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Preliminary findings of an international fact-finding mission - No peace for human rights defenders

Geneva-Paris-Bogotá, July 19, 2017 -The lowest murder rate in Colombia for 40years in the context of the peace process masks a climate of constant threatsand a sharp rise in killings of human rights defenders. The persistence ofparamilitary structures, impunity and limitations in the State response are amongthe main reasons for this reality, as reported by the Observatory for theProtection of Human Rights Defenders (an OMCT-FIDH partnership) at the close of its mission tothe country.

Thework of human rights defenders continues to be a high-risk activity inColombia. Depending on the source[1],figures for the number of killings of defenders in 2016 range between 59 and134. Despite these inconsistencies, the figures are scandalous at either end ofthe scale, and it is important to highlight that the different national Stateinstitutions, international bodies and Colombian civil society organisations whichhave gathered these statistics all coincide in reporting a significant increasein the number of killings of human rights defenders in comparison with previousyears. Moreover, according to the information gathered by the mission, humanrights defenders who are local leaders, particularly those who defend rightsrelated to the land and environment in rural areas, are the group mostvulnerable to constant threats.

TheObservatory has identified four structural causes that explain the currentsituation.

Inthe first place, the main attacks against defenders take place amid thepersistence of paramilitary structures in the country, identified as the mainperpetrators of these crimes. The mission was able to document various cases ofcollusion and/or connivance between State officials and paramilitary groups indifferent parts of the country including Norte de Santander and Antioquia in acontext in which the authorities continue to deny the existence of thisphenomenon.

In the wordsof a Colombian defender: ‘If something does not exist, it cannot beconfronted’. That is why the Government must publicly recognise the persistenceof paramilitary structures in Colombia and confront this phenomenon byeffectively and decidedly applying the relevant measures included in the peaceagreement”, declared Miguel Martín Zumalacárregui,Director of the OMCT Office in Brussels and delegate of the Observatory missionin Colombia.

Insecond place, according to the Observatory findings, there is now a tendencyamong public authorities to recognise the legitimacy of human rights defenders’work. However, there continue to be examples of smears and stigmatisationagainst defenders. For example, in Sur de Bolívar, Bucaramanga and Barrancabermeja,in a case where five defenders were arrested, one was linked by the Prosecutorto the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional -ELN) as a result of his leadership in the organisation of demonstrations.

Thecriminalisation of social protest continues to cause concern. The mission receiveda number of reports describing the use of repression by the authorities duringpeaceful protests in Colombia, including numerous examples of excessive use offorce against protestors. The mission heard about a number of cases involvingdefenders in the department of Cauca and during the civic strike in the city ofBuenaventura.

Inthird place, the Observatory notes the persistence of high levels of impunity,which reinforce the vulnerability of all human rights defenders in the country.According to the information received, there have only been convictions in fivecases of murders of defenders over the past year. What is more, in May 2017 thefirst conviction in the history of Colombia was made in a case related tothreats against a human rights defender. A bodyguard was convicted of threatsto the person he was responsible for protecting; however, there has been no investigationinto who may have planned the crime.

We areparticularly concerned about the low priority given to cases of threats by the PublicProsecutor’s office. There is also a tendency, in all investigations intoattacks against defenders and in the few cases that lead to a conviction, thatthese investigations are limited to those who carried out the crimes, whilethose who planned the crimes are not investigated”,stated Vincent Vallies, international expert and mission delegate.

Finally,in the fourth place, the Observatory notes that despite the considerableinstitutional framework dedicated to protecting human rights defenders inColombia, the institutional response continues to be weak for the followingreasons: the inadequacy of measures to tackle the structural causes that placedefenders at risk, the lack of local implementation of national guidelines andplans, insufficient guarantees to carry out work to defend human rights, and alack of measures with a differential focus according to age, ethnicity, genderand socio-economic situation.


TheObservatory carried out an international fact-finding mission in differentareas of Colombia (Bogotá, Norte de Santander, Antioquia and Valle del Cauca) fromJuly 11 to 19, 2017. The delegation was composed of Vincent Vallies(international expert, French nationality) and Miguel Martín Zumalacárregui(Director of the OMCT Office in Brussels and Human Rights Advisor for theObservatory at OMCT, Spanish nationality), and was accompanied by Jahel Quiroga(Director of the Reiniciar Corporation - CorporaciónReiniciar and member of the OMCT Executive Board), and Ana María Rodríguez(Representative before the United Nations, Colombian Commission of Jurists - Comisión Colombiana de Juristas - CCJ).

Inthe coming months the Observatory will publish a report on its specificfindings, conclusions and recommendations regarding the situation of humanrights defenders in Colombia. In addition, as part of a strategy to strengthenthe Observatory’s work on Colombia, a report will also be published over thefollowing months documenting various cases of attacks against human rightsdefenders who defend land and environmental rights in the context oflarge-scale development projects.

The Observatoryfor the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objectiveof this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repressionagainst human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of,the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented byinternational civil society.

For moreinformation, please contact:

· OMCT:Miguel Martín Zumalacárregui / Delphine Reculeau: (+41) 22 809 49 39

· FIDH: Samuel Hanryon /Audrey Couprie: (+ 33) 1 43 55 25 18

[1] TheOffice of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights record 59killings. The “We are Defenders Program” (ProgramaSomos Defensores) report 80 such killings. The figure of 135 corresponds todata from the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría del Pueblo).

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