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Colombian Lawyer Honored for Human Rights Efforts - 2003-03-31


A Colombian human rights lawyer has been given one of the most prestigious awards of the human rights movement. Alirio Uribe Munoz was honored during the annual meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva.

Lawyer Alirio Uribe Munoz has worked for more than 10 years with Colombians who have been the victims of human rights abuse. He is this year's winner of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, which is presented by 10 of the world's leading human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

After receiving the award, Mr. Uribe made a few remarks about the human rights situation in Colombia. He said years of conflict between government troops and guerilla forces have taken a huge toll on Colombians.

"In the last 10 years there have been more than three million people displaced who lost their houses, belongings and what is important for any human being," he said.

Mr. Uribe says, over a four-year period, guerillas kidnapped 10,000 people and there were 20 political murders a day in Colombia.

While Mr. Uribe acknowledges that violence has increased in recent years, he also expresses concern about some of the special measures Colombia's new president, Alvaro Uribe Velez, has initiated to reduce the violence.

"He is taking measures to reduce the civilian and political rights," Mr. Uribe said. "He is creating new taxes to finance the war. He is making an appeal so that the population gets involved in the conflict."

Mr. Uribe says the government is planning to recruit one million civilians to serve as informers, while 15,000 peasant farmers are being armed to help fight insurgents. The Colombian government says such measures are necessary to end the violence.

Human rights officials say human rights workers in Colombia are often at the receiving end of that violence. Amnesty International says that over the past four years, at least 25 human rights defenders have disappeared or been killed in Colombia.

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