The Colombian government announced new measures to protect human rights defenders as a number of former members of the demobilized AUC paramilitary organization are set to be released from prison and following a spike in death threats.
Several regions of Colombia were identified as areas where victims, human rights defenders, community leaders and government officials would face significant threats. In these regions, the government has promised to implement security measures, according to an announcement by Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo.
“The national government has committed to a plan of prevention and protection to ensure that we are prepared to reinsert [the former paramilitary members], so they do not return to a life of crime, and that they don’t harm human rights defenders or judges,” Cristo said in a press conference on Monday.
Six Colombian states in particular will receive these plans of protection, according to the Interior Ministry’s twitter feed:
Among the specific security measures promised by Cristo were security escorts and armored vehicles, while “surely others are going to require other measures which the government will evaluate.”
The meeting served to reactivate the National Table of Guarantees which was created as a space for dialogue between the government and human rights group and social/community leaders regarding their security. It last met one year ago, according to Caracol Radio.
The Interior Ministry posted a tweet announcing the reactivation of the table, which took place in a meeting with 109 human rights defenders:
Paramilitaries released from prison
While the activists, community leaders, and human rights workers often receive threats from armed groups, many are worried that these threats could increase and violence against these individuals increase as jailed paramilitary members enter back into Colombian society.
Paramilitary groups supposedly demobilized between 2003-2006 under the 2005 Justice and Peace Law which gave combatants and leaders access to fixed and dramatically reduced sentences in exchange for their weapons and full compliance with justice investigations.
Those who made use of the statute would serve no more than eight years in prison, provided they divulged any knowledge they possessed of criminal activity or crimes committed against humanity to investigators.
The AUC, the main target of this law, was one of the primary actors in the armed conflict that still continues in Colombia today. Between the mid 1990s and early 2000s, the group was responsible for thousands of human rights violations, including murder, kidnapping, torture, rape, and forced displacement on a massive scale.
While the AUC has officialy demobilized, many of its key members have gone on to form offshoot neo-paramilitary organizations, which currently control the country’s international drug trade and continue to engage in acts of political
Human rights defenders are consistently threatened by armed groups, principally the paramilitary successor groups known as BaCrim (“bandas criminales,” or criminal bands) by the government.
In a video posted to the Interior Ministry’s twitter feed Tuesday, Cristo rejected the threats issued by one of these groups known as Los Rastrojos against indigenous and Afro-Colombian leaders:
Last year was labelled the worst period of safety for human rights workers in Colombia in Colombian history and saw the murder of 37 human rights defenders in less than 6 months, between January and June 2013. Some 30 human rights defenders were killed in the first half of this year, according to the NGO Somos Defensores.
- Mesa Nacional de Garantías para Defensores de Derechos Humanos (Interior Ministry)
- En riesgo siete zonas del país por la salida de paramilitares de la cárcel (Caracol Radio)
- Interior Ministry Twitter feed
- Gobierno se compromete con seguridad de defensores de DD.HH. (RCN)