March 16 - April 24, 1998
Palais des Nations, Geneva
Prior to the Commission meeting, Omar Fernandez ofm (Colombia) and the Familia Franciscana Colombiana worked together with a consortium of over fifty NGOs to prepare a position paper on Colombia. The work of these NGOs was a base for our FI/OP activities during the Commission. There was a tremendous amount of networking and meetings about Colombia over the six weeks of the session. A delegation of German Franciscans (Juergen Nietzert ofm, Sr. Ann Wemhoff, Leo Goebber ofm and Stefan Herbst, MZF) joined us for four days and worked diligently with the German government delegation on issues pertaining to Colombia and Mexico. The two items on which we worked especially hard were: to exclude any statement in the "Chairman's Statement on Colombia" that could be interpreted as an endorsement of the para-military group "Convivir" and to work for the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Colombia. We did not succeed in these two instances. But in the process we made strong alliances with new partners that will be helpful for the future work of our Colombian sisters and brothers.
FI/OP cosponsored a briefing on Colombia that was organized by the "Acuerdo de Londres" (a network of agencies, international and local NGOs). This panel discussion was a crucial moment in the work on Colombia as Ms. Sonia Eljach, an official member of the government delegation, took an active part in the panel discussion with the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers and representatives of Amnesty International and Colombian NGOs.
In our statements, we said that despite the fact that Colombia has various governmental institutions to protect human rights throughout the country, there are still hundreds of extra-judicial executions and enforced or involuntary disappearances. There is much controversy surrounding the composition and the work of the UN High Commissioner Office in Bogota. We urged the office to be forceful and credible in its work of documenting and reporting abuses of human rights throughout the country. We urged Ms. Mary Robinson to present her Office’s report on Colombia to the UN General Assembly in New York.
FI/OP denounced the Colombian judicial system that generally operates with a presumption of guilt, except in cases of human rights violations, where there is total impunity. We urged the government of Colombia to abolish the regional justice system and to protect the guarantees of a fair trial, the implementation of the right to defense, the principle of presumption of innocence and the rule of habeas corpus.
We voiced our concern that para-military violence has displaced more than one million Colombians within their own country. Often these internal refugees are the casualties of foreign interests in Colombia’s rich natural resources. FI/OP requested that Mr. Francis Deng, Special Representative on Internally Displaced Persons, visit Colombia and consider in his report the relationship between internally displaced persons and the right to adequate housing.
Our group deeply regretted the inclusion, in the "Chairman's Statement on Colombia", of a reference to the private security forces called "Convivir". We called a press conference at the UN to say that the chairman’s statement, as a UN document, appears to formally recognize a private para-military group as a legal partner in national security. This legitimazation would create a very dangerous precedent where a military force that is not accountable to an elected government could be used against the citizens of a country. In the press release, co-signed by thirty other international and local Colombian NGOs, we pointed out that "Convivir" was responsible for the displacement of some 2,000 people and the execution of numerous farmers.