[New report] Chronicle of a prosecution foretold – human rights defenders or defendants?

Bogota-Geneva, December 12, 2019 – Since thebeginning of the National Strike on November 21, 1023 people have beenarrested, and at least 47 have been prosecuted. Criminalising protest and thedefence of human rights is not merely an issue related to the current moment –a reportpublished today[1]describes a sustained policy in which State institutions are unduly used in anattempt to silence the defence of human rights.

Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for humanrights defenders, according to figures from Colombian NGO Programa SomosDefensores, detailing 155 defenders killed in 2018 and a further 89 so far thisyear.

Murder and threats are the most visible aggressions. However, humanrights defenders face other kinds of aggression, including criminal proceedingsinitiated against them with the aim of harassing or discrediting them.

« Instead of protecting defenders, the justicesystem and criminal law are often used against them. We have documented that,between the year 2012 and July 15, 2019, 249 defenders were unduly prosecuted,which is one case every 11 days. Those who face criminal prosecution report anincrease in their levels of risk, which clearly shows that the ultimate goal isto silence them », declaredFranklin Castañeda, CSPP President.

« Criminal prosecution purely based on their defenceof human rights is not only unfair, it is also perverse: it contributes toperpetuating the very human rights violations the defenders were opposing,namely pollution, deforestation, land concentration and the erosion of thefreedoms of expression and peaceful protest. The whole of Colombian societyloses out in this scenario. At least, everyone except the perpetrators, that is», declared GeraldStaberock, OMCT Secretary General.

This report reveals that 71% of the cases are concentrated in only 6 departments[2],which at the same time are areas where 35.7% of mining projects and 46% of oilwells in the country are located. This shows a clear link between the defenceof human rights in contexts of environmental struggle and the undue use of criminallaw. Defenders of the right to peace have also been particularly affected bythis phenomenon.

The report describes how different state and private actors intervenein and benefit from the prosecution of defenders. For instance, severalcompanies from the mining-energy sector have used Colombian institutionalmechanisms, such as cooperation agreements with the Ministry of Defence and thePublic Prosecutor’s Office, as artillery against defenders. Between 2012 and2019, 365 such cooperation agreements with 117 companies have been identified.

In particular, it is important to highlight evidence which shows howmilitary units funded by these companies have carried out military intelligenceactivities against human rights defenders who report the negative human rightsimpacts of the extractive economy. These intelligence activities have undulyassociated defenders with criminal groups. Equally, between 2017 and August2019 alone, the Hydrocarbons Support Structures (Estructuras de Apoyo aHidrocarburos - EDA) within the Public Prosecutor’s Office investigated andunduly accused 22 land and environmental defenders in connection with theirparticipation in protests against oil companies in the departments of Arauca,Casanare and Meta. For example, between 2015 and 2019, Ecopetrol funded the EDAto the sum of $82.621.590.882 (approximately 21,8 million euros), throughcooperation agreements, to investigate incidents affecting the adequatefunctioning of the oil industry, including “direct action” during social protests.

The report also details the multiple ways in which prosecuteddefenders’ right to due process is violated. These processes are characterisedby generic and imprecise accusations, using ambiguous criminal offences tocreate a scenario where pre-trial detention is the rule and not the exception:in 78.4% of cases where information has been obtained, the Colombian justicesystem deprived human rights defenders of their liberty, using both housearrest and prison facilities.

The organisations who have written the report call upon the ColombianState to guarantee that legal institutions and third parties do not manipulatethe State’s punitive powers and its justice system to harass human rightsdefenders. They also consider that in order for the risk of judicial bias to end,private companies, and in particular Ecopetrol, must stop funding the Public Prosecutor’sOffice to investigate incidents related to social protest.

The Committee for Solidarity withPolitical Prisoners (Comité de Solidaridad con los Presos Políticos - CSPP) demands,promotes and disseminates respect and guarantees for human rights for allpeople in Colombia, is part of the search for truth, justice and reparation;especially the right to Life, Liberty and Physical and Moral Integrity,dignified treatment, a fair and partial trial, and other rights established forpersons deprived of liberty, imprisoned for political crimes or prosecuted forparticipating in social protest. In this way the organisation contributes tothe national discussion about the justice system and demands the implementationof a democratic criminal policy with social justice; to contribute to buildinga State which respects human rights, democracy and peace with social justice.The CSPP is a member organisation of the OMCT SOS-Torture Network.

The World Organisation AgainstTorture (OMCT) works with over 240 member organisations which constituteits SOS-Torture Network, to end torture, fight impunity and protect humanrights defenders worldwide. Together, we make up the largest global groupactively standing up to torture. Helping local voices be heard, we support ourvital partners in the field and provide direct assistance to victims. Ourinternational secretariat is based in Geneva, with offices in Brussels and Tunis.

The Social Corporation for CommunityAdvice and Training (Corporación Social para la Asesoría y CapacitaciónComunitaria - COSPACC), dedicates most of its resources to supporting,organising and advising victims of the high level of human rights violations inareas where the organisation works, especially focusing on the departments ofTolima, Boyacá, Casanare, and the city of Bogotá. COSPACC carries out this work withoutlosing sight of its main aim which is to rebuild the social fabric and to offercontinuous training on the promotion and defence of human rights andInternational Humanitarian Law (IHL).

For further information please contact:

CSPP: Franklin Castañeda: +57313 3919384

OMCT:Iolanda Jaquemet / Miguel Martín Zumalacárregui: / +41 79 539 41 06

COSPACC: Fabián Laverde: +57 3203014747

The report (including an Executive Summary in English)is available here.

The OMCT would like to thank the European Union, the Republic and Canton ofGeneva and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. The contents ofthis report are the sole responsibility of the OMCT, CSPP and COSPACC and shallunder no circumstances be interpreted as reflecting the views of theseorganisations.

The OMCT is part of, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

[1] CSPP, OMCT,COSPACC, “The defence of human rights criminalised in Colombia: criminalprosecution used against defenders of land, territory, the environment andpeace”, available here.

[2] Antioquia, Cesar, Cauca,Huila, Casanare and Bogotá. @font-face { font-family: "MS Mincho";}@font-face { font-family: "Cambria Math";}@font-face { font-family: "Calibri Light";}@font-face { font-family: Cambria;}@font-face { font-family: "@MS Mincho";}p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Cambria", serif; }p.MsoFootnoteText, li.MsoFootnoteText, div.MsoFootnoteText { margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: 10pt; font-family: "Cambria", serif; }p.MsoHeader, li.MsoHeader, div.MsoHeader { margin: 0cm 0cm 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Cambria", serif; }span.MsoFootnoteReference { vertical-align: super; }a:link, span.MsoHyperlink { color: blue; text-decoration: underline; }a:visited, span.MsoHyperlinkFollowed { color: rgb(149, 79, 114); text-decoration: underline; }span.HeaderChar { }span.FootnoteTextChar { }.MsoChpDefault { font-size: 10pt; font-family: "Cambria", serif; }div.WordSection1 { }

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