They said that since the start of this year 21 trade union officials and civil society leaders had been murdered while dozens others have reportedly received death threats, including lawyers representing victims.
“We … call upon the (Colombian) government to provide more effective and consistent protection measures for defenders at risk as a matter of urgency,” declared the investigators in a statement issued through the U.N.’s Geneva office.
Colombia is in a war involving Marxist rebels and far-right paramilitaries, both branded terrorists by Washington and funded by the country’s cocaine trade. Thousands are killed in the conflict every year.
U.S. trade unionists have been urging Democrats in Congress to block the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement because of concerns about human rights in the Latin American country.
The three investigators were Hina Jilani of Pakistan, special investigator on the situation of human rights defenders, Philip Alston of the United States, investigator for extrajudicial executions, and Leandro Despouy of Argentina, for judicial independence.
They said recent threats and killings had largely been directed against people who organised or took part in a March 6 rally in Bogota that was intended to honour victims of paramilitary groups as well as of police and the armed forces.
“We firmly believe that a political response to the current situation of human rights defenders in Colombia is of the utmost importance,” their statement declared.
It called on the government “to take concrete steps to give public recognition and legitimacy to human rights defenders and their work … by way of firm condemnation of crimes, threats and attacks… and by acknowledging the importance of their work.”
In a letter realeased earlier this month, 63 members of U.S. Congress said that Colombia’s government was indirectly encouraging attacks against labor leaders by allowing a presidential adviser to link the victims to leftist rebels.