Statement from the Colombian civil society in regards to the public policy of the Colombian Government on Business and Human Rights

Jul 27, 2016 | Extractive Industries, News

Para la versión en español haz click aqui

We would like to share this press release, which two of our partners, Tierra Digna and the Interchurch Justice and Peace Commission have signed.

As organizations of Colombian civil society who have signed this letter, we express our concern regarding the formulation of Public Policies on Business and Human Rights, as suggested by the Presidential Council for Human rights, and for the implementation of its most important mechanism: The National Action Plan of Business and Human Rights (from here forward NAP). Public Policies, which in essence should be focused on attending to and offering solutions for human rights violations of communities located in areas where projects of extraction of natural resources as well as the investment of other diverse economic actors are implemented, suffer from a series of underlying structural defects. These concerns are raised further regarding the deficient response the state has offered, which have led to the formulation of the present statement.

We are concerned because the NAP- in the words of the Presidential Council itself- is a framework that serves as a response to the needs of the investment companies, and seen as a document created with large gaps in its analysis such as: i) impacts and human rights violations generated as a result of the development of commercial activities in the territories, ii) gaps in the Colombian regulations relating to Business and Human Rights, iii) effective mechanisms of preventions and reparation, aspects which we consider must be properly included if a true motivation exists to provide solutions with guarantees for victims affected by commercial activity. Regarding these gaps in the policies of Business and Human Rights, it should be added that the text of the NAP clearly considers the respect of human rights as a “competitive business advantage”, which indicates that the policies towards Business and Human Rights by the Colombian Government look to offer an environment favorable for the attraction of foreign investment to Colombia. It does so by offering a political and judicial framework in line with international standards of responsibility, but without necessarily involving effective protection of the rights of affected communities, nor an obligatory respect of human rights by business.

Public Policies of Business and Human rights normalize and ignore the obvious asymmetry of power in the dialogue between companies and communities affected by human rights violations, promoting instead multi-actor spaces and non-judicial mechanisms as suitable instruments for the prevention, mitigation, resolution of conflicts, and even for the access to reparations for human rights violations by companies. Correspondingly, the government, through this NAP, doesn’t offer any type of guarantee for victims of human rights violations by companies, because it delegates to such companies i) the reception of complaints and grievances of adverse impacts on Human Rights, ii) the follow up to advances in the mitigation of negative impacts, and iii) the evaluation of possible or existing impacts of its activities on people and the environment. In this proposal, where the victim must make their claim directly to the actor who violated their rights, the Colombian Government is ignoring the pro victim focus that must be the foundation of all frameworks in matters of Human Rights; additionally, no one outside the business community believes that these are the appropriate measures to take. Furthermore, in the NAP no mechanisms are foreseen regarding cases in which no action is taken against such negative impacts, leaving a great margin for impunity.

With these types of proposals it’s clear that the government isn’t taking seriously that businesses, while carrying out their activities, cause impacts (harm) which result in human rights violations. The government also remains ignorant and negligent of the need to incorporate and apply basic principles of human rights (principles of pro-victim, pro-homine, equality and no discrimination, precaution and prevention, etc.) while attending to these undesirable situations. Many of the human rights violations are caused by businesses and the State itself not following national law and the Constitution; the government must follow (and demand of itself) a thorough compliance of the Constitution and of the law, respecting human rights as part of its constitutionality, as this is an essential and critical aspect for the development of economic activities in the Colombian territory. The respect for human rights must not be at the mercy of the will of businesses, but form an obligation that is adhered to by all, including the State and the business community.

Consequently, having confirmed a crisis that affects the entire country in terms of the lack of respect for human rights by business actors, it isn’t helpful for our work as civil society that the Council keeps insisting that the NAP has been a great effort and proof of the goodwill by the government for working on this issue. The same goes for the fact that implementation started while the Council repeatedly stated that they were working on a “living document”. The real cause of our concerns, and the question upon which we invite you to analyze here, is the following: is the NAP really offering some type of guarantee for the victims or is it continuously ignoring the actual problems- the responsibility of businesses in human rights violations and the deepening vulnerabilities of communities located in the areas of interest for investment.

We consider that with the promotion and implementation of the NAP the affected communities are being denied the ability to demand their rights, especially with the refusal by the Colombian Executive to consider the support of possible binding mechanisms to control business conduct with respect to human rights. Furthermore, all guarantees (judicial or political) for victims of human rights violations are shrinking associated with business activities on the ground. Taking into account that mentioned policies are ignoring the victims and the real problems on the ground as well as the essential tools necessary for the protection of human rights this initiative won’t do more than deepen the injustice and socio-environmental conflicts in the country, eroding the possibilities of constructing a true territorial peace, one stable and lasting, in Colombia.

For all the presented above, we urge the Government to:

  1. Analyze and reconsider the structural gapsof the public policies regarding business and human rights;
  2. Fulfill its responsibility to ensure theeffective compliance of the law and constitutional principles in order to ensure adequate controlof risks caused by the implementation of investment projects on the ground
  3. Offer a response that expected of human rights Public Polices: an institutional framework that offers adequate mechanisms for the prevention of impacts caused by investment projects as well as a clear response- of a normative and regulatory nature- to offer guarantees to the victims of human rights violations already perpetrated, and to prevent their repetition.

Signing Organizations :


Asociación MINGA

Centro de Estudios para la Justicia Social TIERRA DIGNA


Comisión Intereclesial de JUSTICIA Y PAZ

Comité Ambiental en Defensa de la Vida

Equipo Jurídico PUEBLOS

Foro Interétnico Solidaridad Chocó – FISCH

Fundación Comité de Solidaridad con los Presos Políticos

Greenpeace Colombia

Grupo de investigación geo-ambiental TERRAE

Instituto de Estudios para el Desarrollo y la Paz – INDEPAZ

Instituto Latinoamericano para una Sociedad y un Derecho Alternativos – ILSA

Observatorio de Expansión Minero-Energética y Re-Existencias

Pensamiento y Acción Social – PAS

SOS Ambiental



Para más información: