While failing to provide protection, Colombia’s authorities criminalize the defenders of human rights, a United Nations special rapporteur said Wednesday.
The report of Michel Forst, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, is the latest to fiercely criticize President Ivan Duque‘s administration.
The top UN human rights official concluded that “the vast majority of human rights defenders in Colombia are unable to work in a safe and supportive environment. They lack positive social and public recognition and are undermined and criminalized because of their human rights work by State and non-State actors. They are in danger and the risks they face have increased in the three years since the signing of the Peace Agreement.”
At least 323 defenders have been killed since then, against a backdrop of high rates of impunity. Colombia remains the country with the highest number of murdered human rights defenders in Latin America, and threats against them have soared.
UN special rapporteur Michel Forst
Furthermore, Forst confirmed claims by the UN’s human rights office and local human rights defenders that both state authorities and businesses are colluding with illegal armed groups and urged the implementation of a 2016 peace deal.
The bodyguard of one of these local leaders, Leyner Palacios, was assassinated in the city of Cali hours after the presentation of the report.
Government again isolated in criticism
Foreign Minister Claudia Blum, whose ministry refused the UN official entry to the country to follow up on his initial visit in 2018, said Forst’s observations and recommendations “do not reflect objectivity and integrity.”
Ombudsman Carlos Negret disagreed, however, and thanked the rapporteur, saying that “with his recommendations and support we will find routes to overcome this serious situation that affects all Colombians.”
Palacios, who defends the rights of a Pacific community that suffered one of the worst guerrilla massacres in the history of Colombia’s armed conflict, was too distraught by the murder of his bodyguard to respond.
Other human rights advocates supported Forst and condemned the government’s rejection of the report.
Instead of confronting the Rapporteur, the Government should implement his recommendations, such as reaffirming the commitment to the Peace Agreement, prioritizing its implementation, providing it with the necessary resources, and strengthening the mechanisms for the protection of defenders. It is also urgent to continue to give priority to combating impunity for other attacks against them, in addition to the murders.
Colombian Commission of Jurists director Gustavo Gallon
The Duque administration is finding itself increasingly isolated over its clashes with the international community and persistent claims that authorities are colluding with illegal armed groups and mafias.