Murders of Reynaldo Perdomo and Pedro Torres

Re: Murders of Reynaldo Perdomo and Pedro Torres

To: Álvaro Uribe Vélez, President of Columbia

From: Monique Pongracic-Speier, LRWC member

Date: 2003-08-21

LRWC is extremely disturbed by reports from Amnesty International concerning the recent violent deaths of Messrs. Perdomo and Torres, and the apparent threats to the security of human rights activists in Villavicencio and ordinary citizens in El Castillo Municipality.

On August 9, 2003, Mr. Torres was travelling by bus from Medellín del Ariari to El Castillo. A known paramilitary boarded the bus, while other paramilitaries followed in a grey vehicle. Those occupying the grey vehicle eventually forced the bus to stop. The paramilitaries removed Mr. Torres from the bus and placed him in the grey vehicle. Thereafter, witnesses reported seeing the vehicle crossing Medellín del Ariari and heading towards Puerto Esperanza. At 7:00 pm on August 9th, Mr. Torres’s corpse was found in Puerto Esperanza.

At 9:00 pm on August 12, 2003, Mr. Perdomo was summoned from his home in Villavicencio to answer a telephone call, allegedly made to a nearby bar. As Mr. Perdomo went to answer the call, an unidentified gunman shot him three times in the head and killed him. The gunman then fled on foot, apparently unhindered despite his close proximity to a police station.

LRWC finds it significant that Mr. Perdomo was a human rights activist working with people who, like himself, had been forcibly displaced from their homes due to military and paramilitary activity. The phenomenon of forcible displacement has been noted to be “one of the most serious consequences” of the civil conflict in Colombia by the International Commission of Jurists. Mr. Perdomo himself was displaced one year ago from the hamlet of Esmeralda, in El Castillo Municipality, reportedly as a result of joint operations by Fuerza de Despliegue Rápido, the Barallón Vargas No 21 and army-backed paramilitaries. At the time of his death, Mr. Perdomo was working with forcibly displaced persons from the Ariari region of the Meta Department.

LRWC notes that, in the past, those defending human rights or working with the displaced in Colombia have been labelled “subversives”. Too many thereafter suffered serious human rights violations.

Mr. President, LRWC is gravely concerned for the safety of human rights defenders in Villavicencio and civilians living in El Castillo. We are also disturbed by the increasing presence of army-backed paramilitaries in the region. We urge you to:

protect the civilian population in the Meta Department;

investigate the killings of Pedro Torres and Reynaldo Perdomo, publicly identify those responsible, and bring them to justice;

implement a full and impartial investigation into links between the security forces and paramilitary groups operating in the Meta Department, and make the results of that investigation public; and

take immediate and effective action to dismantle paramilitary groups, in accordance with recommendations made by the United Nations.

LRWC reminds the Government of Colombia of its positive legal duties to protect and promote human rights. Colombia is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights, both of which affirm the right to life, the right of an individual lawfully within a state to choose his or her place of residence, and the right to an effective remedy where the obligations of the treaties are broken.

Further, LRWC notes the 1998 UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. This Declaration evidences the international community’s general acceptance of an obligation to protect those who work in the cause of human rights protection and promotion. LRWC expects, and sincerely hopes, that Colombia will fulfill its moral obligation as a member of the international community to protect those human rights defenders who live and work within the country’s borders.