Due to an investigation published by Semana magazine, on May 2, 2020, Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo decided to relieve an army general and ten officers involved in illegal intelligence activities carried out against at least 130 people, including journalists, US and Colombian politicians, trade unionists, and human rights defenders from our organization. In light of these incidents, the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (CCAJAR) states the following:
1. Several Colombian military units continue to carry out illegal espionage against organizations documenting or accompanying victims of grave human rights violations committed by state security forces. Civil society’s ability to monitor the performance of government agents is a right and a fundamental principle of democracy. Our work is legal and legitimate and it supports the rights of victims and society to truth, justice, and guarantees of non-repetition. We demand the immediate cessation of all illegal espionage and surveillance against our members and all affected individuals and organizations.
2. In January, Semana magazine published the first results of its investigations on these illegal intelligence activities. We requested publicly and in writing for the Colombian Attorney General’s Office to confirm if our human rights organization was a target of these illegal activities and to recognize us as victims in the corresponding investigation. At that time, the Attorney General’s Office informed us that we were not the targets of any illegal surveillance or espionage.
3. Nonetheless, the reports published by Semana magazine confirm that members of our human rights organization have been the targets of these illegal activities and that the departure of army commander Nicacio de Jesús Martínez is related to these illegal activities.
4. As a result, we insist on a thorough investigation into the different allegations of corruption and illegal intelligence activities that have come to light since last year, in addition to their relation with our work representing victims before different legal and judicial institutions dedicated to truth, justice, and guarantees of non-repetition. Likewise, we insist on a thorough investigation into the New York Times reports of senior military commanders who have brought back the illegal practice of extrajudicial killings known as “false positives” and the persecution of military members who have dared to report these abuses.
5. Although we applaud the decision to remove military members involved in these illegal practices, it is an insufficient measure to guarantee the non-repetition of these crimes. Transparency is a requirement. Consequently, we need to know what members of these state security forces have been involved in these activities. Likewise, any investigation must determine who masterminded these illegal activities and must also include the participation of the victims. Lastly, any decision to relieve members of state security forces of their command must also include effective disciplinary investigations and judicial procedures leading to exemplary sanctions in order to eliminate these anti-democratic practices.
6. Guarantees of non-repetition must include a thorough cleansing of these security agencies. Since the 1990’s, CCAJAR has been the victim of surveillance, threats, harassment, and illegal intelligence activities by the state security agencies. Consequently, in addition to the recent removals, we insist on a public discussion concerning the limits of intelligence activities in a democracy, a cleansing of these agencies, and the declassification, correction, and delivery of all information illegally or illegitimately obtained against human rights defenders.
7. We request that the Attorney General’s Office and the Inspector General’s Office present the results of their investigation into former military commander Nicacio de Jesús Martínez Espinel and all other army members involved in these acts, who according to Semana’s report are members of the “Cyber-Intelligence Battalions (BACIB), which belong to the military intelligence brigades and the Information Security Counter-Intelligence Battalion (BACSI). These units report to the Military Intelligence Support Command (CAIMI) and the Military Counter-Intelligence Support Command (CACIM).
8. Lastly, we request that the Inspector General’s Office take on these investigations through its preferential authority, since these illegal activities severely affect our democracy and human rights defense work in general. These investigations should not carried out by the same institution that committed these serious acts.
We demand guarantees to continue carrying out our work as human right defenders in Colombia. We will continue to demand comprehensive truth, punishment for the intellectual authors of human rights violations, and the full recognition of the rights of victims. We will not be silenced.
José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective
Bogotá, May 2, 2020.