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Thursday, 27 November 2003
Page: 23264


Mr Danby asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 9 October 2003:

(1) Is he aware of the Colombian Presidential Directive 07 issued on 9 September 1999 which requires all government officials, both civilian and military, to refrain from questioning the legitimacy of human rights organisations and their members; making statements that discredit, persecute, or incite persecution of said organisations; or making public or private declarations that stigmatise the work of these organisations.

(2) Is he aware of a speech by Colombian President lvaro Uribe Velez on 8 September 2003 in which he referred to human rights defenders as “Politickers at the service of terrorism, cowardly waving the human rights banner, who try to give back to terrorism the space that the Armed Forces and ordinary citizens have taken away from them in Colombia” and that “Every time a security strategy is implemented in Colombia to defeat terrorism, when the terrorists start feeling under threat, they immediately dispatch their spokesmen to talk about human rights.”.

(3) Is he able to say whether the security of human rights defenders in Colombia has been affected by these statements; if so, (a) in what way, and (b) on what does the Government base this assessment.

(4) Has the Government made any representation to the Colombian Government relating to the implications of these public statements; if so, (a) by whom, (b) to whom, (c) when, and (d) what was the response of the Colombian Government; if no representations have been made, why not.

(5) Since the speech of 8 September 2003 has the Government made any representation to the Colombian Government in support of human rights organisations operating in Colombia; if so, (a) by whom, (b) to whom, (c) when, and (d) what was the response of the Colombian Government; if no representations have been made, why not.

(6) Is he aware of the Colombian Ministry of Defence Directive 09 of 8 July 2003 which requires the State Security Forces to protect the work of human rights organisations and reiterates the applicability of the Presidential Directive 07 and that it “be strictly applied”.

(7) Is he aware of a report published on 17 September 2003 by the Office in Colombia of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights titled The Importance of the Protection and Defence of Human Rights Defenders; if so, does the Government support the recommendations of this report.

(8) Is he aware of the recent decision by the Colombian Constitutional Court to allow the Colombian Inter-Ecclesiastic Commission for Justice and Peace to bring a lawsuit against General Rito Alejo del Ro who was Commander of the XVII Brigade in Urab between the years of 1995 and 1997; if so, is he able to say when this decision was made.

(9) Is he aware of (a) claims by General Jorge Enrique Mora Rangel on 21 August 2003 in which the Community of Cacarica, Choc, was described as “a site of concentration with barbed wire where nobody can come or go without the order of Justice and Peace” and that “in the settlements there is a constant presence of the FARC”, and (b) the response by the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman which said that “This does not correspond with reality and could put at risk the communities living there”.

(10) Has the Government made any representation to the Colombian Government expressing its concern for the security of members of the Inter-Ecclesiastic Commission for Justice and Peace and for the civilian population of the Community of Cacarica; if so, (a) by whom, (b) to whom, (c) when, and (d) what was the response of the Colombian Government; if not, why not.


Mr Downer (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) Yes.

(2) I am aware of President Uribe's speech. In his speech, President Uribe distinguishes between human rights organisations which have his support and respect, and what he termed political activists who act in the service of terrorism under the pretext of human rights.

(3) I am not aware of any such effect.

(4) No. President Uribe makes it clear in his speech that the Colombian Government is firmly committed to protecting human rights and that human rights organisations have his support.

(5) No. Australia's interest in human rights generally in Colombia is raised as and when appropriate opportunities arise.

(6) No.

(7) Yes. The Government supports the 2002 United Nations Commission on Human Rights recommendations referred to in the report.

(8) No.

(9) (a) No; (b) No.

(10) No. Australia's interest in human rights generally in Colombia is raised as and when appropriate opportunities arise.