Luis Alberto Mata

Twelve Years is Enough – Permanent Residence for Luis Now!
No More Lives in Limbo… End Luis’ limbo!
12 años es suficiente: ¡Residencia permanente para Luis ya!

Luis Alberto Mata is a Convention Refugee, writer, researcher and human rights activist from Colombia. He has lived in and contributed to Canadian society since his arrival in 2002 and recognition as a Convention Refugee in 2003.

A loving father and husband, Luis has worked full time for many years, owns a home and is an active member of his church and many organizations dedicated to non-violence, social justice and human rights.

Unfortunately for Luis, his family and anyone concerned with the way our country treats refugees and those who struggle for justice, he has also been unjustly denied permanent residence and has lived in limbo for the past 12 years.

Luis has been a very patient man. He has properly followed every process and procedure to become a permanent resident. He has waited. And waited . . . and waited.

Twelve years is enough. Twelve years of insecure status, unnecessary hardships and political rights and freedoms denied are enough. Luis deserves permanent residence in Canada, now.

Only when granted permanent residence and placed on a pathway to citizenship will his rights as a refugee and human being be fully realized.  Only then will he have the opportunity to become a fully integrated member of Canadian society. That he has been denied these rights is a national embarrassment and an intolerable injustice.

Luis has waited long enough.

You can help end this absurd and unjust situation.

 

Luis fled Colombia for Canada in 2002 when his life and that of his wife Diana and their young son were under threat. He was at risk due to his work as a social justice advocate, journalist and author, as he exposed some of the worst human rights violations in his country.  His wife Diana, a lawyer and member of a human rights organization was also intimidated and threatened by paramilitary forces.

Within a year of arriving in Canada, in 2003, he and his family were recognized as “Convention Refugees” by Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board.  With this clear and unequivocal recognition of the risk they faced in Colombia, within 180 days they applied to become permanent residents of Canada. Luis and his family should have been quickly granted permanent residence which provides a pathway towards Canadian citizenship. However, for more than a decade they have been subjected to bewildering delays with no resolution in sight. To this day the Canadian government has not provided a clear explanation as to why this has taken so long.  This is in spite of the fact that since arriving in Canada, Luis and Diana have become pillars of their community while raising their son.

Despite having the support of his community and local and international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Luis has been left in limbo. As a result his opportunity to enjoy the social, political and economic rights awarded to Canadian citizens and opportunities to fully contribute to Canada has been stalled since 2003. He can’t vote, travel freely outside Canada’s borders without overcoming administrative hurdles, access credit without hitches, serve on a jury, and risks discriminatory treatment because of his always temporary SIN number. In effect, by not deciding on his application the Canadian government has place Luis in limbo and made his situation permanently precarious.

The limbo and uncertainly in which Luis has been forced to live needs to end. He and his family deserve to know that his place in Canada is secure. He must be granted permanent residence. Now!

Internationally recognized and supported for the quality of his work and expertise on human rights and conflict in Colombia.

Luis worked tirelessly to advance human rights in Colombia for more than ten years before fleeing to Canada. This is a commitment to social justice that he and his wife Diana continue to share with unwavering dedication since arriving in Canada.

As a principled author and lecturer who spoke out about the human rights situation in Colombia, Luis became a target in a country where the political, military and paramilitary forces have long been recognized as agents of repression. Rather than be silenced, in the face of violent threats he bravely published articles and books on the nature and roots of the social and political conflict in Colombia.  The books were critical of the government of Colombia and its poor human rights record. He believed the country’s problems required structural and political solutions, and became a supporter of the Patriotic Union (UP), a democratic political movement and recognized political party with significant support in the country.

However conservative social forces in Colombia targeted this democratic political movement with repression. In April 2003, a few months after Luis and his family arrived in Canada, Amnesty International reported that over 3000 members of the UP had been killed since the party was formed in 1985. The security forces and their paramilitary allies have been blamed for the majority of these killings. UP activists have frequently been labelled guerrilla sympathizers and collaborators by the security forces and their paramilitary allies. Such accusations have frequently been followed by serious human rights violations including extrajudicial executions and disappearances.

In 2002, the year Luis fled his country, the then Secretary General of Amnesty International, Irene Khan noted;

Colombia is at a crossroads. The country is living through one of the most critical periods in its recent history. After the collapse of the peace process with the FARC last February, the conflict is intensifying, security is eroded, the human rights crisis throughout the country is deepening. You are all familiar with the statistics: about 20 people die in this conflict every day; more than 60.000 since 1985 — around 80% of the victims are civilians, killed outside combat. Thousands of other civilians live in fear of being kidnapped killed or “disappeared”; hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee their homes, their lands, their livelihood, as warring factions refuse to guarantee their safety and their right not to be drawn into the conflict. Paramilitary groups continue to kill, threaten, harass and displace people. Their action is unhindered at best, supported at worst by the very armed forces that are supposed to protect the public. The practices of guerrilla organizations have led to widespread violations of international humanitarian law. Proposed anti-terrorism legislation and plans to scrap human rights conditions and restrictions on the use of foreign military aid threaten to endanger even further the lives and human rights of civilians in conflict areas[1].

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights observed in 2014 that Colombia has more displaced people than any other country on earth (since surpassed by Syria), with over 5 million internally displaced people [2]. It has also been characterized as one of the most dangerous place in the world in which to be a journalist[3] or a trade unionist[4]. In spite of these dangers Luis committed his life to the advancement of human rights through his work as a peace and human rights councillor with the provincial government in Valle del Cauca, through his work with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), unions, peasant organizations, at universities and as an author.  Sadly he lost many friends and colleagues to death squads during the 1990s and early 2000s, prompting Luis to dedicate one of the books he wrote about the conflict to one of his fallen colleagues, Fernando Cruz Peña, a well-known human rights lawyer and defender of political prisoners.

On December 16, 2002 Luis and his family were forced to flee Colombia after his name was included on a list of people who were identified as targets to be killed by extreme right wing paramilitary groups. This was not the first time he, his wife and their young son had been threatened.

In November 2001 Amnesty International issued an Urgent Action on behalf of human rights activists including Luis’ wife, Diana Gallego:

CREDHOS activist Yaneth Rubio Rodríquez fled Colombia on 13 October, in fear for her life. She had received a constant stream of paramilitary death threats. Two senior members of another human rights group she worked for, REINICIAR have been threatened, and Amnesty International believes they are in grave danger.

Diana Marcela Gallego is a lawyer and member of REINICIAR. On 6 September a man reportedly grabbed her in the street and told her, “You’d better be careful, you guerrilla bitch,” “Cuídese guerrillera hija de puta.” Later that day, Diana returned home with her husband, human rights activist Luis Alberto Matta, and their son. They apparently saw three men at the public telephone near the gate of their housing development. Diana went into a nearby store, and one of the men reportedly drew a gun, cocked it and handed it to one of his companions. Luis and Diana managed to reach the housing development safely and reported the incident to the security guard who patrols the housing estate. He reportedly told them he had seen the men on previous days, using the phone.[5]

The risk the family faced was also recognized and noted by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights.[6] On March following the REINICIAR petition, the IACHR formally requested to the Colombian government protection for Luis and his wife among other human rights defenders.

In December 2002, threatened after his last book denouncing human rights violations describing the extermination of the Patriotic Union (UP), Luis and Diana made the difficult decision to leave their home and extended family and make a refugee claim in Canada, after Luis received an invitation to speak about his latest book at the University of Toronto.

Luis and his family chose Canada as their country of asylum.  They have enriched our country and community with their hard work and commitment to justice and non-violence ever since. Unfortunately in return their lives have been made unnecessarily difficult by the Canadian government.

In 2007, Luis’ son’s application for Permanent Residence was separated from that of his parents and he became a permanent resident the same year.  Diana finally became a permanent resident in 2014 after 11 years in limbo. To date no decision has been made on Luis’ application and no explanation provided about the delay. A typical permanent residence application takes 22 months to process.

While there has been no explanation about the delay, it seems that the Canadian government may have some concerns related to Luis’s association with the Patriotic Union, and about the books he wrote about the genesis and roots of the conflict in Colombia, and about the Patriotic Union (UP) experience, in which Luis was critical of the Colombian government. However, in doing so, Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s seems to have relied on the narrative of the Colombian government and paramilitary forces which portray human rights activists and trade unionists, including members of the Patriotic Union as “guerrilla sympathizers and collaborators”. Such concerns are backed by seemingly sloppy research on the part of the Canadian government.

These concerns have been strongly refuted by human rights experts on Colombia as well as Luis’ lawyer.

The injustice of Luis’ situation has been described by Juan Ibeas Miguel, a Lecturer in Sociology and Human Rights expert from Spain’s University of Burgos in the following terms:

“An acknowledged defender of human rights, devoted to society’s most vulnerable groups, Mata is well-known for condemning the abuse of the unarmed, civilian population perpetrated by armed agents such as the paramilitary.

Most of these murders have gone unpunished. Very exceptionally the physical perpetrators have been convicted, but never have the masterminds been tried or sentenced. .

The Patriotic Union is not and never has been the political wing of any armed organisation, nor has it carried out delinquent, terrorist or criminal activity. It is a civilist political organisation that stands out for its dedication and unconditional commitment to peace and democracy. Despite this, it has paid a dear price in human lives as a result of the structural boundaries of the Colombian democratic model, which for decades has been lagging under the burden of intolerance, blocking and hindering the growth of alternative democratic political powers.”

As Amnesty International noted in a May 2013 letter to Citizenship and Immigration Canada,

“when labeled as “guerrilla collaborators” or supporters by the security forces and their paramilitary allies, the organizations and individuals therein have been presented as legitimate targets in the counter-insurgency war” and often targeted for violence, including disappearance and murder.”

Luis’ lawyer noted the documents apparently relied upon by CIC to delay granting Luis permanent residence,

“are not reliable sources; they are brief; do not cite their sources of information; make statements out of context; and lack any real analysis of the historical background of the UP. In fact, some of the sources are merely bloggers with no credibility – let alone expertise – whatsoever.”

In treating Luis this way, Citizenship and Immigration Canada is complicit in legitimizing some of the worst forms of violence carried out against opposition social forces in Colombia. They are legitimizing the oppressor and punishing those that denounce and stand up to them.

Luis and all those that struggle for justice and a better Colombia deserve better. Luis deserves permanent residence now.

In spite of this non-decision, Luis works in Canada to better the lives of others. He has worked for more than five years as a Settlement and Employment Counsellor at the Mennonite New Life Centre, advocating for dispossessed people, and helping immigrants and refugees to settle in Canada, which he calls “their new beautiful home.” Since January 2003 he and his family are active members in a Mennonite church. In 2007 he became the first writer to benefit from a fellowship for Writers in Exile created by PEN Canada and the City of Toronto.

He has also been actively engaged with the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) and has volunteered for several national conferences of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL). He frequently participates in social justice and human rights events including those of Amnesty International. In 2013, his contribution as a Settlement Worker was recognized at the third annual “Share the Light Gala” where he was a finalist and received a “Service Excellence Award.”

Despite being denied the privilege himself, Luis teaches prospective Canadians about citizenship, and has provided hundreds of successful employment workshops and Canadian Citizenship Test trainings at the Mennonite New Life Centre of Toronto and at Toronto Public Libraries.  He describes this as one of his “happiest responsibilities.” He has also continues to lecture on peace, globalization, and the human rights situation in Colombia at universities, unions and with grassroots Canadian communities.

Luis, his family and their supporters in Canada and abroad are demanding that Luis be granted permanent residence in Canada. We want a guarantee that this family will not be torn apart, and that Luis can become a fully recognized member of Canadian society. We demand that Luis be granted permanent residence now.  It is long overdue.

You can help end this unjust situation. Here’s how!

[1] http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR23/052/2002/en

[2] http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49e492ad6.html

[3] http://www.cpj.org/reports/2013/05/impunity-index-getting-away-with-murder.php

[5] http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR23/111/2001/en

[6] http://www.cidh.org/annualrep/2002eng/chap.3f.htm

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