Colombian Human Rights Defenders – Murdered, Threatened and Persecuted

Oct 13, 2015 | Human Rights, Impunity and Justice, News, Peace and Nonviolence, War and Conflict

Para la versión en español, haz click aquí.

This post was originally published by SweFOR Colombia.

According to a recent study, Colombia ranks third in the world among countries with most impunity. For human rights defenders, the situation is even more critical. The Attorney General’s Office has been criticized by organizations from Colombian civil society for showing insufficient progress in the investigations involving crimes committed against human rights defenders. Meanwhile, the Attorney General’s Office claims it is implementing a new program to respond to these needs.

In their report Los Nadies (The Nobodies), the Somos Defensores program documented an increase of over 100% in attacks against human rights defenders in Colombia during the first half of the year compared with the same period last year.

In the first half of 2015 alone, 34 advocates and human rights defenders have been murdered. On average, one human rights defender has been killed every 5 days.
In the first half of 2015 alone, 34 advocates and human rights defenders have been murdered. On average, one human rights defender has been killed every 5 days.

Many people accompanied by SweFOR have experienced these threats and aggressions first hand in response to their legitimate work in defense of human rights. Several members of the organization Hijos e hijas por la memoria y contra la impunidad (Sons and Daughters for Remembrance and Against Impunity) have suffered repeated harassment, persecution and threats throughout the years.

The human rights defender Nancy Fiallo has also been subject to various threats. Her last denunciation to the Attorney General’s Office was filed in May after she was threatened over the phone. Fiallo says she has not received any response from the Attorney General’s Office regarding this threat, nor regarding the previous threats against her. Fiallo fears that the situation of human rights defenders will worsen in a post-agreement context, given that threats, assassinations, and detentions have already become routine. Shaira Rivera, from Hijos y hijas and the current technical director of MOVICE (National Movement of Victims of State Crimes), believes that

“for the Colombian state and the various governments that represent it, the enemy are not just the guerrillas. They also consider as enemies the human rights organizations that work on economic and political issues in opposition to governments.”

According to Fiallo, human rights defenders are seen as opposition by the Colombian government because they “make noise”, and she explains that these defenders have been able to successfully mobilize and effect important social changes.

In September 2015, SweFOR had the opportunity to speak with the Attorney General’s Office about the high level of impunity in the country. The institution recognized that there is an urgent need in Colombia to find new ways to meet this great challenge. They also emphasized that, in order to do this, more agreements and coordination with human rights organizations are needed. One of the countermeasures adopted by the Attorney General’s office has been to create a task force that will be in charge of investigating serious crimes and threats against human rights defenders. This new task force has yet to begin its work, but the Attorney General’s Office expects it to offer some measure of guarantee. However, they state,

“we are a very frustrated state – we fail to provide protection […] the post-conflict could bring us even more violence – other countries have shown us that. We have to prepare ourselves and, for instance, monitor demobilized FARC guerillas.”

report from Somos Defensores recorded a rate of impunity of over 95% in the murder of defenders and social leaders murdered between 2009 and 2013. This demonstrates that the Attorney General’s Office has not done enough to respond to this challenge.