Colombian Defenders Refuse Protection Schemes  

July 2011



A lack of confidence in the protection provided by the government to human rights defenders has led to a number of organisations refusing these protective measures.

Earlier in the year ABColombia partner, the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (CCAJAR) announced that it would no longer accept any protection measures offered by the DAS (Colombia’s national intelligence agency) or any other entity that carries out intelligence activities. The Lawyers’ Collective will also refuse protection measures provided by private security firms. [1]

This decision comes after CCAJAR “...learned that the protection programme ... was being used against us,” according to CCAJAR human rights lawyer Rafael Barrios. [2] 

CCAJAR was one of the principal targets of the DAS’ illegal surveillance operation and investigations indicate that the DAS, as an institution, considered CCAJAR a threat to national security and the security of the government. Consequently, CCAJAR decided to return to the DAS the vehicles and staff which the Programme had provided to them.

In May, British Ambassador John Dew and Second Secretary Iain Gill visited the offices of CCAJAR in Bogotá, where the Ambassador was “profoundly moved by ... the courage and determination they had shown over decades. ... He expressed his concern for the continuing safety of the members of the Colectivo, given the continuing serious threat they were under, and hoped that the authorities would ensure that they provided the necessary effective protection.” [3]

ABColombia is pleased to learn that President Santos agreed to CCAJAR’s request for a meeting to discuss their security situation.  We continue to insist that the President also meets with representatives from the National Working Group on Guarantees following their un-answered request in June. 

Since 2009, the National and International Campaign for the Right to Defend Human Rights has been calling for structural improvements in the Protection Programmes for people at risk; these include calling on the Justice and Interior Minister to create a special unit to coordinate protection measures and that the State should not contract private security companies to carry out the work of protecting people at risk. 

As Colombia continues to be one of the most dangerous countries in the world for human rights defenders it therefore seems inappropriate that the protection programme is under the control of state agents  who have been responsible for the targeted persecution of these very defenders over the last ten years; including surveillance and harassing phone calls. 

ABColombia also reiterates the concerns continually raised by defenders concerning private security companies being responsible for their protection: the historic links between some private security companies and the paramilitaries, as well as the use of demobilised personnel for vigilance and private security, in many cases these have been linked to serious violations of human rights denounced by defenders; out-sourcing the management of the protection schemes to third parties dilutes the State’s responsibility.

Political responsibility for omission or extra-limitation in the carrying out of the functions of protection cannot be demanded of private entities; and the VISE’s lack of experience in protection schemes for human rights defenders which is evident in the lack of security protocols for defenders.

It is the ultimate responsibility of the State to show due diligence in guaranteeing the protection of human rights defenders.

The recommendations also call for an end to the collection of information about human rights defenders simply on account of their work; public recognition of the legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders and an end to public denouncements of their work by officials.  [4]



Bearers of hope: Risks and challenges for human

rights lawyers in Colombia 


A video made by PBI Colombia; with defenders, including lawyers from CCAJAR, talking about their work and the Protection Programme.


Video disponible en español









[2] Washington Office on Latin America, ‘Colombian Human Rights Defenders Continue to Endure Threats, Attacks, Harassment and Illegal Surveillance under Santos Government’, 23 May 2011


[3] British Embassy, Bogota, News, ‘Visit to "Colectivo de Abogados" in Bogotá’, 27 May 2011 


[4] See ABColombia, Oidhaco & US Office on Colombia, 'Climate of Fear: Colombian Human Rights Defenders Under Threat', October 2009.

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