Communiqué to the International and National CommunityPublished by MAC on 2003-03-30
Communiqué to the International and National Community
Bogotá Colombia, 30th March 2003
The Association Centro Nacional Salud, Ambiente y Trabajo, CENSAT AGUA VIVA Friends of the Earth Colombia, an environmental organisation and member of the largest international federation of environmentalists (Friends of the Earth International FOEI), informs the international community that:
1. Approximately at 11:30 AM, on 25 March 2003, three men wearing plain clothes arrived in a public taxi to the main office of CENSAT Agua Viva, requesting to see the owner of the building in order to proceed with a house inspection . They identified themselves as agents of the SIJIN (the intelligence unit of the Metropolitan Police of Bogota). Considering the lack of an official search warrant, CENSAT Agua Viva's staff did not open the door. The men insisted in obtaining information and entering the office. For this reason, CENSAT Agua Viva presented a formal complaint to the General Procurator of the Nation as this act seems to be an illegal search.
2. During the nights of February 16 and 17, 2003, unidentified personnel broke into the premises of CENSAT Agua Viva. During the second night they entered by force into the storage room, by breaking a window. They messed up boxes with books and archive materials, but were not able to access the office rooms. Around this same time other Colombian NGOs went through similar situations, officially characterized by the police as burglary , but which included the theft of computeried data-bases. This situation was denounced immediately to the police and the National Ombudsman.
3. In February 2003 CENSAT Agua Viva was informed that the technical team of the Fiscalía (Public Prosecutor) of the region of Santander, in the context of an official investigation, had referred to the work of several environmental NGOs supposedly linked with guerrilla activity in the region, which would imply the risk of a judicial investigation and further harassment from state security agencies against NGOs. This situation was denounced by CENSAT Agua Viva to the National Ombudsman and the Vice Presidency of Colombia.
4. On January 21, 2003, the daughter of the Project Co-ordinator of CENSAT Agua Viva and member of the Executive Committee EXCOM of FoEI received a phone call at home from a person self-identified as a member of AUC Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (a right-wing paramilitary group) advising her mother to take care of herself amid multiple insults and obscene language.
5. In October 2002, a member of the staff working with CENSAT Agua Viva since 1995, received in the city of Bucaramanga some threatening phone calls from persons self-identified as members of AUC.
These actions have taken place in a particular context marked by the new government, with public officials openly questioning the role of environmental NGOs and indirectly marking them as likely targets of para-military factions. The Ministry of Interior and Justice, Fernando Londoño, has expressed publicly at the beginning of the current administration that the environmentalists are the communists of today, and therefore they are very dangerous .
For obvious reasons, the government policies have worsened the environmental situation in Colombia, evidenced in the disfiguration of environmental licences requirements in favour of transnational corporations, as also the intensification of aerial sprayings, both in quantity and quality (doubling the doses) or the approval of genetically manipulated crops, like cotton BT of Monsanto, amongst other issues.
Confronted with this situation, CENSAT Agua Viva has performed inquiries with official protection and control bodies to clarify the reasons behind the screening of our institution by the government. Also it has requested the necessary means to guarantee our work and the integrity of the people that work in it.
For the facts that motivated this public denouncement, we would like to urge the international community to request the Colombian government:
1. To guarantee conditions for the free development of the civil activities of environmental groups in Colombia, including CENSAT Agua Viva.
2. To guarantee the protection and integrity of the lives of environmentalists and member of CENSAT Agua Viva.
3. To clarify the denouncement of the Public Prosecutor in Bucaramanga.
4. To establish the origin of the illegal acts of the 25th of March, that were attributed to the Police.
CENSAT AGUA VIVA - Friends of the Earth Colombia
The association Centro Nacional Salud, Ambiente y Trabajo - CENSAT "Agua Viva" is a nonprofit organization conformed in 1989, member of Friends of the Earth International FOEI. The organization was established on an institutional mission to empower socially disadvantaged groups of the Colombian society in their struggle for improved working and living conditions in harmony with diverse and healthy ecosystems. This goal has been pursued through a multi-tool approach based on communication, research, education, public participation and social networking.
CENSAT has developed projects with international organizations which include: Fundación Heinrich Boll (Germany), CAFOD- England, OXFAM- UK, Save the Children England, Novib - Holland, it has also developed investigation work with the Ministries of Environment, Agriculture, Health, National Planning Department and some Regional corporations in Colombia, and coordinated actions with international bodies of the United Nations which include OIT, UNICEF, amongst others.