Press Release

IACHR Presents Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders and Social Leaders in Colombia

December 20, 2019

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) presented today its Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders and Social Leaders in Colombia . This report is based on observations conducted during a working visit that took place on November 27–30, 2018, following an invitation issued by the Colombian State, and on the monitoring efforts of the Commission, in compliance with its mandate, through various mechanisms including hearings, precautionary measures, petitions, and cases.

This report addresses the situation of human rights defenders and social leaders in Colombia, particularly since the start of negotiations and the subsequent signing of the Peace Agreement between the Colombian State and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia–People’s Army (FARC–EP, by their Spanish acronym). It makes recommendations for the Colombian State, with a view to strengthening its efforts to protect and ensure the rights of human rights defenders and social leaders.

Through its various monitoring mechanisms, the IACHR has received worrying reports of an increase in violence against human rights defenders in Colombia. During the Commission’s working visit to Colombia, different stakeholders agreed that violence against these groups is a serious problem and, according to the records of civil society and international organizations, has worsened since the Peace Agreement was signed and implemented.

In its report, the Commission identifies social, indigenous, and Afro-descendant leaders who play leadership roles to implement various aspects of the Peace Agreement—such as comprehensive rural reform and the policy for illegal-crop substitution—as groups of human rights defenders who are particularly at risk. Defenders who are women, LGBTI persons, and trade-union leaders also face increased risks. Violence against these groups not only affects their rights as individuals, but also undermines their role within Colombian society.

The IACHR further observes that the main forms of violence faced by rights defenders and social leaders in Colombia go from harassment, stigmatization, threats, and criminalization to life-threatening attacks. There was an increase in the number of murders since the Peace Agreement was signed, until 2018. While the number fell in 2019, it remained alarming. Over the period January 1, 2016–November 2019, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Colombia recorded 232 murders of individuals identified as human rights defenders or social leaders.

Threats are the most common form of this violence, and they have a high impact on the exercise of the right to defend human rights. Similarly, the high levels of impunity in investigations of crimes committed against these groups—despite the efforts of public prosecutors that are highlighted in the report—increase the risks for defenders by leaving them defenseless and ill-protected, which encourages the reoccurrence of these sorts of crimes.

The report details the obligations of the State and the standards that the inter-American system provides for regarding human rights defenders, with a specific focus on the situation and the problems faced by defenders and social leaders in Colombia. This section is based on the Basic Guidelines to Improve Safeguards for Human Rights Defenders, drafted in 2017 as technical assistance for the Colombian State.

The Commission values the measures adopted by the Colombian State to protect these groups and their right to defend human rights, including the Strategy to Investigate and Prosecute Crimes Against Human Rights Defenders, the adoption of Directive 002 of 2017 by the Office of Colombia’s Attorney General, and the development of a specific method to investigate threats. According to the State, the implementation of these measures has enabled progress in investigations of murders of human rights defenders—55.73% of all cases have been solved—and led to three convictions for threats.

The Commission further acknowledges the tools for dialogue with civil society organizations that have been launched by the Colombian State over the period covered in this report, particularly the National Commission for Security Safeguards (CNGS, by its Spanish acronym) and the National Safeguards Institution (MNG, by its Spanish acronym). The Commission also values major efforts made by the State to strengthen the work of the National Protection Unit (UNP, by its Spanish acronym), as well as the resources provided to ensure it can function effectively.

The IACHR issues a series of recommendations for the State of Colombia. In particular, the Commission recommends increasing efforts to implement the Peace Agreement, so that conditions prevail throughout the country that enable the defense of human rights and of communities; summoning social organizations to develop a comprehensive public policy for prevention, to protect human rights defenders and social leaders; creating full records of all attacks against human rights defenders and social and/or community leaders; continuing to take measures to investigate with due diligence and to fight impunity in the context of crimes committed against human rights defenders and social leaders in the country, to establish who their perpetrators and masterminds are; deepening context analysis to assess risk and to adopt protection measures, with a differentiated approach that considers the specific situation of anyone needing protection and the site where they are active.

“Considering the serious situation of defenders and social leaders in Colombia, we stress our appreciation of defenders and social leaders, who have played a crucial role in the effort to ensure the full recognition of human rights and to secure peace and the end of the armed conflict in the country,” said Commissioner Francisco Eguiguren, the IACHR’s Rapporteur for Colombia as well as its Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders. “We highlight their crucial role to consolidate a democratic society and the rule of law,” Commissioner Eguiguren noted.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 330/19