UN Special Rapporteur Visits Colombia  

26 September 2016

UN  Special Rapporteur

On The Situation of Human Rights Defenders

Visits Colombia

On September 26, 2016 ABColombia launched its latest report on “Self-protection mechanisms: Colombian rural defenders and communities” in Colombia. The Academic Conference was held in Javeriana University and it included the presence of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs), Michel Forst. He expressed his concern that, despite the signing of a Peace Accord with the FARC, HRDs are still in great danger:

"I am appalled to read the number of HRDs who have been killed in Colombia over the past 20 years: 729! And this is probably only the tip of the iceberg. Every defender killed is one too many and it constitutes an attack on the human rights of all of us"

(Michel Forst)

In spite of this devastating news, the Rapporteur also made it clear that is thanks to the constant efforts made by HRDs that there has been some improvement on the protection of HRDs around the world. According to the Special Rapporteur, Colombia is not the exception, and it has been a leading country in developing protection mechanism for HRDs.

  "You, the defenders, continue to challenge governments to ensure that the rights of their citizens, the rights that they are responsible to promote and protect, are guaranteed." (Michel Forst)

He insists that defending human rights can be a very dangerous activity and things are not getting any better. This situation becomes even more difficult in a context of internal conflict where all the risks exacerbate. He reaffirmed his commitment towards making States accountable towards the protection of HRDs, and ensure that they create a safe and enabling environment for the defence of human rights in Colombia. See full speech [English] [Spanish unoficial translation]

The event also counted with a representative from the Colombian office for the High Commissioner on Human Rights. He started his intervention saying that since the beginning of their work back in 1997 they addressed the difficulties faced by Human Rights Defenders in Colombia. They encountered that people in rural areas needed urgent support and protection as they were the ones living the armed conflict more closely and had less access to institutions, public services and justice. Nevertheless they also found out that they were the ones more willing to promote human rights around the country.

“There is a huge diversity of people working to promote human rights around the country in relation with all kind of rights from civil rights to cultural rights, and with all kind of difficulties. Considering this factors, from the first moment, it turned evident that people from rural areas needed to be focus of attention, support and escort” (Office of the High Commisioner on Human Rights in Colombia) 

In relation to their mandate, the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Office in Bogota asked the Colombian Government to elaborate and implement effective plans to address the threats, risks and aggressions faced by HRDs, particularly for those whose activities are in rural areas where they are exposed to higher risks. See full speech [Spanish[English]

Finally Sandra Lagos a woman HRD, delegate of the Integral Development Association for a Sustainable Amazon (ADISPA in Spanish), and representative organization of the ZRCPA (Campesino Reserve Zone of the Amazonian Pearl) download full speech: [Spanish] [Unoficial English Translation]. Sandra expalined the dificulties for communities like hers in an internal conflict:  " [t]he families and communities of the ZRCPA are not the exception, many of them being victims of forced displacements, threats, illegal settlements, arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial executions ...victims of anti-personnel mines, stigmatisation or accusations by the military forces, who in their military doctrine consider rural people as auxiliaries, accomplices or part of the insurgency.  This has resulted in the hostile treatment we’ve always received from them. This situation became even more complex with the arrival oil companies in Putumayo [1] and where the expansion of oil platforms has intensified the armed conflict.

“The social and environmental conflict has worsened ... Companies like Amerisur that operate within the ZRCPA have managed to divide communities and slow the organisational process that we are trying to advance. Our children, young people, women and men are exposed to serious environmental harm, and State Agencies do not take the necessary corrective measures, forcing us into social protest...as our only means of being heard.” (Sandra Lagos, ADISPA) 

The encounter finished by highlighting the importance of the protection of HRDs especially with the peacebuilding process that comes ahead. Because when HRDs are not protected, not only their lives are in danger, but also the communities collective organisation and management of their collective territory and this leadership and collective organisation and support is what protectis the communties and their rights.


[1] Putumayo used be classified as the Colombian Amazon how ever it has now been re-classified as the entrance to the Amazon.

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