopped as she travelled to an event and was reportedly ill-treated and drugged by persons who said they were looking for Lilia Peña. The human rights defender was found drugged and traumatised in the municipality of San Gil, Santander on 21 February.

Front Line Defenders is further informed that on 12 February 2013, human rights defenders and members of the Espacio de Trabajadores y Trabajadoras de Derechos Humanos, Ms Jackeline Rojas Castañeda, Ms Doris Flórez, Ms Carolina Rubio and Ms Ana Teresa Rueda, received a threatening email. Jackeline Rojas Castañeda was nominated for the Front Line Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk in 2007. In November 2011, Front Line Defenders issued an urgent appeal on a serious incident which took place on 9 November 2011, when a number of individuals broke into Jackeline Rojas Castañeda's home and threatened to kill her daughter, bound and gagged the human rights defender and used spray paint to assault her and to deface the house.

Front Line Defenders condemns this series of threats against the above-mentioned women human rights defenders, which it believes is aimed at silencing those human rights defenders who work to defend and promote women's rights and the rights of LGBTI persons in Colombia. Front Line Defenders expresses serious concern for the human rights defenders' security and physical and psychological integrity, and urges the authorities to immediately enact measures in order to meet their full protection, while also carrying out immediate, thorough and impartial investigations into the threats.