Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern over the high number of murders of human rights defenders and social leaders registered this year in Colombia. The Commission also urges the State to adopt urgent measures to protect those who defend human rights in the country, as well as to carry out diligent investigations that take into consideration the victim's activity as a human rights defender. According to the Ombudperson's Office, 22 human rights defenders were assassinated in Colombia over the first months of 2018. The majority of those murders were focalized against human rights defenders who are in a special situation of vulnerability, located in remote areas where armed conflicts have historically been more intense. Moreover, some civil society organizations indicate that those murders have occurred within a context of grave violence, including the registration of more than 140 threats concerning members of social and community organizations, and more than 2.500 displacements. In regards to the perpetrators of those murders, the Nation's Chief Prosecutor has indicated, in December 2017, that he has identified the presence of "self-defence" strongholds which could be acting systematically to some degree in several regions of the country. The Commission observes that since the implementation of the peace agreements, the murders of human rights defenders have increased persistently. According to an Ombudperson's report, between January 2017 to February 2018, there have been 121 murders of human rights defenders. The Commission observes with concern that plenty of those murdered human rights defenders carried out actions aimed at implementing the peace agreements related to land distribution. In addition, the Commission has received consistent reports indicating that indigenous and Afro-Colombians human rights defenders are exposed to aggravated violence.
The acts of violence and other attacks against human rights defenders not only affect guarantees inherent to all human beings, but also infringe upon the function that they execute within society. In addition, such acts harm the people that are defended by them, who are left in a higher level of vulnerability and are driven to a situation of defenselessness. The work of human rights defenders is essential to constructing a democratic society and consolidating rule of law. "We are very concerned by this situation, and by the frightening effect that those murders have in parts of the country and Colombian society in general", stated the Rapporteur for the Rights of Human Rights Defenders, Commissioner Francisco Eguiguren. The State is obligated (ex officio) to investigate facts of this nature and to sanction those responsible materially and intellectually. This includes the development of lines of investigation under the hypothesis of which murders could have been committed in connection with their work as human rights defenders. Such investigation has to be carried out with due diligence, in an exhaustive, serious, and impartial manner. The Commission calls on the State to double its efforts to confront the situation of impunity in respect to crimes committed against human rights defenders in the country. The IACHR notes the recent approval of Decree 2124/2017, which restitutes to the Ombudsperson's Office the capability to issue early warnings that can contribute to the adoption of preventive measures and prompt action in the face of the alerted risk factors. Likewise, it observes the announcement given by the Ministry of Interior in relation to the draft of a decree that creates a route for collective protection of social leaders and human rights defenders. The IACHR encourages the approval of this decree with extreme urgency; once consultations with organizations of the civil society are finished. The IACHR also calls on the State to adopt necessary measures to guarantee the rights to life, integrity, and safety of human rights defenders. To this effect, it makes an urgent call to Colombian authorities to ensure that those measures of investigation and protection in regards to human rights defenders are addressed with a coordinated and integral perspective regarding the sources of risk, with a view to address individual and structural risk.
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.