Press Release

IACHR Condemns Murder of Human Rights Activist and Expresses Concern over New Threats to Human Rights Defenders in Colombia

June 20, 2011

Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the murder in Colombia of Ana Fabricia Córdoba Cabrera, an Afro-descendant community leader who worked with displaced persons seeking the restitution of lands in the Urabá region. The Commission also expresses its deep concern over a new death threat targeting human rights defenders and organizations.

According to the information the IACHR has received, Ana Fabricia Córdoba was a member of the organization Ruta Pacífica de las Mujeres (Women's Peaceful Path) and a founder of the Asociación Líderes Hacia delante por un Tejido Humano de Paz (Association of Leaders Moving Forward for a Human Fabric of Peace, LATEPAZ), whose mission is to support victims of forced displacement. Ana Fabricia Córdoba Cabrera had allegedly reported a number of cases in which rights of displaced persons had been violated by paramilitaries in the Medellín neighborhoods of La Cruz and La Honda. The information indicates that on June 7, a man shot the community leader with a firearm while she was traveling on a bus on her way to Santa Cruz. The IACHR is deeply concerned that Colombian government authorities have admitted publicly that the murder of Ana Fabricia Córdoba could have been averted, since the Ministry of the Interior's Protection Program had reportedly known about threats against the community leader since May 9 but had failed to implement protection measures in a timely manner.

According to the information available, days before the murder, dozens of organizations that work to defend the rights of the displaced population—including Ruta Pacífica de las Mujeres, to which the human rights defender belonged—received a death threat dated June 2. It was signed by the armed group "Rastrojos" and targeted those who had played an active role in the framework of Colombia's Victims and Land Restitution Law, passed on Friday, June 10. The organizations targeted by the threat include CREAR, Arco Iris, Fundación Social, Sisma Mujer, Red de Empoderamiento, Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo, FUNDEPAZ, Casa Mujer, Ruta Pacífica de las Mujeres, FUNDHEFEM, CODHES, FUNDEMUD, MOVICE, UNIPA, and Fundación Nuevo Amanecer. The threat also mentioned several individuals by name, including Viviana Ortíz, Angélica Bello, Ruby Castaño, Maria Eugenia Cruz, Piedad Córdoba, Lorena Guerra, and Iván Cepeda. Members of several of the aforementioned organizations as well as several of those named individually in the threat are beneficiaries of precautionary measures granted by the IACHR. The Commission also observes with concern that the document signed by "the Rastrojos" threatens the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The Commission reiterates that one of the first steps to effectively protect human rights defenders is to publicly recognize the legitimacy of their work and to take steps to protect them from the moment the public authorities learn that they have received threats due to their work. The Commission brings to mind that in many cases, such as with Ana Fabricia Córdoba, the death of human rights defenders is preceded by threats that were reported to the authorities.

The Commission urges the State to guarantee the right to life, integrity, and security of Ana Fabricia Córdoba's family members, investigate what occurred, and punish those responsible for her murder. The Commission also urges the State of Colombia to immediately and urgently adopt any necessary measures to guarantee the right to life, integrity, and security of human rights defenders, especially the organizations and individuals who have been threatened. The State should carry out a comprehensive and systematic investigation of the threat with respect to all the organizations and individuals named therein.

The Commission reiterates that the work of human rights defenders is critical to building a solid, lasting democratic society and to fully attaining the rule of law. In this regard, acts of violence and other attacks against human rights defenders impinge on the essential role they play in society and contribute to the vulnerability of those whose rights they are working to defend.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in a personal capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 59/11