Saturday, June 16, 2007

A Sad Way to Start

I would have preferred to launch Colombia Calling with something more uplifting, but this one hit close to home...

Two days ago, the offices of Justapaz, a Colombian Mennonite justice and peace organization, were broken into in what appears to be a politically motivated attack. Justapaz jointly documents and publishes A Prophetic Call, which documents human rights abuses against protestant churches and church members, jointly with the Commission for Restoration, Life and Peace (with whom I work).

I hope to use this blog to send out periodic updates on my work and my life in Colombia... my understanding of what God is calling me to at this time... and occasionally, such as today, a call to action!

Blessings and peace,
Michael


Justapaz


CENTRO CRISTIANO DE JUSTICIA, PAZ Y ACCION NOVIOLENTA

Urgent Action June 14, 2007


The Christian Center for Justice, Peace and Nonviolent Action, Justapaz, which is a program of the Mennonite Church of Colombia, reports that before dawn on the 14th of June, 2007, its office was broken into and two computers were stolen. These computers contained sensitive information on people and churches that are active in work for peace and human dignity, and on people from churches that are victims and witnesses to human rights violations. The perpetrators of this criminal act apparently entered through the roof in the rear of the building before 3 am and tore out the wiring of the alarm system, although the alarm went off. They passed by 9 other computers, telephones, a safe, etc., and removed two specific computers located at the other end of the office. They also broke into the desk of the coordinator for a program for protection of persons at risk. Eye-witnesses in the neighborhood reported that soon after the time of the break-in, police officers stopped two men carrying a computer, at the intersection of Calle 33-A and Avenida Caracas, near the office, but as of yet there is no information as to whether they are still being held or whether the police retrieved the computer. Police officers came to the office in response to the security alarm; however, the Crime Scene Investigation Unit of the Attorney General’s Office (Cuerpo Tecnico de Investigacion de la Fiscalia General de la Nacion) did not arrive until 5-1/2 hours after they were alerted. After the CSI officer examined the scene, he indicated there were no fingerprints and suggested that the responsible party had used gloves or wiped off the fingerprints, and therefore there was no point in a specialist gathering that information.

This attack occurred 12 days after the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s office, which provides international accompaniment to the Comunidad de Paz of San José de Apartado, was broken into and a computer was stolen. Similarly, in January of this year (2007), the office of the Permanent Assembly of Civil Society for Peace was broken into and one computer was taken, which contained sensitive information on participants and organizations, photographs, and documentation of their activities. This attack against Justapaz repeats a pattern of human rights violations which give evidence that the perpetrators have precise knowledge of the office and use sophisticated procedures to gain access to specific information, which in turn puts people, organizations, and churches at risk. It is significant that this is the first time that a church is subjected to this type of attack in relation to its work for peace, human rights and the safety of victims and potential witnesses to human rights violations. This violation takes place in the context of the governmental policy of ‘democratic security’, and of the reluctance of US Congress to approve the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia, in part because of doubts about the Colombian government’s human rights record.

The Christian Center for Justice, Peace and Nonviolent Action, Justapaz, which is a program of the Mennonite Church of Colombia promotes initiatives in nonviolence, conflict resolution, peace education and action, and the documentation of human rights violations suffered by churches as well as church activities for life with dignity. In carrying out its work, Justapaz supports the activities of Mennonite churches, other churches, and social and community organizations working for human rights and peace.
Justapaz and the Mennonite Church of Colombia reaffirm their commitment to nonviolence, justice and peace, which they understand as part of their calling to follow Jesus and to work for God’s vision of a society that resolves its differences nonviolently, guarantees the right to life with dignity for all, protects the victims and the general population against all armed action, and promotes solutions to the armed conflict within a framework of truth, justice, the call to repentance, reparation and reconciliation.
Requested actions:
· Call on the Colombian authorities to:
o Take all appropriate steps to identify and prosecute the persons who committed this act and those that sponsored its planning and execution.
o Take a clear stance against this crime and in support of the work of organizations and churches for human rights, peace and social initiatives, and to take all necessary steps to be in full compliance with the applicable provisions of the Colombian Constitution and of the international conventions which Colombia has signed.
o Implement appropriate measures for the full protection of freedom of worship and for the absolute respect of church sites and places of worship.
· Call on the governments of other countries to communicate with the Colombian government the aforementioned actions, and that these governments make human rights requirements a central consideration in determining assistance and/or agreements with the Colombian government.
· As churches, organizations, government officials and individuals, reaffirm the commitment to working for nonviolent solutions to the armed conflict; to giving priority attention to persons, families, churches and organizations that have been victimized; to promoting judicial processes that identify and hold fully responsible those persons that have violated or contributed to the violation of human rights, that promote the full dismantling of the structures of corruption and violence, and that contribute to processes of repentance and reparation a that lead to change and reconciliation; and to the enactment of public policies that give priority to investment in education, healthcare, housing and other areas that contribute to conditions of life with dignity for all.
· As people and communities of faith, pray for strength and clarity to stand firm in the commitment to God’s vision for a society characterized by nonviolence, peace and human dignity. Pray, also, for those responsible for this attack, that they will turn themselves in, repair the damage, and change their lives.
Send communications to:
In the US:
Chargé d’ Affaires Milton Drucker
United States Embassy Bogotá
Calle 22D-Bis # 47-51
Bogotá, D.C.
Tel: (571) 315-0811
Fax: (571) 315-2171 / 2190
Jonathan D. Farrar
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Department of State
Phone: 202-647-2590 Fax: 202-647-5283
with copy to Jennie Muñoz, Program Officer, at the same numbers
Contact information for Members of the U.S. Congress can be found at www.house.gov and www.senate.gov
In Canada:
Mr. Matthew Levin
Ambassador to Colombia
Carrera 7 #115-33 A.A.53531
Bogotá, Colombia
Fax: (57)-1-657-9912
Matthew.Levin@international.gc.ca


Peter MacKay,
Minister of Foreign Affairs
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6 8
(613) 992-6022
MacKay.S@parl.gc.ca

Ms. Christine Climenhage,
Desk Officer: Colombia, Ecuador, Caribbean, Central America and Andean
Region Division
Lester B. Pearson Building
125 Sussex Dr.
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0G2
(613) 995-1541
Christine.climenhage@international.gc.ca
Stewart Wheeler,
Counsellor (Political) Canadian Embassy, General Relations,
Fax: (57-1) 657-9910
Sample letter to the State Department (US) and Foreign Affairs Office (Canada) and to the US and Canadian Embassies in Colombia
June 2007
Dear ________,
I am writing today to express my deep concern for the security and safety of the Justapaz staff, their regional partners, including local churches, due to an apparently politically motivated robbery in the early morning of Thursday, June 14, 2007. Justapaz is the Christian Center for Justice, Peace and Nonviolent Action and is a program of the Colombian Mennonite Church.
Just before 3am unknown assailants broke into the Justapaz office, disabled the alarm system and proceeded to steal two computers with extremely sensitive human rights information. The assailants were apparently focused on these computers with sensitive information on human rights cases and local churches working for peace as they left other items of value behind including eight other computers, a fax machine and the organization’s safe. All evidence suggests that this was a politically motivated crime. The Justapaz staff, their partners and local churches could be at increased risk due to this attack.
This attack comes in the wake of a series of similar attacks against national and international human rights organizations and suggests an alarming pattern. Less than two weeks ago the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s Bogotá office was similarly attacked, with a computer with sensitive information regarding their work with the San Jose de Apartado Peace Community stolen. In the past year similar actions were carried out against the Asamblea Permanente de la Sociedad Civil por la Paz and the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES).
Therefore, I respectfully ask you to contact the appropriate Colombian government officials, including the President, Vice-President and the Ministry of Defense, asking them to:
· Take any and all steps necessary to identify and prosecute the material and intellectual authors of these crimes.
· Take a clear and public position rejecting these crimes and for respect for organizations and churches working for human rights, peace and community organization while fully applying the constitutional guarantees regarding these groups and activities as well as those in international treaties of which Colombia is a signatory.
· Take measures to guarantee the right to religious freedom and the absolute respect for church buildings.
Sincerely,
Name
City, State
Country
Sample letter to members of Congress or Parliament:
June 2007
Dear ________,
I am writing today to express my deep concern for the security and safety of the JUSTAPAZ staff, their regional partners, including local churches due to an apparently politically motivated robbery in the early morning of Thursday, June 14, 2007. Justapaz is the Christian Center for Justice, Peace and Nonviolent Action and is a program of the Colombian Mennonite Church.
Just before 3 a.m. unknown assailants broke into the JUSTAPAZ office, disabled the alarm system and proceeded to steal two computers with extremely sensitive human rights information. The assailants were apparently focused on these computers with sensitive information on human rights cases and local churches working for peace as they left other items of value behind including eight other computers, a fax machine and the organization’s safe. All evidence suggests that this was a politically motivated crime. The JUSTAPAZ staff, their partners and local churches could be at increased risk due to this attack.
This attack comes in the wake of a series of similar attacks against national and international human rights organizations and suggests an alarming pattern. Less than two weeks ago the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s Bogotá office was similarly attacked, with a computer with sensitive information regarding their work with the San Jose de Apartado Peace Community stolen. In the past year similar actions were carried out against the Asamblea Permanente de la Sociedad Civil por la Paz and the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES).
Therefore, I respectfully ask you to contact the Colombian Embassy and the State Department / Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ensure that the Colombian government:
· Take any and all steps necessary to identify and prosecute the material and intellectual authors of these crimes.
· Take a clear and public position rejecting these crimes and for respect for organizations and churches working for human rights, peace and community organization while fully applying the constitutional guarantees regarding these groups and activities as well as those in international treaties of which Colombia is a signatory.
· Take measures to guarantee the right to religious freedom and the absolute respect for church buildings.
Sincerely,
Name
City, State
Country

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

what a horrible and tragic event. I'm glad to send some letters if you think that will help
best, Jess Van Denend

Rev. Ivan Herman said...

Michael,
Hope you're well. It's been a couple of years since I've seen you, but it looks like we've both moved on from DC. I caught your blog through Parrish Jones' (http://www.parrishjones.net/blog/index.php). I'm hoping to finagle a sabbatical-mission trip in the spring of 2008 so that I can do some accompaniment in Barranquilla through the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.
Send me an email when you have a chance so that I can at least keep up with you.
Peace,
Ivan
ivanh@balmoralpc.com