Colombia

The human rights situation further deteriorated in Colombia in 2019 with the faltering of the Peace Accords. This saw the proliferation of illegal armed groups and return of paramilitary violence, local elections marred by violence, collapse of peace talks with the ELN, and the return of former armed opposition soldiers to dissident FARC groups. 106 human rights defenders were killed in Colombia in 2019, making it the most dangerous country in the world to defend human rights.

Persistent violence against social leaders and the high levels of impunity for these crimes led thousands to protest in July 2019. A month later, municipal elections saw an escalation in violence, leaving seven political candidates killed and 62 others attacked or threatened in just two months of campaigning. In addition, various high-level state officials, including the vice-president, have made troubling statements stigmatising those who exercise their freedoms of association and peaceful assembly. At the end of September student protests in the capital Bogotá were heavily repressed by the police. Colombian media freedom organisations have reported hundreds of violations of media freedom in 2019.

Mass protests began as part of the National Strike on November 21st, convened by wide-ranging and diverse sectors of society and attended by hundreds of thousands of Colombian citizens. The international community denounced excessive use of force by members of the state security forces during the demonstrations, particularly by the National Police Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (who fatally shot 18-year-old student Dilan Cruz at close-range). Militarisation, curfews and restrictions in Cali and Bogotá led to 831 arbitrary arrests registered in 3 days.

 

Key factors contributing to human rights violations in Colombia include the incomplete demobilisation of paramilitary groups, forced displacement of civilians, and threats and harassment of lawyers, members of human rights organisations, trade unions, and indigenous, Afro-Colombian and small-scale farming communities. United Nations agencies and special rapporteurs and other international organisations confirm that the Colombian conflict continues to seriously affect the human rights situation of the local population. Armed actors from all sides of the conflict commit violations of human rights.

They include massacres, murders, forced disappearances, kidnappings, torture and extortion. Infractions of international humanitarian law are common, and some have been classified as crimes against humanity. The principal victims have been the civilian population. The Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES) estimates 4.9 million people have been forcibly displaced since 1985.


 
PBI has 17-19 volunteers in three sub-teams protecting NGOs, individuals and communities in Barrancabermeja and the Magadalena Medio, Bogotá, Urabá, Antioquia, Valle del Cauca, Cauca, Casanare, Arauca and Sucre among other regions.

The teams operate as observers, accompanying people or organisations under threat, making regular visits to conflict zones, distributing information about the evolution of the conflict, carrying out advocacy, lobbying and public relations work with representatives of the international community as well as with civil and military authorities, and campaigning for international support.

Visit the PBI Colombia website.

 

Who we protect in Colombia

Lawyers

PBI accompanies a number of lawyers’ associations across the country, who are taking Colombia’s most emblematic cases of massacres, extra-judicial killings and disappearances to court. These lawyers' work benefits not only the people directly involved but also the wider human rights movement, and they are among the human rights workers most at risk in Colombia.

Organisations challenging impunity

Women human rights defenders and defenders of women's rights

Defending land rights, culture and natural resources

  • The Association of Investigation and Social Action (NOMADESC) 
  • CIJP also plays a major advisory and advocacy role in denouncing the illegal cultivation of African Palm in collective territories in the Chocó region (Medio Atrato river). The industrial cultivation of this cash crop is threatening to cause displacement for the largely Afro-Colombian communities and jeopardise environmental protection in the region, the second largest natural reserve in the world
  • The Judicial Liberty Corporation (CJL) advises displaced communities attempting to return to their lands
  • The Luis Carlos Pérez Lawyers' Collective (CCALCP) advises indigenous and campesino communities the Catatumbo region (Northeast Colombia) about their rights andabout protecting their land and economic survival against mega projects exploiting carbon resources
  • The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, founded in 1997 by forcibly displaced people wishing to resist the conflict in non-violent ways. Their resistance strategy is based on the creation of ‘humanitarian zones’ and calls for respect for the Principle of Distinction between combatants and non-combatants under International Humanitarian Law
  • The Peasant Farmer Association of the Cimitarra River Valley (ACVC)
  • The Social Corporation for Community Advisory and Training Services (COS-PACC)