Colombia

OVERVIEW

Human rights defenders in Colombia work in a continuously violent and unsafe environment. They are subjected to threats, intimidation, forced disappearances, physical assaults, torture, killings, illegal searches on their homes and offices and stigmatisation as a result of their activities in defence of human rights. The perpetrators of these human rights violations are frequently paramilitary groups many of whom have links to the Government and/or security services, or armed opposition groups. The continued frequent and severe threats and attacks against HRDs around the country contradict government claims of paramilitary demobilisation.

HRDs at risk in Colombia come from a broad range of different backgrounds, including: trade unionists, indigenous leaders, afro-colombian leaders, activists working with internally displaced persons and on land issues, women's rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, students and youth activists, church workers, LGBTI and HIV activists. Programa Somos Defensores (We are Defenders Programme), a non governmental initiative to protect HRDs in Colombia, reported a rising number of killings of human rights leaders, trade unionists, and community and church leaders accounting for 29 assassinations in the first semester of 2011. The NGO also reported that in the same period of time, one defender was attacked or threatened every 36 hours. In the first three months of 2012 Programa Somos Defensores recorded 64 different attacks that put a human rights defender's life at risk or prevented them from carrying out their legitimate human rights activities.

Since Juan Manuel Santos assumed the Presidency in 2010 there has been a changed discourse in relation to HRDs, most notably with the dismantling of the Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad – DAS (Administrative Department of Security). However, little has changed in terms of a secure environment for HRDs, with reports of continued systematic attacks. Furthermore, some high-ranking officials, including the President, have continued to make public statements aimed at suggesting links between human rights defenders and guerilla groups. Not only do these statements aim to discredit the role of human rights defenders and their legitimate and peaceful work in the promotion and protection of human rights, but they put those HRDs at greater risk.

Impunity remains high for cases of attacks against HRDs and in order for the Government to demonstrate genuine support for improved security and protection of those defending human rights, the authorities must increase their efforts to fight impunity. Human rights defenders are often doubly targeted, by State and non-state actors, and as such are operating under severe risk. The level of impunity for attacks and threats against HRDs drew the attention of the United Nations' High Commissioner for Human Rights, who stated that “Most criminal investigations initiated by the Attorney General in cases where the victims were human rights defenders have had limited results. Furthermore, the Procurator General’s Office (Inspector General) has not obtained visible results in its disciplinary investigations, despite public commitments to make progress. Serious and urgent efforts are needed to clarify these cases and establish responsibilities.”

URGENT CASES

2014/08/25

For two weeks now, human rights defender Mr Juan Pablo Gutierrez Gonzalez from the Organización Nacional Indigena de Colombia – ONIC has been persistently receiving death threats through phone calls, text messages and a note.

2014/08/18

Since January 2014, environmental human rights defenders from Movimiento Rios Vivos – MRV (Living Rivers Movement) have been facing death threats, surveillance, break-ins, smear campaigns and harassment. In 2013, two members of Movimiento Rios Vivos were...

CASE INDEX

2014/07/3

On the evening of June 25 2014, the leaders of a movement for land restitution, Ms Yomaira Mendoza and Mr Enrique Cabezas, received via a text message a death threat against themselves, their family members and other human right defenders from the...

2014/06/19

On the evening of 16 June 2014, trade unionist and human rights defender Mr José Onofre Esquivel Luna was the victim of an attempted killing in Medellín. The human rights defender was not injured during the shooting, which is the latest in a series of attacks...

A meeting held by Movice
2014/06/5

On 3 June 2014, a death threat was received by the human rights defenders Ms Ingrid Vergara Chavéz and Mr Jeison Paba Reyes on the email account of the protection department of Movimiento Nacional de Víctimas de Crímenes de Estado (Movice) – The...

Luis Plaza Velez
2014/05/19

On 16 May 2014, two unknown men attempted to kill human rights defender and trade union leader Mr Luis Plaza Velez in Cartagena. Luis Plaza Velez is Secretary General of the Bolívar Department of the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores – CUT (The Central...

2014/05/7

On 3 May 2014, human rights defender Ms Nevys Niño Rodríguez received a threatening text message which warned her to be careful and that she was under surveillance.