In its recent report, the IACHR crucially underscores the importance of recognizing the right to defend rights and the fundamental role of social leaders in Colombia, especially in the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report Human Rights Defenders and Social Leaders in Colombia, recently presented by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) after their visit to the country in November 2018 repeatedly highlights that the work of human rights defenders and social leaders is essential for the full assurance of the Rule of Law and constitutes an indispensable pillar for the strengthening and consolidation of democracy. When the defense of human rights is impeded, it is not only a particular individual or community that is affected; attacks against social leaders affect the cohesion and continuity of social organization on a larger scale.
Social leaders play a fundamental role in maintaining the social fabric in their communities, often under precarious security conditions. In the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the recommendations in the report are even more important to safeguard their work. As Erlendy Cuero, social leader and Vice President of the National Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES), stated in a recent series by Dejusticia on pandemic and inequality, # DelMiedoALaAcción [From Fear to Action], during the pandemic, "homicides, threats and persecution have increased because we find ourselves in a situation where the support for some leaders with protection measures has been reduced and those who do not have security measures are left unprotected.” The latter is compounded by the fact that leaders, who have to stay at home because of the coronavirus, are at greater risk because they are more easily located.
Leaders in areas far from urban centers are more vulnerable, meaning the Colombian government’s adoption of the IACHR’s recommendations in those areas is even more essential.
Key recommendations made by the Commission include that Colombia:
- “Redouble its efforts to implement the Peace Agreement so that the right conditions are in place all around the country for people to be able to defend human rights and defend communities”.
- “Involve social organizations in any efforts to develop a comprehensive public policy on prevention and on protection of human rights defenders and social leaders, reactivating platforms for dialogue such as the National Roundtable on Guarantees and the National Commission on Security Guarantees, in which greements have already been worked out”
- “Properly implement any precautionary measures granted by the InterAmerican Commission and keep protection arrangements in place for beneficiaries as long as the measures are in force”
- “Take all necessary measures to ensure that authorities or third parties do not manipulate the punitive power of the State and its institutions of justice to harass human rights defenders and harm their work. Ensure that the proper punishment is applied if this occurs”
- “Adopt measures to investigate with due diligence and confront impunity regarding crimes committed against human rights defenders and social leaders in the country, establishing the perpetrators and masterminds of the crimes”
- "Improve coordination between national and local so that protection measures can be adapted to safeguard the rights of human rights defenders and social leaders and ensure that measures are effective in remote rural areas"
- "Agree on protection measures to address the level of risk, listening to and consulting with the human rights defenders in order to develop a timely, specialized intervention that is proportionate to the potential risk and has a differentiated approach.”
- "Improve coordination with international human rights organizations" with which the Commission ends its report.
The signatory organizations place special emphasis on the Inter-American Commission’s recognition of the right to defend rights and its call to comply with the provisions contained in the Final Peace Agreement, in line with the constitutional judges in the recent tutela [protection] action judgments confirming #TheRighttoDefendRights presented by various social leaders and organizations in the country, at the end of 2019.
- ARTICLE 19
- Asociación Interamericana para la Defensa del Ambiente (AIDA)
- Asociación Minga
- Amnesty International
- Business & Human Rights Resource Centre
- Colectivo de Abogados José Alvear Restrepo - Cajar
- Comisión Colombiana de Juristas (CCJ)
- Espacio Público
- Front Line Defenders (FLD)
- Fundación Comité de Solidaridad con los Presos Políticos (FCSPP)
- International Land Coalition - LAC (ILC LAC)
- International Service for Human RIghts (ISHR)
- International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA)
- Latin America Working Group (LAWG)
- Not1More (N1M)
- Presbyterian Peace Fellowship
- Red Latinoamericana y del Caribe por la Democracia (REDLAD)
- Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
- Unión Nacional de Instituciones para el Trabajo de Acción Social (UNITAS)
- Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)