Our Voices

New Amicus Brief on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders

On February 6th 2023, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, in partnership with the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), Women’s Link Worldwide (WLW) and Unión Nacional de Instituciones para el Trabajo de Acción Social (UNITAS) filed an amicus brief before the Colombian Constitutional Court. In 2019, national civil society presented a constitutional action requesting the protection of ten human rights defenders (HRDs) and the right to protect human rights in general. On May 11, 2020 a judgment recognized the existence of an autonomous right to defend human rights, ordering government agencies to increase the protection of HRDs. Despite this decision, the situation of HRDs did not improve and between January and November 2022, 201 HRDs were murdered in Colombia. This showcases the fact that the existing protection mechanism is not working as intended.

Facing this challenge, Colombian NGOs decided to request the Court to declare a “state of unconstitutional affairs” – a legal ruling in Colombia in which the Court can declare that structural failures are leading to widespread human rights violations of a specific group and order competent authorities to take general measures and solve this situation. The brief, filed by RFK Human Rights and partner organizations, focuses on the extent to which the State is obligated to protect HRDs from private actors and the need to improve the substance and implementation of the existing protection mechanism, in line with international and regional human rights standards. Both the universal and Inter-American human rights systems also have recognized the right to defend human rights, which means this constitutes an obligation for Colombia at both domestic and international levels.

Despite the public commitments undertaken by the Colombian government, the state is not fulfilling its obligations regarding the protection of human rights defenders. It is a systemic issue, with a failing and ineffective mechanism that promotes a stigmatizing culture on HRDs and lacks support from public institutions. This culminates into the fact that Colombia is not a safe environment for the defense of human rights. Therefore, the “state of unconstitutional affairs” is an opportunity for the Colombian state to begin the necessary and urgent structural and systemic changes to effectively protect HRDs.