Last Updated:9/15/04
Letter to President Uribe from 29 U.S. organizations regarding August 2004 killing of unionists in Arauca, September 14, 2004
September 14, 2004

The Honorable Álvaro Uribe Vélez
President of Colombia
Palacio de Nariño
Carrera 8, No. 7-26
Bogotá, Colombia

Dear President Uribe:

As U.S. non-governmental organizations and trade unions who share a common vision of a prosperous and peaceful Colombia where human rights are fully protected, we write in profound concern over the August 5th killing of the trade unionists Jorge Prieto, Héctor Alirio Martínez and Leonel Goyeneche in Arauca province. Reports from human rights organizations and the press, and a preliminary report elaborated by the Pro-curaduría,1 suggest that these men, recipients of protective measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, may have been victims of extra-judicial execu-tion by members of the Colombian armed forces. We respectfully urge your government to ensure a vigorous, impartial investigation of the deaths by civilian authorities, includ-ing independent autopsies.

In numerous past cases, victims of alleged human rights violations at the hands of the military have been denied justice after the military was granted jurisdiction for prose-cution. Inter-American jurisprudence and Colombian law require that when there is any question as to appropriate jurisdiction, cases should be considered in the ordinary or civil-ian justice system. As recently as July 5, 2004, the Inter-American Court ruled that a case alleging human rights violations by the military was wrongly sent to military courts, and that "the judgment of the soldiers… by military judges lacking competence, which culminated in the cessation of the proceedings in their favor, implied a violation… of the right to due process and access to justice...2" The ruling directs the Colombian govern-ment to re-try the case in civilian courts. Additionally, the Inter-American Commission has repeatedly condemned the military penal system in Colombia for "not offering an ef-fective and impartial judicial recourse in cases of violations" of human rights.3

Therefore, we ask for your leadership in ensuring that the case of the three union-ists killed in Arauca be judged exclusively in the civilian justice system. By ensuring ci-vilian jurisdiction, you would demonstrate your confidence in the professional conduct of the Colombian armed forces, as well as your commitment to prosecuting those who fail to live up to such standards. In a case where there is strong suspicion of human rights violations by members of the Colombian military, a military court decision would not be credible. Colombian society, and the military itself, would best be served by a clarifica-tion of the events of August 5, 2004, in civilian courts.
1 Revista Cambio, "Crece la polémica por la manera como murieron tres sindicalistas en una confusa ope-ración militar en Arauca", 16 August 2004.
2 Inter-American Court on Human Rights, Caso 19 Comerciantes vs. Colombia, July 5, 2004, paragraph 174 (WOLA translation).
3 Organización de los Estados Americanos, Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, Tercer Infor-me sobre la situación de los derechos humanos en Colombia, OEA/Ser.L/V/II. 102, reprinted by the Co-misión Colombiana de Juristas (Bogotá: 1999), p. 181 (WOLA translation).

Mr. President, we trust you will act on behalf of justice and transparency, and in doing so, set a precedent to ensure that impunity for grave human rights violations will not be repeated in the future. Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of this matter.


Joy Olson
Executive Director
Washington Office on Latin America

Stephen Coats
Executive Director
U.S./Labor Education in the Americas
Project (US/LEAP)

Alex Arriaga
Director of Government Relations
Amnesty International USA

American Federation of State, County and
Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO (AFSC-ME)

Jose Miguel Vivanco
Director of the Americas Program
Human Rights Watch

Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO/CLC, (CWA)

Neil Jeffery
Executive Director
U.S. Office on Colombia

International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU)

Lisa Haugaard
Executive Director
Latin America Working Group*

International Brotherhood of Teamsters

Adam Isacson
Director of Programs
Center for International Policy

Reg Weaver
National Education Association

Viviana Krsticevic
Executive Director
Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)

United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricul-tural Implement Workers of America
International Union, AFL-CIO (UAW)

Cristina Espinel and Barbara Gerlach
Colombia Human Rights Committee

Bruce J. Klipple
General Secretary-Treasurer
United Electrical, Radio & Machine
Workers of America (UE)

Marie Dennis
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

United Mine Workers of America, AFL-CIO/CLC (UMWA)

Heather Foote Director of the Washington Office
American Friends Service Committee

Daniel Kovalik
Assistant General Counsel
United Steelworkers of America

J. Daryl Byler
Director, Washington Office
Mennonite Central Committee

Maureen Fenlon, OP
National Coordinator
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby

Terry Colllingsworth
Executive Director
International Labor Rights Fund

Matthew Wade, S.M.
Associate Director
Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Milton Rosado
Labor Council for Latin American
Advancement (LCLAA)

Gary L. Cozette
Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America (CRLN)

Jacqueline Baker
Legislative Coordinator
School of the Americas Watch

John Lindsay-Poland Director, Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean Fellowship of Reconciliation

Martha Pierce
Chicago Metropolitan Sanctuary Alliance

* Organizational affiliation given for identification purposes only


Dr. Francisco Santos, Vice President of Colombia
Dr. Luis Camilo Osorio, Attorney General
Dr. Edgardo Maya Villazón, Inspector General
Wolmar Pérez, Human Rights Ombudsman
Human Rights and IHL Unit, Attorney General's Office
Ambassador William Wood, U.S. Embassy
Craig Conway, U.S. Embassy
Ambassador Michael Kozak, Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. State Dept.
Danika L. Walters, Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. State Dept.

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