Justice for Kimy: Colombian government must end impunity for human rights abuses

MONTREAL – June 1, 2006 – The fifth anniversary of the abduction and disappearance of Colombian Indigenous leader, Kimy Pernia Domico, tomorrow underlines the pressing need for Alvaro Uribe, Colombia’s newly re-elected President, to ensure that recent amendments to a controversial law governing the demobilization of illegal armed groups are respected and implemented during his second term in office, says Rights & Democracy.

Since its ratification last July, the Peace and Justice Law has been heavily criticized by human rights groups for its offer of lenient prison sentences and de facto amnesties in exchange for the demobilization of combatants from Colombia’s illegal armed groups, many of which are under investigation for gross human rights abuses. Fortunately, recent interpretive amendments to the law by Colombia’s Constitutional Court have now addressed many of these concerns, and Rights & Democracy encourages President Uribe to ensure that these interpretations are put into practice during his new term in office.

These amendments include: requiring demobilizing combatants hoping to benefit from the law to fully disclose the truth about their crimes; the possibility of increased sentences for those found to have hidden the truth; increased investigation periods to allow prosecutors more time to establish and verify such crimes; provisions for reparations, including the return of illegally acquired assets to their rightful owners; and improved participation of victims in all stages of criminal proceedings against demobilized combatants.

These amendments are a hopeful sign that new truths might soon emerge about the thousands of Colombians disappeared without a trace during more than 40 years of armed conflict in Colombia. Kimy Pernia Domico, a leader of the Embera-Katio people and a colleague and friend of many Canadians, is one of them. At the time of his abduction on June 2, 2001, Mr. 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. In Canada, he remains highly respected for testifying to Members of Parliament about the effects of this project that was supported by Export Development Canada. Rights & Democracy met with Mr. Domico in Colombia just prior to his disappearance, and in 2003 named him laureate in absentia of its annual John Humphrey Freedom Award.

In the five years since his abduction, no serious investigation has ever taken place. However, Rights & Democracy is hopeful that a strengthened Peace and Justice Law might produce information about Mr. Domico’s fate that results in a more complete investigation and the identification of those responsible for his disappearance.

“A demobilization process based on the principles of truth, justice and reparation for victims of human rights abuses is critical to establishing security and lasting peace in Colombia,” said Jean-Louis Roy, President of Rights & Democracy. “Without truth for Kimy’s people and his family and the countless other Colombians seeking answers about their missing loved ones, justice cannot be said to have been done.”

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