How Colombia is protecting social leaders and human rights defenders!

Iván Duque Márquez, President of Colombia

Colombia exalts the work of social leaders, highlights their contribution to the construction of legality and progress of their communities, and does not condone any form of stigmatisation toward them.

This was achieved through the campaign ‘#LíderEsColombia (LeaderIsColombia), launched last August by the Ministry of the Interior. In Colombia, the major risk identified for human rights leaders and defenders arises from criminal organisations (organised armed groups and organised criminal groups) which seek to control rents from illegal activities, mainly drug trafficking and illegal mineral extractions which violate the fundamental rights of most vulnerable people.

For the government of President Iván Duque, the security of human rights leaders and defenders is a priority; and for this a policy called Plan of Early Action for the Prevention and Protection of Social and Community Leader, Human Rights Defenders and Journalists has been drafted, led by the Ministry of the Interior.

The national government implements actions aimed at respecting and guaranteeing human rights leaders and defenders with a differential ethnic and gender approach. In 2019, the Comprehensive Plan of Guarantees for women leaders and human rights defenders in departments such as Chocó, Putumayo and Cauca was structured. It also has some instruments for protecting the population.

There is a policy for implementing the Final Agreement with the FARC-EP, Strategic Zones of Integral Intervention Programme – Future Zones.

These tools, elaborated with a human rights approach, set the guidelines for comprehensively: reinforcing protection of the population; prioritising the provision of social services in an articulated manner with a positive impact on economic, social, cultural and environmental rights (ESCER); accelerating the Development Programmes with a Territorial Focus and strengthening the rule of law.

More effectiveness in the fight against impunity favors the protection of social leaders and human rights defenders. It is worthy of note that in 2020 the National Protection Unit protected 3,749 social leaders and human rights defenders.

There are also investigations and prosecutions by the Attorney General’s Office, which has designed a strategy with eight lines of action to achieve this goal. Out of the 421 homicides against human rights defenders registered between 1st January 2016 and 2nd December 2020, progress has been achieved in 63.61%, translating into 257 cases.

Dismantling criminal organisations has been a state policy. The Attorney General’s Office, Armed Forces and National Police are responsible for the investigation, clearing up, indictment and prosecution of alleged perpetrators of human rights violations. In 2019, the Attorney General’s Office identified thirty-one possible perpetrators of homicides against social leaders and human rights defenders.

The Ministry of Defence implemented the ‘Most Wanted Cartel’ strategy, which in its first edition achieved an estimated 54% effectiveness. As of September 2020, fourteen of the most wanted persons or cartels had been captured – and 3 of them died as a result of confrontation with the security forces.

The Presidential Council for Human Rights and International Affairs publishes quarterly reports which include results of investigations and judicial decisions and consolidation of the activities of the different State agencies. It also captures recommendations addressed to the implementing agencies, harmonised with those of the bodies of the Universal Human Rights System and the Inter-American Human Rights System. Additionally, the Council follows up on a weekly basis the homicides of social leaders and human rights defenders in Colombia.

Additionally, the national government is in the final stage of formulating the National Policy of Respect and Guarantees for Human Rights Defence Work.

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