Human rights defenders in Colombia still face grave danger despite an improved public discourse, according to an international report released Monday.
The report issued by the US Office on Colombia (USOC) and the Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF), travelled to eight regions of Colombia, and claimed human rights supporters continue to face threats, attacks and stigmatization at alarming levels.
Colombia lacks an effective policy strategy at dealing with threats towards human rights activists and this had led to an increase in impunity for those deemed responsible.
We are Defenders, an NGO aimed at protecting human rights advocates, claimed there were 239 acts of aggression against human rights defenders in Colombia in 2011, including 49 assassinations.
Lisa Haugaard, Executive Director of LAWGEF, said “while threats come from all directions, including guerrillas and members of the armed forces, many are from paramilitary successor groups. Our mission found that regional authorities’ denial of the existence of paramilitary successor groups contributed to their failure to take serious measures to protect human rights defenders.” A paramilitary successor group is an illegal organization, typically involved in drug trafficking, made up of former members or right-wing paramilitary groups like the ACCU and the AUC.
The report also stated it is “extremely concerned” about recent government initiatives, led by the Ministry of Defense, which aim to expand military jurisdiction through constitutional reforms.
“These efforts represent a step backwards in terms of human rights protection in Colombia, especially in situations involving the investigation and punishment of military personnel responsible for grave human rights violations and international humanitarian law,” the report said.
The verification mission was carried out between November 28 and December 2 2011 by a team comprised of jurists, journalists and human rights activists from 15 different countries.
The 40-person mission collected testimonies and conducted interviews to verify the situation of human rights defenders with respect to impunity, baseless prosecution, misuse of state intelligence information, systematic stigmatizations and structural problems with the protection program for defenders at risk.