Colombian paramilitary leader confirms assassination of disappeared Humphrey winner

Demobilization should not trump justice for victims of Colombia’s internal conflict


Kathy Price - AI CanadaMONTREAL – Feb. 1, 2007 – Colombian paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso’s recent admission that he facilitated the disappearance and killing of celebrated indigenous leader Kimy Pernia Domico, winner of Rights & Democracy’s 2003 John Humphrey Freedom Award, raises new concerns that justice for victims of human rights abuses will not be served by Colombia’s current demobilization process.

In testimony last week, Mr. Mancuso, a prominent leader of the right wing United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia or AUC, said he provided the men who abducted and murdered Mr. Pernia Domico for his alleged links to the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Mr. Mancuso offered no evidence to support the Embera Katio leader’s ties to FARC, a link right wing paramilitary groups in Colombia routinely claim in order to justify the assassination of indigenous leaders, human rights activists and others who oppose their activities.

At the time of his abduction on June 2, 2001, Mr. Pernia Domico was the focus of broad international attention for his efforts to highlight the devastating effects of an internationally-funded hydroelectric dam on the Embera-Katio’s traditional lands and livelihoods. He visited Canada on two occasions, in 1999 and 2001, and remains highly-respected for testifying to Members of Parliament about the effects of this project, which received $18.2-million in funding from Export Development Canada. Rights & Democracy met with Mr. Pernia Domico in Colombia just prior to his disappearance and in 2003 named him laureate in absentia of its annual John Humphrey Freedom Award, one of Canada’s top awards for work in the field of international human rights.

Mr. Mancuso’s ongoing testimony is a product of demobilization efforts initiated in 2003 that have seen an estimated 30,000 members of Colombia’s illegal armed groups lay down their arms. In 2005, Colombia’s government approved a Justice and Peace Law in order to facilitate this demobilization process. However, the controversial law was quickly condemned by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and others for putting lenient sentences, de facto amnesties and limits on the prosecution of ex-combatants ahead of victims’ rights to truth, justice and reparations. Under the terms of the Justice and Peace Law, Mr. Mancuso stands to serve a maximum of eight years for his role in Mr. Pernia Domico’s murder and at least 70 other crimes for which he has admitted responsibility so far.

Rights & Democracy joins the Embera Katio people and Colombian human rights advocates in condemning Mr. Mancuso’s attempts to discredit Mr. Domico by alleging his involvement with FARC. Mr. Mancuso’s declaration also raises many concerns that require immediate action on the part of the Government of Colombia to rectify: What is being done to ensure that Kimy’s remains are located and those responsible for his murder are brought to justice and do not benefit from impunity? What action will the government take in order to ensure that victims’ of human rights abuses are not denied their right to truth, justice and reparation? What measures are being taken to establish a legal framework for demobilization that is consistent with international human rights standards, including full and effective access for victims to the judicial proceedings? What is the government doing to protect the Embera Katio from renewed paramilitary threats against them?

 “Colombia’s demobilization process must put the rights of victims first if lasting peace and true reconciliation are to take root,” said Jean-Louis Roy, President of Rights & Democracy. “Kimy’s family and his people need the full truth about his disappearance and the Government of Colombia has a duty to ensure their rights to truth, justice and reparation are respected and upheld.”

For more information: Kimy Pernia Domico dossier