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Public Statements

Recent Developments in Colombia

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, I want to express my thanks to the governments of Colombia, Cuba and Norway, and to the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Reverend Jessie Jackson, for their efforts to secure the release yesterday of American citizen, Kevin Scott Sutay, who was kidnapped by the FARC earlier this year. I hope this is another sign that negotiations to end Colombia's decades long armed conflict are progressing, and that a peace agreement is possible.

I also want to take this opportunity to call attention to the contributions of two courageous Colombian human rights activists, Islena Rey and Father Alejandro Angulo Novoa, and to the challenges they and other human rights defenders face.

On September 9, Colombia's Human Rights Day, both were awarded for their human rights work in a presentation organized by Di logo Inter-Agencial en Colombia, a consortium of international nongovernmental organizations working for human rights in Colombia. This is the second year of the awards, and they were presented during a time of increasing attacks against human rights defenders in that country. The awards are significant not only because they recognize the recipients' contributions, but also because they help to reduce the social stigma that surrounds human rights work in Colombia and many other countries.

Islena Rey, founder of the Meta Civic Committee for Human Rights, was named Defender of the Year for her efforts to bring together and organize community leaders in support of victims of human rights abuses. She works in one of Colombia's most dangerous regions, the Eastern Plains, which has long been plagued by violence spurred by the illegal narcotics trade.

Ms. Rey knows the risks. Four years ago this month, she was shot and seriously wounded while returning from a community meeting. She is also the sole survivor of the original Meta Committee members, who, throughout the 1990s, were systematically assassinated, leaving her to carry out her advocacy work alone. Four years after nearly losing her life, she presses on, conducting investigations, providing support to victims, and working to rebuild the Meta Committee.

In addition to recognizing Islena Rey, the organization presented Father Alejandro Angulo Novoa with the Life Long Defender award for his contributions to human rights in Colombia over the past 4 decades. Father Alejandro is one of the founders of the Center for Research and Popular Education in Bogotá. He is currently the coordinator of CINEP's human rights database which collects, records, and disseminates information on the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. He has dedicated his life to this work and to supporting the poor and excluded.

The courage and dedication displayed by these two individuals represents just a small fraction of the essential work being done by human rights defenders in Colombia. It is all the more remarkable because, despite some notable progress in investigating, prosecuting and punishing those responsible for heinous crimes, impunity is the norm and Colombia remains a very dangerous place for lawyers, social activists, and journalists who work and report on human rights.

Islena Rey, Father Alejandro, and countless other brave Colombians will continue tending to victims of human rights abuses. They are undeterred by the social stigma they face, or the threats and acts of violence against them and their colleagues. They deserve our respect and our thanks, because the protection of human rights, wherever they are threatened or denied, is everybody's responsibility.

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