Given what we have observed in the regions, we affirm once again that human rights defenders continue to find themselves in a worrying situation of vulnerability and we call on the Colombian State to increase its efforts to guarantee that they can carry out their labour free of threats and risks.
Speech by the Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Christian Salazar Volkmann, Human Rights Defender Forum, 13 December 2011
David Ravelo Crespo
Economist, human rights defender and member of the Regional Corporation for the Defence of Human Rights (CREDHOS), David Ravelo is one of the most threatened human rights defenders in Barrancabermeja and the Magdalena Medio region. Mr Ravelo has been accused of murder, based on the testimony of demobilised paramilitaries, one of whom was linked to a plot to kill him. Mr Ravelo has been defending human rights for the last 30 years. His work involved him denouncing many human rights crimes, including forced disappearances, extra-judicial executions and forced displacements.
In December 2012 Mr Ravelo was sentenced to 18 years in prison. In September 2013 Mr Ravelo will have passed three years in prison.
Since Mr Ravelo was detained there have been attacks against other human rights defenders working for CREDHOS.
• Mr Ravelo was mentioned specifically in one of these, which stated: “we already have one son of a bitch guerrilla from CREDHOS in jail, and if it’s necessary to do that to the rest, we’ll do it to silence them”.
• Abelardo Sánchez Serrano (member of the board of directors of CREDHOS) received a death threat on 13 January 2012 in Barrancabermeja: two men on a motorcycle intimidated and threatened him with a gun, telling him that he had 72 hours to leave the city. Twenty-four hours before receiving this threat, Sánchez served as spokesperson in a press conference about the commemoration of the La Rochela massacre.
• A delegation of farmers accompanied by a member of the Farmers’ Association of the Cimitarra River Valley (Asociación Campesina del Valle del Río Cimitarra, ACVC) – Mario Echeverría – were also accosted by armed alleged paramilitaries upon returning from participating in the commemoration of the La Rochela Massacre. This was followed on 1 February 2012 by a threatening pamphlet signed by the “Urban Commandos” (Comandos Urbanos) and threatening members of CREDHOS, in particular a member of the board of directors María Ravelo, and members of ACVC. In recent months there have been a growing number of threats against social organisations, defenders and community leaders in the Magdalena Medio region for their work on human rights.
At Mr Ravelo’s hearings, observers from INGOs, international lawyers and members of the diplomatic community have been present.
CREDHOS (a Christian Aid partner) was founded in the city of Barrancambermeja in 1987, and focuses on human rights and international humanitarian law training and education. Between 2009 and 2011 there have been 12 death threats against CREDHOS and other social organisations in the region for their work in the defence of victims.
To find out more about the current situation of human rights defenders in Colombia you can read the Annual Report for 2011 on the situation by Somos Defensores (We Are Defenders) in English and Spanish.
Actions taken in support of David Ravelo
On 10 March 2011 ABColombia wrote to Colombia’s Attorney General, Dra. Viviane Morales, to highlight our concerns regarding the case of David Ravelo and to express our support for the valuable work being undertaken by David and our partner organisation CREDHOS. We asked that the Attorney General pay close attention to the case, in order that due process is carried out and that all evidence is thoroughly examined by the Court.
December 2010 – David speaks to Peace Brigades International about the charges he faces and his imprisonment. News from inside Bogota’s La Picota Prison – in David’s own words:
“At a very young age I decided to join the student social and political movement. I understood that in taking on the commitment to fight against injustices and inequalities I would become a target of persecutions and defamation aimed at destroying me and removing me from public view. This explains the countless attempts on my life, the stigmatization and unfounded prosecutions to which I have been subjected.”
Read David’s first account from LA PICOTA PRISON
On 28 September 2010 and again in January 2011, we wrote to the FCO and the DFA to highlight our concerns regarding the criminal proceedings being brought against David Ravelo Crespo.
VIDEO: Defence lawyer speaks with PBI
Listen to his defence lawyer talking to PBI about the investigation and imprisonment of David Ravelo
VIDEO: David Ravelo: Human Rights Defender under threat
The following video, produced by PBI before his arrest, shows David’s work and the measures he must take as a human rights defender under threat.
On 14th September 2010, David Ravelo was arrested pursuant to a warrant issued by the Attorney General’s Anti-Terrorism Unit. The warrant follows allegations made in 2008 by a demobilised paramilitary leader, who accused Mr Ravelo of having ties to guerrilla groups and of having planned the killing of the then Secretary for Public Works of Barrancabermeja, David Nuñez Cala.
As soon as David Ravelo was made aware of these accusations, he presented himself voluntarily in the Attorney General’s Office in Barrancabermeja in order to assert his innocence.
At the end of April 2009, the case against David Ravelo was transferred from the Attorney General’s Office in Barrancabermeja to office no. 22 of the Attorney General’s Anti-terrorism Unit, who issued the arrest warrant.
Since investigations concerning David began, he has suffered an increase in threats and been subject to illegal surveillance. His family members have also become targets.
In June 2010, ABColombia first raised concerns with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for David’s safety following a phone call his son received on 3 June falsely informing him that his father had just been killed. This followed a previous call on 7 May, telling David’s son to prepare for his father’s funeral.
Since his arrest, David’s son and cousin have received calls threatening the safety of the Ravelo family.
There are grave concerns over the security of David, his family members, and CREDHOS staff, following this judicial proceeding.
Following her visit to Colombia in 2009, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders noted that she was extremely worried by the pattern of unfounded criminal proceedings brought against human rights defenders.
As the Special Rapporteur highlighted, unfounded criminal proceedings are primarily intended to discredit defenders and the work they do. Stigmatising legitimate human rights defenders as guerrillas or guerrilla sympathisers can put them at risk of reprisal attacks or death threats.
Furthermore, such judicial proceedings divert time and resources away from the human rights work of defenders like David Ravelo.
David is currently being held in the La Picota prison, in Cundinamarca Department, where several paramilitary members are being held in relation to crimes and human rights violations which CREDHOS, and Mr Ravelo himself, have denounced.
 “Hostigamiento y amenaza de muerte contra Abelardo Sánchez, defensor de derechos humanos de Credhos”, CREDHOS, January 13, 2012, Available here
 “Acción Urgente: Amenazas de muerte y intimidaciones a los defensores de derechos humanos en el Magdalena Medio,” CREDHOS, 25 January 2012.
 “Continúan las sistemáticas amenazas de muerte contra integrantes de CREDHOS,” CREDHOS, 2 February 2012.