MONEY given by the UK government to Columbia to fight money laundering has been used instead to fund kidnap and harassment of trade unionists, a national union conference has been told.
Claudia Julieta Duque, a journalist and human rights activist from the South American country, says she has seen evidence that British money has been used by a Columbian government agency which she holds responsible for numerous acts of violence.
The Foreign Office denies her claims.
Claudia Duque told the National Union of Journalists conference on Saturday April 9 that she believed Columbia’s Group of Reactive Operations was responsible for kidnapping her in 2001. At the time she was investigating the shooting dead two years earlier of Colombian humorist and journalist Jamie Garzon, a killing she has described as “the assassination of freedom of expression in Colombia”.
Duque was leaving a conference in the Colombian capital of Bogota when she was abducted in a taxi for three hours, robbed, told to “let the dead rest” and to mind her own business.
In an interview for this website, she said: “The Group of Reactive Operations is funded exclusively by the UK. [The purpose of the funds given by the UK] is for investigating money laundering. But their members are involved in crime – my kidnapping for example.
“Does the UK government know? That’s my question.
“At least three of [the GOR’s] members [were] involved in my kidnapping in 2001. The UK government must investigate what is going on with its money.”
Duque also believes pressure from the GOR may have been connected with the UK government refusing her a visa last year when she wanted to visit Britain to talk to the NUJ.
Proof of the connection between the GOR and UK government funding lies in papers deposited with Columbian courts, she said, but because the case is active she cannot disclose it.
The GOR is understood to be a small unit within the DAS – the Department of Administrative Security, also known as the Colombian secret police.
The DAS is accused of many acts of repression. Trade unionists are at grave risk in Columbia: almost 3,000 have been killed there in recent years, according to the Justice for Columbia campaign.
Jeremy Dear, the general secretary of the NUJ, introduced Duque to the union’s conference in Southport last weekend to a standing ovation. Dear, who is also chair of Justice for Columbia, told the conference:
“She is one of the most hunted journalists in a country where hunting journalists is a national sport. The UK government is complicit in the murder of trade unionists and journalists in Colombia.”
Duque has covered stories about child trafficking, illegal adoption and corruption at the highest levels.
As a result she has been the victim of intimidation, kidnapping and harassment at the hands of Colombia’s Security Service and has been forced to flee the country three times.
The Foreign Office responded to questions from this website with a statement. It reads in full:
“We refute the allegation that the UK Government is financing a Colombian secret service unit responsible for the kidnapping and intimidation of journalists.
“The UK Government supports projects that improve the institutional capacity and capability of the Colombian judicial system to prosecute drug traffickers, detect and prosecute money laundering and other aspects of organised crime. We also provide carefully focused and tightly controlled counter-narcotics assistance designed to tackle the drugs traffickers who are responsible for the majority of the violence and abuses in the country.
“The UK Government follows closely the human rights situation in Colombia and takes allegations of human rights abuses seriously. The Prime Minister and Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne have both raised the UK’s concerns with President Santos. President Santos has set out an ambitious programme of reforms which if successful will get to the heart of many of the problems. Our responsibility is to support the Colombians in their efforts to address these issues.”
Filed Under: National NUJ