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Ryan Rodrick Beiler: Church Offices Attacked In Colombia

posted by God's Politics

I was distrubed to learn that last week the office of our friend and frequent author, Janna Hunter-Bowman, was attacked in a very deliberate and targeted way while she was visiting her family in the U.S. The only things taken were the computers she and her colleagues had been using to document human rights abuses, which, combined with similar attacks on other human rights organizations, makes the motivation for the crime unmistakable. Here are some more details from a Mennonite Central Committee news release:

A break-in last week at the Justapaz, a ministry of the Colombian Mennonite Church and a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) partner, is raising concerns about the safety of church leaders and members involved in human rights work and threats to church work for human dignity and peace in Colombia.
During the early morning break-in at the Justapaz office in Bogotá, two computers that held information about programs to document human rights abuses and to coordinate peace work within Colombia were stolen. These are joint programs of the Justapaz and the Justice and Peace ministry of the Colombian Evangelical Council of Churches (CRVP). In addition, the desk of a staff member who coordinates an interorganizational human rights protection program was searched.
Nine other computers, an office safe and a fax machine were untouched, and Justapaz staff feel the break-in was aimed specifically at the information the office has been collecting about human rights abuses against members of Colombia’s protestant churches.
One of the computers belonged to MCC worker Janna Hunter-Bowman and had a database of testimony about human rights abuses against members of Colombia’s Protestant churches, as well as profiles of churches’ courageous peace ministries. The computer held names of grassroots church leaders and members who were documenting abuses – dangerous work given the country’s ongoing armed conflict and record of violence. Both stolen computers also contained detailed information on how churches have been working for peace in the country, which can also be controversial and dangerous.

Justapaz and the MCC Washington Office are asking U.S. and Canadian residents to contact their members of Congress or Parliament to express their concern about the theft of sensitive information about human rights abuses and peace work. They are also calling for people to urge the State Department or Ministry of Foreign Affairs to encourage Colombian authorities to take all appropriate steps to identify the person or people who broke into the office. As well, they call on citizens to insist that their policy makers make human rights requirements a central consideration in determining assistance and agreements with the Colombian government.

Follow the link below for the entire news release and specific action steps:


AKRON, Pa. – A break-in last week at the Justapaz, a ministry of the Colombian Mennonite Church and a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) partner, is raising concerns about the safety of church leaders and members involved in human rights work and threats to church work for human dignity and peace in Colombia.
During the early morning break-in at the Justapaz office in Bogotá, two computers that held information about programs to document human rights abuses and to coordinate peace work within Colombia were stolen. These are joint programs of the Justapaz and the Justice and Peace ministry of the Colombian Evangelical Council of Churches (CRVP). In addition, the desk of a staff member who coordinates an interorganizational human rights protection program was searched.
Nine other computers, an office safe and a fax machine were untouched, and Justapaz staff feel the break-in was aimed specifically at the information the office has been collecting about human rights abuses against members of Colombia’s protestant churches.
One of the computers belonged to MCC worker Janna Hunter-Bowman and had a database of testimony about human rights abuses against members of Colombia’s Protestant churches, as well as profiles of churches’ courageous peace ministries. The computer held names of grassroots church leaders and members who were documenting abuses – dangerous work given the country’s ongoing armed conflict and record of violence. Both stolen computers also contained detailed information on how churches have been working for peace in the country, which can also be controversial and dangerous.
The first report of the documentation project that Hunter-Bowman helps to lead, “A Prophetic Call: Colombian Protestant Churches Document Their Suffering and Their Hope,” documents details of 29 assassinations of men, women and children linked to congregations, 84 cases of people forced to flee their homes, 21 civilian combat-related injuries, four arbitrary detentions and other human rights violations. It also relates how churches are living out their faith with hope and perseverance.
Although many of the victims whose cases are recounted in the documentation project are identified, other names were changed for security concerns. The database included a number of names of victims that weren’t released publicly, specific allegations about who committed these documented acts of violence and documentation of cases where those affected by violence were too frightened to allow their cases to be made public.
“The Justapaz and CRVP program is important because it offers a trusted outlet for church people to report their victimization and contribute to justice and advocacy efforts as well as to Colombia’s historical memory,” Hunter-Bowman said.
“These testimonies also educate and help sisters and brothers around the world to know how to pray. For many, the existing governmental procedure for receiving testimonies to the abuses that they have suffered is neither trustworthy nor safe. The Justapaz—CRVP program is designed to help transform an ongoing armed conflict that has forced more than 3 million people to flee their homes for other parts of Colombia.” Colombia has the second highest number of internally displaced people in world, second only to Sudan.
“Given the atmosphere in Colombia, these people are at risk,” said Daryl Yoder-Bontrager, director of MCC’s programs in Latin America.
Justapaz and CRVP staff are concerned that the information in the computers will be used to intimidate into silence or harm the victims, local churches and people in the regions gathering the information named in the computers’ files.
Repeatedly, Hunter-Bowman has heard church leaders recount how many victims or families of victims in Colombia’s armed conflict see the church as the only safe place and were grateful for the chance to recount their stories through the documentation project.
If the project is not a safe space, she said, they may feel that avenue, too, is closed – and more atrocities are allowed to happen unnoted and unchecked. “This project tells their stories when they feel there are no other avenues,” she said.
Colombian Mennonite church leaders believe that previous international accompaniment campaigns have proven effective in warding off violence.
At the request of Justapaz, the MCC Washington Office is calling on Anabaptists to pray for peace and safety for those impacted by violence within Colombia and those involved in the important work of telling their stories. Justapaz also requests prayers that those responsible for the break-in will turn themselves in, repair the damage and change their lives.
Justapaz and the MCC Washington Office are asking U.S. and Canadian residents to contact their members of Congress or Parliament to express their concern about the theft of sensitive information about human rights abuses and peace work. They are also calling for people to urge the State Department or Ministry of Foreign Affairs to encourage Colombian authorities to take all appropriate steps to identify the person or people who broke into the office. As well, they call on citizens to insist that their policy makers make human rights requirements a central consideration in determining assistance and agreements with the Colombian government.
MCC is also sending letters to the U.S. State Department and the Canadian government to request that authorities pressure the Colombian government to make sure the matter is thoroughly investigated.
Thefts of information are not uncommon techniques of intimidation in Colombia, Hunter-Bowman said. This is one of six such thefts of human rights information from advocates in Bogotá in the past 14 months, but neither of the other two break-ins targeted church organizations.
“Some Colombian analysts suggest that those behind the break-in are trying to seek information on the international communications networks for peace, in this case connecting churches in Colombia with the international community,” said Hunter-Bowman.
Justapaz, a program of the Mennonite Church of Colombia, promotes church initiatives
in nonviolence, conflict resolution, peace education and action, as well as documenting human rights abuses against church leaders and members and chronicling how churches are living out their faith boldly in spite of violence.
To learn more about how you can respond, go to mcc.org/us/washington. The documentation project is also available on the MCC Washington Office Web site.
Urgent Action June 14, 2007
The Christian Center for Justice, Peace and Nonviolent Action, Justapaz, which is a program of the Mennonite Church of Colombia, reports that before dawn on the 14th of June, 2007, its office was broken into and two computers were stolen. These computers contained sensitive information on people and churches that are active in work for peace and human dignity, and on people from churches that are victims and witnesses to human rights violations. The perpetrators of this criminal act apparently entered through the roof in the rear of the building before 3 am and tore out the wiring of the alarm system, although the alarm went off. They passed by 9 other computers, telephones, a safe, etc., and removed two specific computers located at the other end of the office. They also broke into the desk of the coordinator for a program for protection of persons at risk. Eye-witnesses in the neighborhood reported that soon after the time of the break-in, police officers stopped two men carrying a computer, at the intersection of Calle 33-A and Avenida Caracas, near the office, but as of yet there is no information as to whether they are still being held or whether the police retrieved the computer. Police officers came to the office in response to the security alarm; however, the Crime Scene Investigation Unit of the Attorney General’s Office (Cuerpo Tecnico de Investigacion de la Fiscalia General de la Nacion) did not arrive until 5-1/2 hours after they were alerted. After the CSI officer examined the scene, he indicated there were no fingerprints and suggested that the responsible party had used gloves or wiped off the fingerprints, and therefore there was no point in a specialist gathering that information.
This attack occurred 12 days after the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s office, which provides international accompaniment to the Comunidad de Paz of San José de Apartado, was broken into and a computer was stolen. Similarly, in January of this year (2007), the office of the Permanent Assembly of Civil Society for Peace was broken into and one computer was taken, which contained sensitive information on participants and organizations, photographs, and documentation of their activities. This attack against Justapaz repeats a pattern of human rights violations which give evidence that the perpetrators have precise knowledge of the office and use sophisticated procedures to gain access to specific information, which in turn puts people, organizations, and churches at risk. It is significant that this is the first time that a church is subjected to this type of attack in relation to its work for peace, human rights and the safety of victims and potential witnesses to human rights violations. This violation takes place in the context of the governmental policy of ‘democratic security’, and of the reluctance of US Congress to approve the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia , in part because of doubts about the Colombian government’s human rights record.
The Christian Center for Justice, Peace and Nonviolent Action, Justapaz, which is a program of the Mennonite Church of Colombia promotes initiatives in nonviolence, conflict resolution, peace education and action, and the documentation of human rights violations suffered by churches as well as church activities for life with dignity. In carrying out its work, Justapaz supports the activities of Mennonite churches, other churches, and social and community organizations working for human rights and peace.
Justapaz and the Mennonite Church of Colombia reaffirm their commitment to nonviolence, justice and peace, which they understand as part of their calling to follow Jesus and to work for God’s vision of a society that resolves its differences nonviolently, guarantees the right to life with dignity for all, protects the victims and the general population against all armed action, and promotes solutions to the armed conflict within a framework of truth, justice, the call to repentance, reparation and reconciliation.
Requested actions:
• Call on the Colombian authorities to:
o Take all appropriate steps to identify and prosecute the persons who committed this act and those that sponsored its planning and execution.
o Take a clear stance against this crime and in support of the work of organizations and churches for human rights, peace and social initiatives, and to take all necessary steps to be in full compliance with the applicable provisions of the Colombian Constitution and of the international conventions which Colombia has signed.
o Implement appropriate measures for the full protection of freedom of worship and for the absolute respect of church sites and places of worship.
•Call on the governments of other countries to communicate with the Colombian government the aforementioned actions, and that these governments make human rights requirements a central consideration in determining assistance and/or agreements with the Colombian government.
•As churches, organizations, government officials and individuals, reaffirm the commitment to working for nonviolent solutions to the armed conflict; to giving priority attention to persons, families, churches and organizations that have been victimized; to promoting judicial processes that identify and hold fully responsible those persons that have violated or contributed to the violation of human rights, that promote the full dismantling of the structures of corruption and violence, and that contribute to processes of repentance and reparation a that lead to change and reconciliation; and to the enactment of public policies that give priority to investment in education, healthcare, housing and other areas that contribute to conditions of life with dignity for all.
• As people and communities of faith, pray for strength and clarity to stand firm in the commitment to God’s vision for a society characterized by nonviolence, peace and human dignity. Pray, also, for those responsible for this attack, that they will turn themselves in, repair the damage, and change their lives.
Send communications to:
In the US :
Chargé d’ Affaires Milton Drucker
United States Embassy Bogotá
Calle 22D-Bis # 47-51
Bogotá, D.C.
Tel: (571) 315-0811
Fax: (571) 315-2171 / 2190
E-mail: AmbassadorB@state.gov
Jonathan D. Farrar
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Department of State
Phone: 202-647-2590 Fax: 202-647-5283
with copy to Jennie Muñoz, Program Officer, at the same numbers
Contact information for Members of the U.S. Congress can be found at www.house.gov and www.senate.gov
In Canada :
Mr. Matthew Levin
Ambassador to Colombia
Carrera 7 #115- 33 A .A.53531
Bogotá, Colombia
Fax: (57)-1-657-9912
Matthew.Levin@international.gc.ca
Peter MacKay,
Minister of Foreign Affairs
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6 8
(613) 992-6022
MacKay.S@parl.gc.ca
Ms. Christine Climenhage,
Desk Officer: Colombia, Ecuador, Caribbean, Central America and Andean
Region Division
Lester B. Pearson Building
125 Sussex Dr.
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0G2
(613) 995-1541
Christine.climenhage@international.gc.ca
Stewart Wheeler,
Counsellor (Political) Canadian Embassy, General Relations,
Fax: (57-1) 657-9910
E-mail: bogota@international.gc.ca
Sample letter to the State Department (US) and Foreign Affairs Office ( Canada ) and to the US and Canadian Embassies in Colombia
June 2007
Dear ________,
I am writing today to express my deep concern for the security and safety of the Justapaz staff, their regional partners, including local churches, due to an apparently politically motivated robbery in the early morning of Thursday, June 14, 2007. Justapaz is the Christian Center for Justice, Peace and Nonviolent Action and is a program of the Colombian Mennonite Church .
Just before 3am unknown assailants broke into the Justapaz office, disabled the alarm system and proceeded to steal two computers with extremely sensitive human rights information. The assailants were apparently focused on these computers with sensitive information on human rights cases and local churches working for peace as they left other items of value behind including eight other computers, a fax machine and the organization’s safe. All evidence suggests that this was a politically motivated crime. The Justapaz staff, their partners and local churches could be at increased risk due to this attack.
This attack comes in the wake of a series of similar attacks against national and international human rights organizations and suggests an alarming pattern. Less than two weeks ago the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s Bogotá office was similarly attacked, with a computer with sensitive information regarding their work with the San Jose de Apartado Peace Community stolen. In the past year similar actions were carried out against the Asamblea Permanente de la Sociedad Civil por la Paz and the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES).
Therefore, I respectfully ask you to contact the appropriate Colombian government officials, including the President, Vice-President and the Ministry of Defense, asking them to:
• Take any and all steps necessary to identify and prosecute the material and intellectual authors of these crimes.
•Take a clear and public position rejecting these crimes and for respect for organizations and churches working for human rights, peace and community organization while fully applying the constitutional guarantees regarding these groups and activities as well as those in international treaties of which Colombia is a signatory.
• Take measures to guarantee the right to religious freedom and the absolute respect for church buildings.
Sincerely,
Name
City, State
Country
Sample letter to members of Congress or Parliament:
June 2007
Dear ________,
I am writing today to express my deep concern for the security and safety of the JUSTAPAZ staff, their regional partners, including local churches due to an apparently politically motivated robbery in the early morning of Thursday, June 14, 2007. Justapaz is the Christian Center for Justice, Peace and Nonviolent Action and is a program of the Colombian Mennonite Church .
Just before 3 a .m. unknown assailants broke into the JUSTAPAZ office, disabled the alarm system and proceeded to steal two computers with extremely sensitive human rights information. The assailants were apparently focused on these computers with sensitive information on human rights cases and local churches working for peace as they left other items of value behind including eight other computers, a fax machine and the organization’s safe. All evidence suggests that this was a politically motivated crime. The JUSTAPAZ staff, their partners and local churches could be at increased risk due to this attack.
This attack comes in the wake of a series of similar attacks against national and international human rights organizations and suggests an alarming pattern. Less than two weeks ago the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s Bogotá office was similarly attacked, with a computer with sensitive information regarding their work with the San Jose de Apartado Peace Community stolen. In the past year similar actions were carried out against the Asamblea Permanente de la Sociedad Civil por la Paz and the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES).
Therefore, I respectfully ask you to contact the Colombian Embassy and the State Department / Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ensure that the Colombian government:
• Take any and all steps necessary to identify and prosecute the material and intellectual authors of these crimes.
• Take a clear and public position rejecting these crimes and for respect for organizations and churches working for human rights, peace and community organization while fully applying the constitutional guarantees regarding these groups and activities as well as those in international treaties of which Colombia is a signatory.
• Take measures to guarantee the right to religious freedom and the absolute respect for church buildings.
Sincerely,
Name
City, State
Country



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Comments read comments(4)
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Security Man

posted June 21, 2007 at 3:32 pm


Hopefully they make a duplicate of their files from time to time and keep that back up in a safe and seperate place.



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Ngchen

posted June 21, 2007 at 4:10 pm


This might sound tacky, but this type of theft is precisely why it can be a good idea to encrypt ones sensitive files. Had the files been properly encrypted, then yes, although they can be destroyed, they cannot be read. So the activists’ identities which could’ve been otherwise identified would remain secret.



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Donny

posted June 22, 2007 at 11:28 am


Use laptops with easily removable hard drives. HP makes em that way. A few screws and you’re done.
When leaving the office remove the hard drives.
But in the meantime we can all pray for the conversion of these bad guys into Christians.



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Janna Hunter-Bowman

posted June 22, 2007 at 12:06 pm


Hello all. I’m writing to address your good questions. Yes, fortunately we do have multiple back-ups and didn’t lose any information. The timing of the attack is painful: we were in the process of deleting all unencrypted files when the burglary occured. Thanks for your thoughts. Janna.



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