By Denny Scott
The Washington Post recently commented on the startling backlog of Colombian human rights cases. Our congressional representatives should take note as they consider whether or not to persue a U.S.-Colombian Free Trade Agreement. While the Colombian government claims success in prosecuting human rights violations there are many thousands of cases that are being ignored or stonewalled. I personally know of one case in which a 21 year old student was shot and killed in 2005 on the campus of the University de Valle in Cali by the military/police as they pursued students who had been protesting the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement being negotiated at the time. Jhonny Silva, a chemistry student, was killed because a birth defect caused him to drag one leg and, as a consequence, he lagged behind the other students as they fled the police. The Colombian constitution prohibits the military from entering university campuses. The police chief and person responsible for the killing are known but the justice system in Colombia continues to obscure and avoid dealing with this case.
I was part of a Witness for Peace delegation to Colombia in November 2009 that met with the father of Jhonny Silva. Despite anonymous threats, the courageous Mr. Silva pushed the case forward and it eventually landed at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C. It languished there for two years and then was referred back to the Cali courts on the promise that it would be prosecuted there. Now, the case has virtually disappeared from the system with the time period for prosecuting it running out.
Mr. Silva said, “I am bitter and indignant that nothing has happened to punish those responsible for assassinating my son. My only hope lies with the international community to send petitions to the Colombian government concerning my son’s case.”
The Silva case illustrates why so many Americans oppose ratification of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. As long as the murders of those who disagree with the government continue and those responsible for murders are not prosecuted the U.S. should not ratify the trade agreement with Colombia. It’s moral issue.
Denny Scott traveled to Colombia with a Witness for Peace delegation in 2009.