Intercepting Democracy: Colombia’s Intelligence Service vs. Civil Liberties

February 09, 2012
12:00 am - 12:00 am

Hollman Morris, Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow

with comments by
Brandon Yoder, National Endowment for Democracy

moderated by
Don Podesta, Center for International Media Assistance

About the Event

Despite a longstanding commitment to elections and civilian rule, Colombia’s democracy continues to be challenged by widespread violence from a decades-old civil war that has claimed thousands of lives and has forcibly displaced millions of people. Upon assuming power, President Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010) implemented a “democratic security policy” that aimed to weaken illegal armed groups and bring peace to the country; the downside of these policies was widespread violations of human rights.

President Uribe’s government repeatedly accused human rights organizations, NGOs, and journalists of being “advocates of terrorism,” and many were subjected to smear campaigns, threats, and persecution from the state. One government agency that persistently breached the rule of law was Colombia’s intelligence service, the Department of Administrative Security (DAS), which engaged in illegal surveillance of human rights activists, journalists, opposition politicians, judges, and even government officials and has now been disbanded by the government of President Juan Manuel Santos.

In his presentation, journalist and human rights activist Hollman Morris recounted the illegal actions undertaken by the DAS and discuss issues of political responsibility and the consequences for individual victims, civil society, and the state of democracy in Colombia. Mr. Morris proposed recommendations for addressing past abuses and reinforcing respect for the fundamental rights of citizens. Brandon Yoder provided comments.

About the Speakers

Hollman Morris is a highly acclaimed investigative journalist from Colombia. In his coverage of Colombia’s internal armed conflict, Mr. Morris has documented numerous cases of human rights abuses and helped hold accountable those responsible for these crimes. From 2003 to 2010, Mr. Morris directed “Contravia,” a weekly television program that seeks to provide a voice to victims of human rights violations and bring to light new information about the Colombian conflict. Mr. Morris is co-director (along with Juan José Lozano) of the documentary film Impunity (2010). He has also been featured in the 2008 documentary “Temoin Indesirable” (“Unwanted Witness”), which exposes the dangers faced by investigative journalists amidst the ongoing violence in Colombia.

Mr. Morris has won widespread international recognition for his work. He is the recipient of the prestigious Human Rights Watch 2007 Human Rights Defender Award, as well as a 2005 Hellman/Hammett grant for his courageous journalism in the face of political persecution. More recently, Mr. Morris received the 2010 Chavkin Journalism Prize and the 2011 Nuremberg International Human Rights Award. Prior to his Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellowship at NED, Mr. Morris was a Nieman Fellow (2010) at Harvard University.

Brandon Yoder is a program officer for Latin America and Caribbean at the National Endowment for Democracy.