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Human rights activist found dead

(Freedom House/IFEX) - 26 August 2010 - Freedom House is alarmed by the brutal murder of Colombian human rights activist Norma Irene Perez, and demands that the Colombian government conduct a thorough and transparent investigation of her death.

Perez, a member of the Upper Guayabero Regional Committee for Human Rights, disappeared on August 7 after leaving a community assembly in the central department of Meta. According to local human rights groups, her body was found in the town of La Union six days later with multiple gunshot wounds. On July 22, Perez had participated in a demonstration calling for an investigation of the mass grave found in the La Macarena region thought to hold the unidentified bodies of as many as 2000 Colombians killed by the military. Following the demonstration, former President Alvaro Uribe publicly denounced their claims, calling the group "mouthpieces of terrorism" for what he claims are attempts to discredit the security forces.

"A healthy democracy requires that brutal acts such as this one are investigated thoroughly and transparently," said Paula Schriefer, director of advocacy at Freedom House. "We hope that the new president, Juan Manuel Santos, will depart from his predecessor's habit of stigmatizing human rights defenders and that the new administration will encourage a thorough investigation of all crimes linked to the security forces."

The grave, which according to locals has been used by the army since 2005, is the largest mass grave discovered in Latin America in recent history. The Army has asserted that the bodies are those of guerillas killed in action. However, due to a high number of disappearances of local community advocates and farmers, many believe that at least some of the bodies are "false positives," or civilians presented by the military as guerillas "killed in action."

Colombia is ranked Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2010, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties.

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