Daniel Prado: “Unfortunately in our country receiving threats goes hand in hand with a commitment to life and dignity”

When Daniel Prado was studying law at university at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s, a lot of people he knew were forcibly disappeared. He found this difficult to comprehend, and decided to dedicate his career to defending human rights and victims of the armed conflict, and above all, victims of forced disappearance. When he graduated in 1992 he started this work, by joining the Association of Family Members of the Detained / Disappeared (Asociación Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos – ASFADDES). He began to work as a human rights defence lawyer, on a case defending victims of torture and murder perpetrated by the DAS.[1]

He remembers those times with a mixture of passion and melancholy in his eyes, as he describes the humanitarian crisis in his country at the time, when the armed conflict was going through one of its darkest moments and people were killed every day as part of the socio-political violence. He was also inspired by the struggles and determination of Dr Eduardo Umaña Mendoza[2]: “his struggles inspired me to dedicate my life to the defence of human rights, as a way of supporting processes for the social change that we need in this country. At that time, all those working for social change were victims of persecution and in particular, forced disappearance, and even massacres”. Daniel also focused his work on defending political prisoners. He worked on cases of forced disappearance that took place during the storming of the Palace of Justice, and the cases related to the murders of Eduardo Umaña and Eduardo Díaz, the mayor of El Roble (Sucre), among others. He is currently representing the victims of a paramilitary group in the case of Los Doce Apóstoles, in which Santiago Uribe, the brother of former President Álvaro Uribe[3], is being investigated by the Public Prosecutor’s Office[4].

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The Case of “Los Doce Apóstoles”

Los Doce Apóstoles were an armed group initially created under Decree Law 356 of 1994 which authorised the Convivir private security groups[5], which later became a paramilitary group[6]. According to Daniel, these groups which were active between 1997 and 1998, marked the beginning of paramilitarism in Colombia, and he has been investigating this phenomenon since he was designated as the lawyer in the cases of the forced disappearance of Edgar Augusto Monsalve and Jorge Ivan Alarcon[7]. He then defended the family members of the victims in the Campamento massacre[8], which occurred in 1990 in the North-East of the Antioquia department, where he gathered further information on the actions of the Los Doce Apóstoles, related to their alleged responsibility in this massacre.[9]

After working on these cases, Daniel began to closely monitor the case of paramilitarism in Antioquia. His investigations uncovered criminal activity allegedly perpetrated by the Los Doce Apóstoles group, who had their base on the La Carolina farmlands, property of the Uribe Vélez family[10]. A formal complaint was made using this information, and in 2010, after declarations made by Major Juan Carlos Meneses Quintero, the Public Prosecutor’s Office reopened criminal investigations into the actions of this paramilitary group[11].

Added to this is a new case which is a key part of the Public Prosecutor’s investigations into the actions of the Los Doce Apóstoles[12], namely the murder in 1994 of Camilo Barrientos[13], for which retired police Major Juan Carlos Meneses was found guilty.[14] The victim was a rural bus driver, who like many Colombians, found himself in the middle of the armed conflict, forced to offer services to the different actors in the conflict, which made him into a military target. Camilo Barrientos was obliged to provide a service to the guerrilla, was accused afterwards of being one of them, and was therefore killed. This kind of situation is all too well known in the Colombian countryside: “no-one’s life or safety is guaranteed. Colombian small-scale producers like Camilo are always at risk of being placed right in the middle of the conflict by the different actors”, says Daniel.

During that time, there were also a lot of killings and violent incidents perpetrated against people who were not considered to be beneficial for society. This practice is sometimes known as “social cleansing”. According to Daniel Prado, this was a critical moment for Colombian society, because the idea of protection for all citizens gave way to protection for “well-off people, and this was used to justify the indiscriminate killing of many innocent people”. Daniel represented Camilo Barrientos’ family and the investigation that was opened yielded significant results. Santiago Uribe Vélez was questioned and formally charged and the case is currently on trial.

Daniel Prado tells us that this work defending victims has led to him receiving threats, stigmatisation and attacks[15]: “many of us who in one way or another defend human rights have been the victims of false accusations. They have accused us of manipulating witnesses or of using false witnesses, but the country has started to realise that these are strategies to delegitimise our work”, he says.

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 At the end of 2017, Daniel Prado received several threats[16] and someone loosened all four tyres from his car. “Fortunately nothing happened, but these are really serious incidents because it isn’t normal in any part of the world for someone to unscrew all four of your car tyres”.

In terms of the current wave of threats and intimidation against human rights defenders in Colombia, the lawyer replies that they are used to it: “unfortunately, it goes hand in hand with a commitment to life and dignity in our country. We know that we are at risk and this is a reality that we have to confront, not only in this process, but also in others. I was harassed by the DAS when I was working on the Palace of Justice case, and my kids and family were followed, but I think that in every society, there are people who fight for dignity, for the people. Many people have died defending and fighting for their rights, for fighting against injustice and that is part of the rights that we have as human beings”.

Daniel highlights the important role played by the International Community in the Los Doce Apóstoles case, and its responsibility in Colombia to “call for a process of truth and justice, and to urge the justice system to carry out independent and serious investigations”. “These are tense times; you can feel the fear and the pressure”. Nevertheless, in spite of this stressful situation characterised by fear and uncertainty, Daniel continues to hope that truth and justice can prevail. For that to happen, he says “it is really important for the International Community to accompany us in this process”.

Nathalie Bienfait

Footnote

[1] Interview with Daniel Prado on 5 March 2018 ; see El Espectador: DAS, a ofrecer excusas por asesinato de exM19, 1 March 2011; El Tiempo: Condenan a la Nación y al DAS a pagar millonaria indemnización, 1 March 2011

[2] A renowned human rights defender killed on 18 April 1998 in his office, El Espectador: Eduardo Umaña, 20 años de un crimen sin respuestas, 17 April 2018

[3] Verdad Abierta : Los doce apostoles : La sombra de Santiago Uribe, 22 October 2017

[4] Semana : Santiago Uribe, a juicio por caso de « Los 12 Apóstoles », 21 October 2016 ; El Espectador :

Los detalles del caso Santiago Uribe, 23 October 2016

[5] El Tiempo : Así nacieron las convivir, 14 July 1997

[6] El Espectador : Antioquia y el origen de los 12 Apóstoles, 05 March 2016 ; Las 2 Orillas: Las convivir que se volvieron oragnizaciones paramilitares, 1 December 2013

[7] See ASFADDES: Édgar Augusto Monsalve Pulgarín y Jorge Iván Alaracón Sánchez, Base de datos de víctimas silenciadas por el Estado en Colombia

[8] Corporación Jurídica Libertad (CJL): la Masacre de Campamento, 2 August 2010; Verdad Abierta: ¿Cuál es la responsabilidad del Ejército en masacre de Campamento, Antioquia?, 9 July 2014

[9] Verdad Abierta : ‘Los Doce Apóstoles’: una verdad por develar, 3 March 2016

[10] Noticias RCN: Finca de Uribe habría sido sitio de reunión de paramilitares, según investigación estadounidense, 9 July; The New York Times: Tres testigos vinculan a la familia Uribe con paramilitares, 8 July 2018

[11] Semana : El caso de los « doce apóstoles » puede reabrirse, 27 May 2010

[12] El Espectador: Condenan a 27 años de prisión al mayor (r) Juan Carlos Meneses, 2 de octubre 2017

[13] Semana: El homicidio que enreda a Santiago Uribe, 29 de febrero del 2016

[14] El Espectador: Condenan a 27 años de prisión al mayor (r) Juan Carlos Meneses, 2 de octubre 2017

[15]  Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz (CIJP): Amenazas de muerte contra abogado Daniel Prado, 3 November 2017; CIJP: Amenazas de muerte abogado Daniel Prado, November 2017

[16] Contagio Radio: Amenazan de muerte a abogado defensor de víctimas de los 12 Apóstoles, 3 November 2017

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