Letter to Federal Government Regarding the Situation in Columbia

Friday, May 29 1998

The Honourable Lloyd Axworthy
Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
125 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, ON
Fax: 996-3443

Dear Mr. Axworthy:

We recently learned via a dispatch from the Most Reverend Chairman of the Episcopal Conference of Colombia that Colombian security forces raided the offices of the Inter-Congregational Commission for Justice and Peace of Colombia in the late afternoon on May 13, 1998.

According to our information, the forces occupied the building which houses the Commission’s offices and detained and filmed members of its staff. The target of the raid was the “Nunca Más” project, which is administered by the Commission. This project is a cooperative initiative involving approximately a dozen human rights organizations in Colombia. Its aim is to gather testimony on human rights violations that have been committed in the country over the past 30 years.

The Commission for Justice and Peace is one of the main human rights organizations in Colombia. It has earned recognition internationally and in Canada for its work in defending and promoting human rights. Its staff carry out their duties in conditions that are both difficult and dangerous. In the past year alone, twenty-one (21) human rights workers have been killed in Colombia. You can thus appreciate our grave concern.

We urge you to protest this incident in the strongest possible terms to the Colombian authorities and to demand a guarantee of the physical and psychological safety of human rights workers. We also urge you to set up an emergency program to enable the members and staff of the Commission as well as witnesses in the “Nunca Más” project to leave the country quickly, should this be necessary.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Yours sincerely,

† François Thibodeau, CJM
Bishop of Edmundston
Chairman
Episcopal Commission for Social Affairs
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops