Journalism in Colombia – an adventure

“My work in Colombia is to investigate and to continue highlighting the situation for victims of violence and the 1,400 attacks on journalists in the country,” says Claudia Julieta Duque. “It’s true that the numbers of killings have come down, but still the truth is being silenced.”

Claudia was one of the keynote speakers at the NUJ Delegate Meeting on 9th April 2011, the key conference for the National Union of Journalists in Britain and Ireland in 2011. She was introduced by President of the International Federation of Journalists Jim Boumelha, who emphasised the sacrifice that many courageous journalists and campaigners make in their personal and professional lives to stand up for justice and human rights. NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear pointed out the continuing harassment she faced from the Columbian Secret Service DAS, the illegal surveillance, the threats and the ongoing attempts to destabilise her personal and professional life.

Claudia thanked the NUJ for its continuing campaigns on her behalf, and for granting her honorary membership of the union. She explained that since 2002 the Colombian presidency has carried out an unremitting campaign against journalists, trade unionists, judges and anyone who would investigate and denounce human-rights violations in her country.

This week, she noted, two new human-rights reports had been released, one from the US State Department, that had remarked a significant change in style from the Colombian government. She had been surprised, she said, because the death threats continue, even if they were no longer public.

The situation for journalists in the country is no different, she said, with 23 journalists still under threat including herself. Eighteen private media organisations had also been threatened with dire consequences if they continued to report bombings and other events embarrassing to the government.

“Our challenge as journalists is to fight against what is happening to us, and against impunity for the perpetrators,” she continued. “The monitoring, the interceptions, the victimisation are documented – but in my case no-one is in gaol, no-one has been called to explain.”

Last week, she said, the former director of Colombia’s counter-intelligence service said that he had known since 2007 that the children of journalists and human-rights lawyers were being called and threatened. “These people are laughing in our faces,” she said, “this is called justice in Colombia.”

“So the name of the NUJ is important,” she said. “To me, and to everyone involved in the fight against violence , threats and impunity. We know that there have been groups ordered specifically to attack trade unionists.”

The United States recently announced that the situation has improved, she said, so that a Free Trade Agreement can now be pursued. But there has been no change for her and for other journalists. “My message is that being a journalist in Colombia is an adventure, because paramilitary groups are active in corruption, they are trafficking in drugs, in human organs, every day. Colombia is a risky place to talk about these things.”

“People ask me why I don’t go,” she continued. “I say that I could leave, but when I see the corpses, the fear, the faces of the victims here, I cannot go. There are people who want to build a different life, a different country – that is why I stay there. I ask the NUJ to get involved in what’s happening in Colombia because human rights are universal. All that has happened there affects all of us as human beings.”

“I hope for change in Colombia – especially to break the impunity of the perpetrators,” she said. “The new government has kept on the same director of the secret service. We must continue fighting against these people. Being a journalist in Colombia may be an adventure, but I’d like to stay alive to continue it. Thank you for your support.”

© Philip Hunt, 2011.