Rep. Johnson calls on Colombian government to protect activist: “The world is watching”

WASHINGTON Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA) dispatched Latin American affairs adviser Sascha Thompson to Colombia February 8-15 to participate in an international pre-electoral observation mission sponsored by the California-based non-governmental organization Global Exchange.

Ms. Thompson joined 22 public policy professionals, analysts and citizens of more than seven countries including the United States, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and Mexico.

The mission was tasked with assessing the capacity of the Colombian electoral process to yield a fair, legitimate and democratic result. Their assessment relied upon information assembled from interviews with individuals in the Colombian government and Colombian civil society. The mission met with Colombian electoral officials, the National Electoral Council, the National Registry for Civil Status, local leaders, activists, prosecutors, officials from human rights ombudsman offices, and departmental governors.

Congressman Johnson’s staffer, Ms. Thompson, traveled to the Valle del Cauca region. One group with which Ms. Thompson met was the Valle de Cauca chapter of MOVICE, a group of women whose family members were victims of extrajudicial executions. MOVICE Valle de Cauca is coordinated by Ms. Martha Giraldo. Ms. Giraldo is a witness in the case of her father, Jose Orlando Giraldo Barrera, who was allegedly killed by the Colombian army’s 3rd High Mountain Battalion on March 11, 2006.

Ms. Giraldo has been vocal in pursuit of justice for her father’s death and subject to regular harassment by paramilitaries in the Valle de Cauca region.  She was threatened once again on Monday, February 16, according to a report filed before the Colombian attorney general’s office.

Many other family members of victims of extrajudicial executions have received similar threats. Furthermore, the vast majority of these cases, including the case of Martha’s father, remain uninvestigated, contributing to the impunity with which armed groups operate in Colombia.

Upon learning of the threats of violence against Ms. Giraldo, Congressman Johnson issued the following statement:

“I am deeply concerned by reports of threats against Ms. Giraldo’s life, particularly given their proximity to the meeting my staff member, Sascha Thompson, had with Martha and other family members of extrajudicial execution victims in Valle de Cauca.”

“I insist that the Colombian authorities take very seriously the threats against Ms. Giraldo and any other vulnerable individuals who were interviewed by my staffer or her colleagues.

“I further urge the Colombian government to investigate all pending extrajudicial execution cases as aggressively as possible.

“The world is watching.”

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