Claudia Julieta Duque is a researcher and journalist covering human rights issues in Colombia. She currently works for Radio Nizkor, a digital information project on human rights of the Equipo Nizkor, a human rights NGO based in Brussels.
She has worked as a journalist the last 22 years reporting on issues such as the kidnapping phenomenon in the 90s, recruitment of children by illegal and legal armed forces in the Colombian conflict, and investigated human rights topics: the impact of impunity and the right to justice in Colombia, the infiltration of extreme right-wing paramilitary groups in government institutions (including the Attorney General’s Office). She has documented multiple human rights violations (massacres, killings and disappearances). One is the Jaime Garzon case, the murder of a renown journalist and humorist killed on August 13th, 1999.
Due to her journalistic work and research on the Jaime Garzon case that began in 2001, Claudia Julieta has been a victim of kidnapping, several murder attempts, multiple death threats (against her daughter too), three exiles, illegal tapping of phone lines, mobile phone and electronic communications, persecution, other illegal activities of intelligence including the elaboration of a profile with personal details, traits, relevant professional achievements, private conversations, analysis on the progress made on her investigations on the Garzon's killing and specific instructions to carry out “offensive intelligence” against her.
In September 2003, after a public statement in which President Uribe accused human rights defenders of being “human rights traffickers”, an internal memorandum of the DAS made a reference to her using the same terms. She was charged on committing slander and libel by the DAS Deputy Director. In 2001, she was kidnapped in a cab and suffered the first death threats. One of the cars following her at that time belonged to the Intelligence Director of DAS. During the last eight years, Claudia Julieta has been considered objective and target of the Colombian State for her investigations, and has been prosecuted even outside the country, when she was exiled. This situation has generated in the journalist a forced silencing, but her strong battle has not stopped and, after these years, she has currently the proofs that make her to keep hopes that soon the justice could identify and sanction those responsible for the attacks against her.
Those responsible for the attacks are the Colombian secret police, Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS). The DAS monitored her e-mails and ordinary mail, bank accounts, relatives and friends were all investigated under illegal surveillance during the last eight years.
In addition, there currently exists legal evidence that confirms the secret police, directly attached to the Presidency, designed a memorandum ordering to threaten the journalist with killing, raping and torturing her then 10-year old daughter in November of 2004. The document has been considered an act of psychological torture by the Attorney General’s Office.
In March 2004, thanks to Claudia Julieta’s investigation, it was possible to have an intellectual perpetrator of a journalist’s murder sentenced to prison in Colombia. Carlos Castaño, former paramilitary commander was sentenced to 38 years. Castaño was never imprisoned, since disappearing in 2004. Despite the Attorney General’s Office official statement claiming Castaño was shot to death, the Supreme Court of Justice has considered that there is not enough evidence to certify this as true.
Claudia Julieta disclosed a sophisticated scheme designed within the DAS to deviate the Garzon investigation, and judges finally ordered the investigation of at least 10 DAS members, among them former Deputy Director of the institution, Emiro Rojas. However, the Attorney General’s Office has never ordered preliminary investigations against them.
Claudia Julieta was sued for slander and libel, a criminalization process that she faced during five years.
In November 2007, she discovered the existence of intelligence reports elaborated by her own bodyguards. In April 2008, she rejected Government granted protection measures due to the espionage she had been subject to.
In October 2008, the Constitutional Court issued an important sentence ordering the release of documents, videos, audios, orders and other relevant existing material against her in DAS possession, to protect her fundamental rights to information, habeas data and life.
However, the DAS did not comply to the sentence completely and destroyed a significant amount of documentation, as it was denounced by Semana Magazine.
Among the documents preserved, the Attorney General’s Office found hundreds of pages and files on the illegal surveillance on Claudia Julieta that proves she was persecuted by the DAS from 2001 to, at least, 2008. In October 2009, a few days before she testified on the attacks suffered, ten people, six men and four women, tried to violently enter her home.
On February 9 2010, during the celebration of the Journalist’s Day in Colombia, during a joint press conference with journalist Hollman Morris, Claudia Julieta accused Colombian President, Álvaro Uribe Vélez, of being responsible of the attacks she has suffered, and disclosed documents and analysis to prove the Presidency was aware of DAS operations and received reports on DAS actions against her, other 15 journalists and 300 people including leaders of left-wing political party, judges of the Constitutional Tribunal and Supreme Court of Justice.
In the past, the journalist has received support from the Colombian Federation of Journalists, NGOs such as the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), Reporters Without Borders, the National Union of Journalists of the UK and Ireland (NUJ). The IFJ has issued press releases on the persecutions against Claudia Julieta, the last one in December 2009, after the revelation of a guide to threaten her found in archives of the Colombian Secret Police. She has been awarded this year the RSF-Sweden 2010 Press Freedom Award, the Courage in Journalism Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation, the Ilaria Alpi for Honor and Responsibility.