The toad accuses
The DA’s office investigates
The hitman assassinates
So goes the story of many a human rights defender in Colombia. So goes the story of Alfredo Correa de Andreis.
Alfredo was a respected sociologist, a university professor whose research highlighted the systematic infringement of the rights of displaced persons living in Barranquilla and proposed a new way forward. On September 17, 2004, he was executed in what was later proven to be a plot carried out by paramilitaries and orchestrated by Colombia’s now-defunct Administrative Department of Security (DAS).
Prior to his assassination, Alfredo had been incarcerated, charged with rebellion as a FARC guerrilla sympathizer based on the testimony of former FARC combatants. The charges were dropped when his lawyer was able to prove the accusations were false. Not only was Alfredo conducting research several states away at the time of his supposed meeting with insurgents on the Venezuelan border, but the exact same false testimony had been copied and pasted word for word in the DAS files against another human rights defender. Both cases had something else in common: the prosecutor, Demóstenes Camargo de Ávila.
After nearly a month in prison, Alfredo was released. Two months later, a paramilitary hitman shot first his bodyguard and then Alfredo as they walked near Simon Bolivar University.
This scandalous event has influenced my own life’s story, because on the day Alfredo was assassinated, Rick Ufford-Chase was visiting the Presbyterian Church of Colombia (IPC) in his capacity as Moderator of the PCUSA. The IPC had leaders under threat for their human rights work, offices under surveillance, and needed support from the US church in the form of unarmed accompaniers for its ministry with displaced persons and other victims of the armed conflict. Rick joined IPC leaders in visiting Alfredo’s grieving family, and the urgency of the call for international accompaniment was crystal clear. He then returned to the US where he convinced the PCUSA to move swiftly in answering the IPC’s request. Two months later, the first accompaniers arrived in Colombia. I took my place in a chain of nearly constant accompaniment when I came to Colombia for the first time in May 2006, participating in a program that has shaped the course of my life ever since, a program catalyzed into existence by this assassination.
I never met Alfredo, but today I met some of his family. With photographs and matching t-shirts, their presence brought a name and a face to undergird the protest convened by two prominent human rights alliances, MOVICE (Movement of Victims of Crimes of the State) and Coordinación Colombia Europa Estados Unidos (CCEEU), of which the IPC is a member. It was a small assembly, lasting less than two hours, but the motivation was compelling: justice.
For peace to flourish in Colombia, the justice system must be as fair and balanced as possible. There are many steps needed to make that happen, but ensuring tribunals are comprised of respected, unbiased magistrates is one key element. Despite a court ruling that required his office to pay damages for arbitrarily detaining Alfredo based on a fraudulent investigation during his time as district attorney, Demóstenes Camargo de Ávila is now a judge. And earlier this month he was assigned for transfer to Barranquilla’s criminal court.
The clear miscarriage of justice which led to Alfredo’s assassination was used as evidence in the dismantling of the DAS and the imprisonment of its director Jorge Noguera. Now MOVICE and CCEEU have petitioned the Supreme Court to review Demóstenes Camargo’s appointment in Barranquilla.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.