The Colombian State Employs the Administrative Department of Security –DAS- against Human Rights Organisations

The Colombian State Employs the Administrative Department of Security –DAS- against Human Rights Organisations

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The non-governmental organisation Colectivo de Abogados “José Alvear Restrepo”, CAJAR, José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective, presents before the national and international community the recent discoveries relating to the illegal intelligence activities carried out against human rights organisations by the Administrative Department of Security (DAS by its initials in the Spanish language), which is the Colombian State’s most important security and intelligence agency.



Though we recognize every State requires an effective system of intelligence to guarantee the exercise of sovereignty, self-determination, and security for society and the State, this intelligence service must be based on the absolute respect for human rights and principles that support a social and democratic rule of law. In other words, intelligence agencies must be subjected to the law and the constitution, rather than become the unconditional instruments of a government or institutions allied with –or to the service of- criminal organisations organized as paramilitary groups.

Nonetheless, Colombian history demonstrates the State’s security agencies have considered as enemies those from society who are committed to the defence and promotion of human rights. Additionally, since February 2004, the DAS has substantially increased its persecution of human rights organisations. In this respect, it created special strategic-intelligence groups with the purpose of structurally persecuting human rights organisations as they were considered to be “a threat or risk to national security.”

Within this context, the DAS decided to undertake intelligence activities against CAJAR through a very laborious, extensive and sophisticated operation called OPERATION TRANSMILENIO, the funds for which came out of a heading designated for RESEVERED EXPENSES. This OPERATION TRANSMILENIO has consisted in gathering information on the Lawyers’ Collective and its members, and specifically information on activities relating to human rights defence work, international cooperation, and the organisation’s financial records.
During this time, the DAS has carried out diverse intelligence activities against members of CAJAR, including the identification of their nuclear families and the gathering of biographical economic, financial and work-related information. Political and psychological profiles were also developed and fingerprint records were kept. The DAS kept track of the members’ routines and travel routes and surveillance was carried out throughout the country (along with ongoing surveillance at set points by way of apartment rentals). Photographs and video have also been taken of the lawyers and their families at home and in their places of work. Telephone conversations and email communication have also been intercepted on a massive scale. Lastly, records have been kept on their migratory movements and their national and international contacts have been cross-referenced. The DAS has obtained this information from the government protection program for human rights defenders, public and private institutions, and what were called “human and technical sources.” The DAS even went through the trash left by the households and offices of these lawyers. It should be emphasised these intelligence tasks included reckless and baseless accusations made against CAJAR members, which have yet to be proven after several years of ongoing and exhaustive illegal intelligence activities.

It is noteworthy the DAS’s persistent persecution of the LAWYERS’ COLLECTIVE coincides with the unsubstantiated accusations against this NGO made by the president of the Republic and several of his most senior officials, in addition to the systematic threats and attacks made against its members. For instance, in May 2005, a package was mailed to the residence of the then president of CAJAR with her grandfather named in the return address, which corresponded to the house she lived in when she was a child. Inside the package, she found a threat against her family and young daughter along with a decapitated and dismembered doll that had been burned and splattered in red nail polish. The ghastly death threat used information obtained from the intelligence activities the DAS carried out against this lawyer.

The DAS detectives paid particular attention to CAJAR activities relating to the representation of victims, especially the work carried out before the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, and the Inter-American Commission and Court of Human Rights. Moreover, the DAS demonstrated a special interest in the (official and non-governmental) international human rights missions that visited the country. In clear disdain for international organisations and community, some of these missions were subjected to exacting surveillance and their members and passports were filmed and photographed. In other words, “everything that smelled of human rights” became an object of intelligence for the DAS, which considered human rights and human rights work to be –in and of themselves- a threat to the institution, ignoring that it is the human rights violators who delegitimize and threaten the State, rather than those who stand up and raise their voices to demand truth and justice.

What objectives did the DAS pursue with this official policy of persecution and repression against human rights organisations and against the activities relating to the support and defence of human rights? We firmly believe the DAS carried out –and continues to carry out- these intelligence tasks against human rights organisations to neutralize and sabotage their work in the defence and promotion of human rights through the terror resulting from the “offensive and strategic intelligence”, which is employed as a mechanism for psychological warfare. In fact, one of the memorandums and work missions under the charge of this G3 group was to carry out surveillance on organisations and persons who opposed government policy with the purpose of “restricting or neutralising their actions.” The minutes to the meetings held by this group indicate these activities should lead to undertaking criminal prosecution or undercover intelligence operations (including diverse phases of psychological warfare and political strategies).

Consequently, these actions also sought –or seek- to bring about the arbitrary criminal prosecution of human rights defenders. Past experiences also teach us the intelligence reports represent the initial stage to more serious attacks against the victims of these generalised and systematic intelligence operations, which may lead to attempts on their lives. Without a doubt, these actions committed against NGOs put at grave risk the lives of human rights defenders and seriously threaten the exercise of their legitimate activity.

The arbitrary use of the DAS to undertake strategic intelligence against human rights NGOs conclusively demonstrates the governments refusal to definitively renounce persecution against human rights defenders. It also reaffirms the undeclared official policy of closing off opportunities and denying guarantees to human rights organisations as well as systematically persecuting their members. It should be remembered this persecution also has affected journalists, social and political leaders, parliamentarians, and even the magistrates of the Supreme Court of Justice, the latter for daring to bring to justice the previously “untouchable” public figures who have been favoured with the impunity gained through power.

With grounds, we believe the intelligence activities carried out against CAJAR and other human rights NGOs were planned, determined, and executed from the most senior levels within the DAS and in keeping with guidelines set out by the senior government, which received updates on these tasks. In fact, the executive branch directly appoints the directors of this agency, four of whom are being investigated for these acts. Furthermore, during the present administration important positions within the DAS have been gradually taken by former Navy officers, which has produced greater militarisation in this civilian institution and has facilitated human rights defenders turning into the principal target or objective of their offensive and strategic intelligence activities.

The strategic intelligence, which is undertaken within the framework of the democratic security policy, is oriented to detecting and neutralising threats or risks against national security and the information obtained is given to the senior government (President and Ministers) to be taken into account during decision-making. This explains why the activities carried out by human rights organisations relating to governmental policies arose the interest of DAS intelligence activities. Furthermore, it is not a coincidence the president accuses human rights defenders of being terrorists exactly when the DAS considers them to be a threat to national security.

We believe the persecution carried out against human rights organisations is a State policy clearly demonstrated by the systematic and generalised attacks against these organisations. The State’s actions and inaction, rather than official documents, are what really determine policy. Without a doubt, this systematic and generalised persecution committed against human rights NGOs constitutes a crime against humanity in accordance with the Rome Statute, as expressed during a recent public debate by senator Gustavo Petro.

Over the last 28 years, CAJAR has represented victims in many cases of graves human rights violations that have implicated DAS agents. Presently, we represent the families of trade unionists murdered by paramilitaries, after then director of the DAS JORGE NOGUERA COTES provided these criminal organisations with a list of trade unionists to be executed. Recently, Jorge Aurelio Noguera Cotes, was called to trial for the homicide of some of these trade unionists, as well as for conspiracy to commit a crime due to his alliance with paramilitarism.
Therefore, we exclusively and singularly hold the senior government led by the president of the Republic responsible for any attack against members of the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective or against members of their families.
Due to the foregoing, the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective demands the following from the Colombian government and State:

1. The complete dismantlement of the DAS.

2. A separation of activities relating to intelligence work and criminal investigation, which would entail the elimination of all criminal investigation powers currently held by the DAS.

3. The legal establishment of a commission made up of public figures, recognized for their academic and moral standing, who have been selected through a participatory process. This commission should propose a new intelligence agency based on the unrestrictive respect for human rights, a commitment to the most significant democratic precepts establishing a social rule of law, and in keeping with pertinent international parameters. The new agency should have legal and effective safeguards to guarantee the rights of citizens, as well as mechanisms for parliamentary and civilian oversight, especially concerning its intelligence functions.

4. The immediate declassification of all intelligence reports concerning human rights NGOs, and in particular CAJAR, held by the DAS and police and military forces. These reports should be given to the affected organisations and persons and definitively removed from official records.

5. Immediate and concrete progress in the criminal and disciplinary investigations being undertaken against the four former directors of the DAS (Jorge Aurelio Noguera Cotes, Andrés Mauricio Peñate, María del Pilar Hurtado, and Joaquín Polo), as well as against the other persons responsible for these acts. This progress should come about despite the recent change of the Procurator-General (Procurador General) and the soon to be replaced Prosecutor General (Fiscal General).

6. The immediate and definitive cessation of hostilities, harassment, intelligence activities, threats and attacks carried out by the State and its security agencies against human rights NGOs and CAJAR in particular.

7. Provide all guarantees to human rights defenders to carry out their work and take the necessary measures for their physical and psychological protection and that of their families.

Bogotá, Colombia
June 25, 2009

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